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Be the Change You Want to See in the World

Can we apply Gandhi’s advice to building design, and thereby achieve sustainable prosperity?

Posted on Apr 4 2012 by Vera Novak

Is there a construction process which can deliver a value of sustainable prosperity? This is the term being used by Worldwatch in preparation for the upcoming Rio+20 conference. It moves beyond the “do no further harm” approach of the original definition of sustainability (Brundtland report), and recognizes the need to actively restore the Earth’s systems to full health.

The key difference in terminology is that this concept must, in toto, include all of the world’s population, rich and poor.

Sustainable prosperity is a challenge

WOW - that is a really tall order, considering that green building represented 25% of new construction activity in 2010, and a third of all new nonresidential construction (McGraw-Hill Construction report, Green Outlook 2011). Those numbers are rising faster than expected – so that is all good. But … it includes any shade of green, including the very light green LEEDLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED for Homes is the residential green building program from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). While this program is primarily designed for and applicable to new home projects, major gut rehabs can qualify. -certified level. Few of these green projects have reached a net-zero level, and probably only a handful are actively involved in restoring the natural resources.

So while I commend us all for getting on board, what will it take to get to sustainable prosperity? What does that future look like, and what might be the construction process which could accommodate this level “beyond green”? That folks, is the topic of my dissertation. I won’t give away any of my trade secrets (because I don’t have any yet...), but I can tell you that it is hopeful. There are little gems of “value enhancing” construction which are popping up in our industry.

First, do no harm — then, imagine ways to restore our damaged environment

For example, Boldt Construction is fine-tuning the use of target value design with lean construction, as an interactive, solutions-oriented, vision of way of designing to ideal state. (Here's a link to a very clear description of IPD, GMP and TVD.)

There are wonderful stories of owners, like Gary Christensen, who were willing to explore the possibilities of sustainability and ended up with “a beautiful, high performance building that’s good for the environment and didn’t cost us any more to do.” His project, the Banner Bank Building, collects stormwater from its surrounding seven acres and reuses it in its sewage system, and uses a water capture on the roof to flush toilets.

Could we also capture the steam from the HVAC(Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). Collectively, the mechanical systems that heat, ventilate, and cool a building., harvest the energy and the water? Or scrub carbon dioxide out of the air?

Imagining a “dream building”

Mr. Watanabe, one of the past presidents of Toyota, offered his vision for a “dream car” — a vehicle that cleans the air, prevents accidents, promotes health, evokes excitement, and can drive around the world on a single tank of gas. The technology parts are already being refined, and the Toyota Production System has developed the process and the people to handle the innovations.

What is the vision of a “dream building” – and how will we get there?

Vera Novak writes the Eco Build Trends blog and is currently earning her PhD in Construction from Virginia Tech.


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  1. Boldt
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