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Home > Feature Articles > Sustainable Development Best Practices for Community Sustainability

Nature's Real Estate vs. Half-Million Government Buildings

Greening buildings vs. greening nature's productivity systems

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Green Building Programs and Certifications

Earth global climate crisis Did you know the US federal government has built and maintains a half-million buildings?

USGBC's LEED Program

Certification programs such as USGBC's LEED system evaluate buildings on criteria that affect sustainability and environmental impact:
  • the sustainability of the construction site;
  • the building’s water efficiency,
  • energy and atmosphere,
  • materials and resources,
  • indoor environmental quality;
  • the project’s overall innovation and design process.

  • ... but ignore the productivity that goes on inside and outside the building!

U.S. Energy Department’s Smart Communities Network

Today, about 7,000 buildings are engaged in a green building program...some completed, more in progress. But that’s a drop in the bucket of a nation of more than 5 million office buildings, according to the U.S. Energy Department’s Smart Communities Network. Add to that inadequate picture of greening the number (or ratio) of empty houses that are drained when people go to their second abode, the office or factory or other such building.

Green Economics

Minimalism and "less" are also part of a green philosophy and productivity analysts might start asking whether the rush to build more green buildings might still be "over-building" -- which isn't very green. Consuming increasingly scarce materials for unnecessary buildings or buildings that will set empty or half-filled, or used only 8-10 hours a day is not very green.

Retrofit Existing Buildings for Efficiency and Performance

The federal government seems to want more buildings...and they are now seeking to retrofit existing buildings. Who is looking at how productive their facilities are? According to this new program, new federal projects would be held to green standards, and as many as 8,000 existing buildings would be in line for lighting retrofits and renovations to increase energy efficiency. No mention of functional productivity. Or whether these buildings are used for functions that outweigh their impact on the green-collared, hard-working earth upon which they are set.

2007 Energy Bill

The Senate included a Green Buildings initiative in the energy bill it passed in June 2007 and earmarked $100 million in grants for local governments to upgrade their own buildings.

If this federal initiative survives, several measures to improve the sustainability of the federal government’s half-million buildings would be overseen by a new Office of High-Performance Green Buildings in the General Services Administration.

More jobs...? Greater productivity? More services? Or more offices to hibernate in? People spend an average of 95% of their time indoors...

Earth's Productivity Economics

These numbers are incomprehensible. All that land covered with concrete and asphalt. All that heat-radiating surface. All those people who must fill those buildings instead of being home with their children or caring for nature...the great outdoors that is being overrun with invasive plants, chemicals and trash. That workspace.

Research is indicating that people are now more urban than rural creatures. That we spend as much as 23-plus hours of each day indoors. That we have become moles. Urban moles, true. But moles.

Creating a "Realistic Ratio of Functionality"

The ratio of buildings to people to open space affects how many minutes a day we spend indoors vs. outdoors. And our actions are amazingly affected by whether we are indoors or outdoors. Indoors we consume. Outdoors we breathe and think and observe natural processes (among other things). Establishing a realistic ratio of "functionality" could be even more powerful than having greener indoor spaces.

Throw Money at Green Building or Work with Nature?

Throwing money at buildings is the trend. It's easy. It's sexy. Lots of money can flow through government and business. Buildings are so obvious. But what's not so obvious is nature hard at work cleaning the air without a building. Filtering water without a building. Growing food without a building. Restoring soil without a building. Inspiring us and nurturing us without a building. Replenishing itself without a building.

Nature works without half a million buildings and we are overlooking the greening of that natural system of life support in our rush to fund the burgeoning construction industry.

Maybe we need to look at where our green funds are being directed and select the most environmental projects, not the most pseudo-environmentally packaged projects.

"...federal buildings consume 40 percent more energy per square foot than private buildings

To put that in perspective, "On average, federal buildings consume 40 percent more energy per square foot than private buildings and require more than $3.5 billion for energy costs," Sen. Frank Lautenberg reported. But compare that comparison of sector-to-sector building productivity to real productivity (ie, life support). Comparing consumption to consumption is still consumption.

Let's get down to real environmental benefits. How many more resources do our buildings consume than nature consumes? Buildings don't produce anything of value other than shelter. Nature uses processes such as weather systems, and relationships among plants and animals to conduct earth's daily productive work.

Can we use nature as our model to measure productivity rather than other human-built buildings? Can be re-engage with nature and disengage from so many buildings that separate us from earth's natural systems? Can we compare our processes with nature's processes for real economic analysis? That's the heart of green strategy. Working with natural systems -- not against them. Not hiding from them inside caves...or mole runs.

Radical economic and accounting theory, I know...but the emperor still wears no clothes!

REFERENCE: MSNBC "New York publisher turns a green page"

EDITOR'S NOTE: Carolyn Allen, our publisher, works hard to make her readers think beyond the obvious. "There is no economic theory that compares apples to oranges in the green movement -- but we're getting there," she notes. "We have to think differently to get out of our current rut of obsessive consumption and conventional strategies that aren't really "solutions". It's not making us happy and it's not caring for our children or our home responsibly." Stay tuned for more of Carolyn's "green for the real world" observations.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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