Greenwash buildings

There has been an inetresting series of articles and reports recently on technology versus hearts and minds approach to climate change, carbon management and the approach we seem to be taking to becoming green, and greening the built environment.

As mentioned here before, it was Einstein who said “we cannot solve todays problems with the same patterns of thought that created them in the past” and that we need to rethink.   Technology and its use has contributed to the environmental problems of today, can we now rely on technology to take us out of it?  There is a very strong case for more focus on hearts, minds and spirit, or what is becoming known as the eco-mind.

Mark Lynas (whose book High Tide should be on every shelf) writes in a recent Guardian article  Can shopping change the planet?

Some in the business community argue that the whole green consumerism thing is just a passing fad, a sort of climatic version of the dotcom bubble. … According to Phil Downing, head of environmental research at Ipsos Mori, the majority of the population are “fairweather environmentalists” who remain very reluctant to take lifestyle change seriously.

George Monbiot on his blog writes

“Green consumerism is becoming a pox on the planet”, Green consumerism will not save the biosphere … drowning in eco-junk … heading for eco-cide

Are we seeing the same green commercialism, or greenwash in our built environment sector.  Increasingly every product and organisation is keen to inform of green credentials.

Most material suppliers carry their Environmental Commitment on their web sites – prominently – which usually has the aim of reducing pollution or carbon emissions (eg Travis Perkins) yet how serious can they be in attempting to save carbon when these companies still sell patio heaters ? (Just one patio heater will negate the climate value of half a dozen micro wind turbines)

There is a growing need and call to verify  green, carbon and environmental claims.

We seem to be heading down a technological solution route, coupled with carbon off-setting, and yet, seeing carbon emissions continue to increase.

Interviewed in the current issue of the informative Plenty journal, Function Over Form.  Travis Price, a seasoned architect, architectural and environmental pioneer, takes aim at the green building movement he’s been part of for over thirty years, arguing that it’s veered off course: more technical than spiritual; more about regulation than nature. The answer, he says, is to move away from a mandated “checklist” approach and toward an inherently eco-minded design aesthetic. (take a look at the Travis Price website)
Price uses expressions like building in the spirit of place, the context of the earth, a lexicon we dont hear too much in built environment … and yet may be just the rethinking we need.

And, last week we had the Arup report for the Academy of Sustainable Communities, Mind the Gap which assessed the gaps in the supply and demand of skills required to deliver the sustainable communities programme. These are a combination of technical skills, linked to regeneration and the built environment, and generic skills, linked to, for example, finance and project management, leadership and communication and in summary

The key finding is that England faces a significant shortage of qualified professionals with the necessary skills to deliver sustainable communities between now and 2012…. A national drive to address labour shortages and skills gaps is needed .. and … Organisational culture must evolve.

Are we, in the built environment,  stuck in an accommodationist view – ie we can accommodate climate and ecological change, by embracing a fair weather environmental approach,  by using technology and through a little legislation – but crucially without changing lifestyles, or as the Arup report suggests educational and training issues.

A dangerous view and route to take:

The effects of climate change will be felt sooner than scientists realised and the world must learn to live with the effects, experts said yesterday. Martin Parry, a climate scientist with the Met Office, said destructive changes in temperature, rainfall and agriculture were now forecast to occur several decades earlier than thought.

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