Written by Jane Turville
A few years ago I had a discussion with some friends who are LEED accredited architects. The bulk of the conversation focused on energy use and the need for buildings to be incredibly energy efficient. While there were many different ideas on how to achieve uber-sustainability in buildings, everyone agreed - if you want to create a sustainable built environment, existing building have to be replaced.
Something in the back of my brain said “Wait! I’ve heard this somewhere before!” Then it dawned on me: this same language was used about a half century ago. It was the mantra of a strategy to make cities both safer and healthier. The strategy: urban renewal.
It’s hard to argue against making cities safer and healthier. Everyone wants safe, healthy cities. So in theory, urban renewal sounds great. But what about in practice? Thousands of people lost their homes, their communities, and to a certain extent, their identities. Urban renewal was a well-intentioned strategy with devastating environmental and cultural consequences.
With that history in mind, is demolition in the name of sustainability really the best use of natural, social, and economic resources?
That was the question I asked myself as I embarked on the journey to produce the new documentary “The Greenest Building.” By examining buildings as consumer products, the film explores the myth that the greenest buildings are always new, and demonstrates how restoration, renovation and adaptive reuse of existing structures fully achieves the sustainability movement’s triple bottom line: economic, social, and ecological flourishing. The film reveals: (a) how reuse and reinvestment in the existing built environment leads to stronger local economies that can compete on a global scale, (b) that sense of place and collective memory, while intangible, are critical components of strong sustainable communities, and (c) the direct correlation between reuse of existing buildings and a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, degradation of the natural environment and overuse of precious natural resources.
My hope is that “The Greenest Building” inspires Americans to change the way they see their own built communities. Attitudes – and subsequently, places – are already changing. Over the two years it took to produce the film, many historic and existing structures have been upgraded to meet LEED standards while maintaining the elements and characteristics that contribute to a rich built fabric.
But there is still a long way to go. Reuse of any consumer product, be it a building, a computer or a coffee cup, is still not embraced by mainstream America. New is still generally regarded as better (and, if not better, at least sexier). But it doesn’t have to be so. If we are to reach some sort of balance, we must understand the symbiotic relationship between reuse and the conservation of both physical and intangible systems that sustain life.
Reuse of buildings, one of the few man-made consumer products constantly shared by numerous individuals throughout time, provides us with good place to start.
“The Greenest Building” is currently being broadcast on PBS stations nationwide.
Writer, Director, Producer Jane Turville previously co-produced the documentary “A Passion For Sustainability,” has written seven award-winning screenplays, and produced and directed five short films. Before her writing/film career, Jane worked as a project manager in several Portland-based architectural offices and did an extensive internship with the National Trust in London, England. Jane holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Oregon.
For more information or to order your own copy of “The Greenest Building,” please visit www.thegreenestbuildingmovie.com .