The Various Shades of Green: Working Towards A Sustainable Way Of Building

Green building, sustainable construction, earth friendly, alternative, natural, healthy, resource efficient and eco-conscious are some of the buzzwords used today to describe a more responsible way of using our natural resources in the construction of new buildings.  More and more people are becoming aware of the negative environmental impacts that current building practices perpetuate and are striving to make choices that promote personal and planetary health.

Bryn L. Golton , a professor of architecture at the University of Salford, UK, wrote in Affluence and the Ecological Footprint of a Dwelling in Time: “Building activity and use represents approximately half of the total energy consumed worldwide which is causing irreversible adverse changes to the planetary ecosystem.  This increasing activity is in response to the political agenda of all governments to increase the affluence of their people.”

The construction industry is a major contributor to deforestation, mining and pollution. Modern building materials are increasingly toxic to builders and residents. New houses cost $100, 000 and up and take a lifetime to pay for.  Homeowners trapped in a 30-year mortgage often work at unfulfilling jobs to pay for their drywall boxes that are expensive to heat and can contribute to their own physical ailments.  It is easy to feel disheartened and apathetic.

Thank goodness there’s hope.  Internationally, precedents are being established to counteract this trend.  In Sweden scientists, business leaders, government officials and concerned citizens have developed “The Natural Step” (TNS), a systems approach to ecological and economic sustainability.  The Natural Step is based on the laws of thermodynamics and natural cycles.   Many organizations worldwide are adopting the “Natural Step” principles as part of their operating guidelines.   The Institute for Baubiologie (building biology) and Ecology, started in Germany with affiliated institutes worldwide, offers training and information on holistic approaches to building and living in man-made environments.   The American Institute of Architects (AIA) created an “Environmental Resource Guide” to help architects and builders understand and better deal with the very real personal and planetary health issues at stake.  Web sites, learning centers, magazines, books and all sorts of activists are helping to raise awareness.  Until recently, most alternative building locally has been taken up by owner-builders who grapple with energy, resource, social and moral choices in their building process.   Most commercially erected structures in the Grand Traverse area have been built with little regard to environmental impacts. Demonstration projects are beginning to pop up via the Eco-Learning Center and the American Lung Association- sponsored Health House.  The local chapter of the HomeBuilders Association has created a Green Builder’s Committee and a Green Builder Award for the annual Parade of Homes.   Some of the individuals responsible for creating these programs have been offering Green Builder courses through the University Center at NMC.  Businesses like Odom Reusable Building Materials in Traverse City provide valuable services for those wishing to lessen their impact on local landfills and the Earth’s resources.

The issues are broad and complex; they can appear overwhelming at first.  To better understand the problems and solutions, see other archived articles here.