Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Green Building Programs: Why “Don’t Do” Won’t Do

The following article by Michael Anschel in Remodeling shows why Green Building Checklists need to become Green Building Thought Processes. Every project is unique, and requires an integrated design process.

Ah HA!

It came to me over a series of tweets. An epiphany of sorts, if you will.

The problem with all these green building programs (including the one I helped create) is the thought process that the user is asked to engage in. No amount of revisions or point adjustment will solve this problem. LEEDNAHBEarthCraftBuild It Green, even the amazing MN GreenStar are all handicapped by the same thing, and this handicap may be part of what is keeping them from getting the deep market penetration they all want.

Here it is:

The programs are written kind of like a building code. Do this. Don’t do that. Test those. Guess at what that is supposed to really mean. (The funny thing is that first NAHB and now USGBC are trying to emulate a codes-style process for writing the standards as well!)

Codes are good for certain things, no question, and they are a critical part of our building process. They keep the unscrupulous in check and provide a minimal thinking path to allow construction to continue in a mildly safe manner.

But codes don’t get their users to think.

Likewise, codes, rules, and regulations are good for finite tasks – usually single component or micro-system components such as bearing capacity requirements, nailing patterns, smoke detector locations, handrail heights.

But codes are horrible at addressing complex systems. What made us think we could take a system as huge as nature and bottle it up in code?

If we are asking people to think about how everything is connected, how everything goes somewhere, how their actions impact other people, and about their relationship with nature, then why the hell are we telling them to check their brain at the door and pick up a code book? It is almost as moronic as suggesting the LEED AP test (an exercise in minutia), or the NAHB Certified Green Professional test (a joke) have the ability to turn someone into a green expert!

Green building requires you to think. In green building, there is no easy path or one-size-fits-all solution. The sooner everyone understands this, the sooner we can get back to the business of green building.

Michael Anschel is the owner and principal of 

  • Posted By: manschel (Bio) at 10:30 PM 

    Comments (5 Total)

      • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 3:46 PM Tuesday, February 09, 2010
    • The green building concept was first to promote ecological friendly building, not to create a marketable product or service, I hope. Part of the reason of code like standards in USGBC guidelines is to create a movement to incorporating green methods into codes, which by the way, some concepts are already in codes and have been for many years. Cheap and quick is based on profitability. If Green is expensive due to the market taking advantage, owners are skeptical to follow religiously the so called standards. When green methods become code, regulatory agencies will enforce them and availability of sources will rise and subsequently costs will fall. In addition, as any building endeavor is complex and requires intelligent and certified design so too does green methodologies.
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      • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 2:23 PM Tuesday, February 09, 2010
    • I'm not a Green builder, but support the Green movement so I'm somewhat Green. Maybe your on to something Michael. Cindy, you can say its all of us looking for cheaper goods and services and that's true to a point, where its not true is in spite of the good intentions and smart practices that Green suggests it still isn't understood by consumers. Is there a true cost of green? What is it. You have to stop selling Green on the installment plan because that's how a lot of us see it. Paul Lesieur
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      • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 1:38 PM Tuesday, February 09, 2010
    • Seems to me that people are still looking to do the minimum possible to achieve whatever "green" rating they are aiming for. Better would be to place a value on the lifetime benefits of each measure.
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      • Posted by: Cindy Ojczyk | Time: 10:16 AM Tuesday, February 09, 2010
    • Michael, I am sure that every energy rater that pushes for performance-based standards will applaud you. The greater fundamental problem is a culture based on cheap and quick. Builders & remodelers - who themselves are consumers & contribute equally to promoting the cheap & quick culture - respond to consumers who want cheap and quick. Checklists work for cheap and quick because they can be completed with less thinking than what is required of performance-based planning. The best thing that can happen is that the checklist authors start reshaping the programs to integrate performance-based thinking - taking baby steps to get there if need be, but eventually we will get there if we all start down a thinking path rather than a responding path.
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      • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 9:35 AM Tuesday, February 09, 2010
    • Micheal- I think you are on to something, but have a couple questions: 1. Efforts need to be made to quantify value of Green Building certifications. Can buildings be certified (economically) without checklists? 2. The checklists also can serve as a guide for the "uninitiated" to undertake a Green Building project. Without a solid understanding of Green Building - tough to leave the "do this, not that" model. How can GB support the uninitiated to do that first project? Good insight. Thanks Michael. Charlie Bradburn
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    Posted via email from David Bourbon