When Greenpeace needs to break ground for a new building, they bring in the same earth moving equipment used by everyone else. There are no solar powered bobcats or tractors that run on compost. Constructing our green future requires the use of today’s standard construction equipment like the ones found on Rock and Dirt. That is no reason to throw our hands up in despair. This is no time to give in to the sophistry of naysayers who live to point out the inconsistencies of the green movement.
Fossil fuels are indeed used constantly to heat and cool our homes, to power vehicles to take us to work or around the world, but just because we cannot instantly become totally sustained on water, solar, and wind energy doesn’t mean we cannot build those energy sources into daily life. Although its a bit ironic to build a green building will fossil fueled equipment, we can still use these tools to ensure a greener tomorrow. Here are a few suggestions:
Build eco-friendliness into the plan
It is hard to tack on eco-friendliness after the fact. According to livingbeyondgreen.com, eco-friendly construction includes:
- •Rooftop solar panels
- •Increased insulation
- •Custom energy efficient windows
- •Programmable thermostats
- •Low VOCs in paints, carpets and other building materials
- •Water efficient plumbing fixtures
- •Compact florescent lighting
- •Landscaping with native plants and water conservation measures
- •Protected green space
Additionally ideas include sourcing building materials locally. This decreases the number of trucks on the road, and the amount of pollutants in the air. Use as much recycled material as possible. This has obvious environmental benefits. Less obvious benefits include tax credit, lower cost, and greater asset value.
Concentrate on areas of net gain
If we only focused on areas of loss, we would never get anything done. Yes, it takes energy to make solar panels and electric cars, lots of it. That does not mean we shouldn’t make solar panels and electric cars. When we calculate the overall environmental footprint of constructing those items and using them, we find that there is a net gain to the environment over the lifespan of the product. Electric cars are not about being cheaper today. They are about the overall net gains.
Don’t just put in the cheapest plumbing, or the most cost effective insulation. Put in the infrastructure that is most sustainable over time. The environmental cost of running heavy construction equipment is the same whether or not your finished project is eco-friendly. Therefore, don’t focus on fixed environmental costs common to all projects. Rather, think about building material other than wood and drywall. Think of non-toxic insulation, double-paned windows, and skylights that reduce the need for artificial lighting. Focus on the areas of the project that offset their initial environmental costs.
Build only what you need
With all this talk of machinery and green techniques, it is easy to forget about the most important aspect of being green, and the easiest to implement. In a world of plenty, we need to remind ourselves to take no more than we need. Some building projects are done for the sole purpose of being the biggest or the grandest. If what you need is a two bedroom home with 2,000 sf., don’t build a four bedroom home with 4,000 sf. just because you were able to fit it into the budget.
Green construction starts with a green mindset. We live as if all resources are as precious and limited as life itself. We use the best tools we have available to us at the time, to construct the best future we can imagine, using no more of the limited resources than we need. It may not be easy being green. But it is a worthy endeavor.