High-Performance and Net-Zero Homes — Part 1
Achieving your energy goals depends on the process, the perception, and the people — and on having the mindset of a revolutionary
I come from a family of non-conformists. My dad was the product of a line of labor shit-disturbers of the first order; my mom came from milder stock but was herself a civic activist of unparalleled backbone. I spent my childhood marching for racial equality, farm worker rights, and peace in Vietnam. So perhaps it’s inevitable that I have come to view myself as a green building revolutionary.
In fact, I believe that YOU are a revolutionary. Why? Because building green is all about effecting change – replacing the “normal” way things are done with a far better way. It’s about combating conventional thinking and apathy – and often moneyed interests – to bring about results that are better for the people and the planet.
We're all agents for change
Whether you willingly don the mantle of revolutionary or not, I think it’s important for each of us who works in green building to explicitly recognize our role as an agent for change. It’s much too hard to bring about change when you don’t face head on the reality that that’s what you’re trying to do – like trying to navigate to a town whose name you do not know.
In a revolution, everyone plays an important part. You can be heaving the battering ram at the gates, scaling the ramparts, tunneling under, printing broadsheets, or fomenting dissent inside the establishment – in short, operating wherever and however you are most comfortable and most effective. Not all revolutionaries are loud and aggressive; many are subtle and quietly persuasive. Not all have access to seats of power; many work at the grass-roots level.
A change toolkit
But all are working for change. And so I’ve devised what I refer to as the change toolkit. It’s based originally on Donella Meadows’s brilliant 2005 essay, “Places to Intervene in a System.” Meadows identified a hierarchy of nine places to intervene in a system with the aim of creating change. Bill Reed, in turn, developed his own hierarchy of change inspired by Donella’s work. I find Bill’s hierarchy easy to remember and I use it on a day-to-day basis. Here’s the gist of it – four levels, in increasing order of effectiveness for creating change:
I’ve used Bill’s 4-stage hierarchy as the basis for my change toolkit, in it identifying a number of players and types of change that may be appropriate at each level. One version of my toolkit is shown in the figure.
The right mindset to produce high-performance homes
Note that I view technologies as a “maybe” solution. I believe that much of what we have to do to reliably produce high-performance and/or net-zero energyProducing as much energy on an annual basis as one consumes on site, usually with renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics or small-scale wind turbines. homes resides outside the realm of technology.
1. Technology is our least powerful lever in the change toolkit.
2. We don’t necessarily need it to achieve our green building goals.
This is unquestionably revolutionary talk, because virtually every green building event you’ll attend focuses on stuff – the goods, the gizmos, the glam … i.e., technologies. There is very little focus on mindset (that sounds downright woo-woo, doesn’t it?) or process (a little less so, but still squishy, eh?), and only a bit on tools (we do like tools, yessir, especially techie ones).
Contrarian that I am, I’ve been focusing heavily lately on the top three levels of this hierarchy, where I have complete conviction that our energies are best spent. I’ll develop this train of thought in several more blogs over the next few months. Stay tuned, and break out your green armbands!
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