Why “Beyond Green Building?”

Posted on: September 5th, 2007 by Patrice Frey

There is great enthusiasm (understandably) among environmentalists about green buildings innovations, such as new materials that contain low embodied energy, highly efficient HVAC systems, and thermally resistant windows. And since about 40% of carbon emissions in the United States are attributed to buildings, there is good reason to construct more environmentally friendly buildings.

But I often find the exuberance about green building a bit troubling. In my view, we find ourselves facing significant environmental challenges largely because of our culture of disposability – whether it's plastic water bottles we toss in landfills, or buildings we mow down after 20 years when they’ve served their "useful life." Thermally resistant windows and green roofs won't fix the problem.

That's why I think this is such an exciting time for the field of historic preservation. As the antithesis of disposability, preservation encompasses two things that are essential to any sustainable society: valuing what we have and planning for the future. Preservationists inherently place value on what has been handed down to us from the past, and plan so that these resources can be enjoyed now and protected for future generations. That's the very definition of sustainability.

I've settled with the name "Beyond Green Building" because I hope this blog will help advance the discussion beyond our fixation with green building, to a conversation about what really makes for a sustainable society.

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