Top 10 Green-Building Myths

March 1, 2003
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“Green” building is a concept new enough to have generated several misconceptions. The author dispatches with a few

10. “Green” building is a passing fad.

Locating buildings to take advantage of solar orientation, prevailing breezes, and natural features, while using locally available natural materials, are “green-building principles” that have been practiced for centuries. Unfortunately, we've forgotten many of those lessons, allowing machines and cheap energy to define our buildings and lifestyles.

Frank Lloyd Wright coined the term organic architecture early in the 20th century, with designs shaped by their environment. During the Environmental Movement of the 1960s, R. Buckminster Fuller outlined in his Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth an approach to resource efficiency and balance, while Ian L. McHarg's Design with Nature continues to influence work on design integration with nature. The Energy Crisis of the 1970s placed new emphasis on passive design, energy efficiency, and alternative energy sources. The demand for increased energy- and material-efficient buildings will only grow as the scarcity of these commodities increases.

9. “Green” materials are not available.

Manufacturers are learning that green products can recapture lost profits by mitigating potential liabilities while reducing waste, and they're using them. Products such as gypsum board, acoustic ceiling panels, and linoleum have had a certain recycled content for years. Likewise, steel and aluminum have been recycled since the war years.

New and innovative products of sustainable natural materials, agri-byproducts, and increased recycled content join the market daily. The demand for and development of green-building products will only increase as raw materials become more depleted and costly, landfill becomes no longer an option, and clients become more environmentally aware.

8. Owners aren't concerned about “being green.”

The May 2002 issue of Environmental Building News reported that there are currently 32 local and state government-sector green-builder initiatives either under way or being planned. This does not include the many federal green-building programs in place for such agencies as the Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Parks Service, the U.S. Postal Service, and the Forest Service. The Clinton White House was a leader in government initiatives, with a program called the “Greening of the White House,” which included the Old Executive Office Building.

Corporate owners, school districts, and university systems continue to adopt green-building programs emphasizing LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) rating criteria (see “Green Design Update,” p. 20). Meanwhile, acceptance and demand for sustainable homes have resulted in green subdivisions in Illinois, South Carolina, Arizona, and Idaho.

7. “Green” building is easy. It's only common sense.

Green design is a holistic process; it's not merely slipping in green materials here and there. Green design requires much more pre-planning and research, with a closer collaboration between design and engineering, to achieve “living machines” more precisely engineered than conventional buildings. Green-building design is a process of doing more with less, of finding efficiencies in systems and materials that will not only result in less energy use, but also extend the building's life well beyond the traditional 50-year life cycle.

This process requires an integrated team approach, in which measurable goals are established at the project's inception and design alternatives are explored, documented, and evaluated for long-term performance, while being sensitive to the environmental impact of those decisions. Design team members must be re-educated in the practices and synergistic opportunities available through sustainable practices.

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