Green and Proud of It
Several events that occurred in November point out that green is growing up. After its birth in the 1960s as a barefoot earthchild, spending a scrappy adolescence in the 1970s as a Serious Cause—replete with passive heating, organic diets, and “coolth tubes” (remember those?)—and recent decades as a trend manqué, the design and construction culture seems to be getting the green message.
Sustainability, freed from cult status, has matured into a standard that underlies the expectation of all design. Bolstered by scientists from organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, architects now know that their work has immense impact on the environment, consuming 70 percent of electricity in this country, twice the energy consumption of cars and trucks. Our structures contribute one third of total carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, a sobering fact when confronting global warming’s effects, which include the melting of polar ice caps or glaciers and an increase in storm activity. While some stubborn few still dismiss carbon emissions as the culprit, no one can dispute the skyrocketing costs of energy. We all live in a world where oil prices routinely hit (and have exceeded) $60 per barrel.
Architects like Norman Foster, who recently received Architectural Record’s and McGraw-Hill Construction’s first Innovation Award, have practiced green architecture for decades. Foster, whose practice began in 1961, has grown up as an advocate who has followed a savvy green path, teaching clients, then adding an increasingly sophisticated overlayer of systems to buildings that can only be described as “holistic.” Today, Foster and Partners, together with its engineering collaborators, integrates complex computer systems with the most basic physical laws, such as convection, to create intelligent, efficient structures like the Swiss Re headquarters in London, whose complex facade lets in air for passive cooling and then vents it as it warms and rises. Foster’s work represents a high point in contemporary practice, while proving that green pays.
In regions where energy prices have traditionally remained higher than the U.S., sustainability means more than accountancy. Workers in continental Europe, for example, have demanded and received proximity to natural light, clean indoor air free of off-gasses from solvents and toxic glues, and social amenities. In Europe, sustainability is not limited to real estate.
What are the new indicators of broadening acceptance of sustainable design in the United States? Sheer numbers, for a start. The fourth Greenbuild Conference sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council, for example, which took place in Atlanta from November 9 to 11, drew upwards of 10,000 attendees, who swamped the seminars, crowded the exhibitors, and filled up their tote bags with information and resources to inform their businesses and practices, ready to work and build greener. Everyone wanted in on the topic.
By now, you know the USGBC as the originators of the LEED program, which certifies that completed buildings meet a list of stringent criteria, from appropriate building materials to the disposal of construction waste. The program is generating its own energy, and although relatively few buildings [see Record, June 2005, page 135] have achieved LEED certification yet, and some have thrown up their hands and dropped out (the New York Times headquarters, for example, which folded its formal LEED program, if not its commitment to building green in the face of Manhattan’s unrealistic costs), projects in the pipeline are increasing. Self-certifying programs, such as Green Globes, which was organized by the Green Building Initiative, may erode LEED’s dominance, but increasing awareness by clients, including developers and government agencies like the General Services Administration, point to overall growth for certification. Manufacturers, who can smell a good thing, have jumped on the bandwagon, hoping that a green “seal of approval” will differentiate them from the competition as architects and engineers race toward gold. In recognition of green building’s ascendancy in all our minds, and the desire of clients and the larger public to achieve more efficient and life-enhancing structures, McGraw-Hill Construction will launch a new magazine in 2006. Dedicated to sustainable design in all buildings, this publication will include a robust Web presence and resource center. Initially to be circulated primarily to members of the USGBC, the magazine will widen its circulation over time, updating and informing its readership of advances, policy changes, and case studies. Our new green magazine (name to come) will allow architects, engineers, owners, and manufacturers to build with the best 21st-century ideas, including consideration of the whole planet. A maturing movement that was birthed on a collective farm now deserves the informed public voice of a grown-up, and we are clearing our throats for the discussions to follow. Listen up.