Ann Edminster has been a green building leader since the movement’s earliest days. Her list of accomplishments is long: she is the founder and principal of Design AVEnues, a consulting and design practice in California; she has a master’s degree in architecture from the University of California at Berkeley; she has extensive experience with straw bale construction; she is the author of a 2009 book on net-zero homes called Energy Free: Homes for a Small Planet.
Mounting a successful revolution
Back in 2003, when I was editor of Energy Design Update, I interviewed Ann in connection with her work developing the LEED for Homes standard. During that conversation, she told me, “I started my green building advocacy working with straw bale and cob builders, and my heart is still there. I strongly believe we need them to be doing what they are doing, moving where we perceive the boundaries to be. But that is happening one home at a time—it’s not having much measurable benefit—and that’s why these days I am actively working more in the mainstream. In order to successfully mount a revolution, you need the guerillas, you need the moles, you need the people storming the gates, you need the quiet subversives—you need everybody.”
When I recently telephoned Ann Edminster for a second interview, I began our conversation by reading back what she told me in 2003.
Most new homes get an F
Martin Holladay: My first question is: Twenty years later, how is the revolution going?
Ann Edminster: It’s picking up steam. I’ve seen more change in the public realm in the last three years than in the previous 17 years—in terms of the public narrative, in what I hear at public meetings and observe in the media. Everywhere, there is a greater…
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Martin, thanks so much for the opportunity to share my views!
I’m trying to understand this statement: “It’s important to understand that 60% of our emissions are from transportation.”
All the stats I usually see put transportation’s share of carbon emissions in the range of 27-30%. The most recent EPA inventory says the transportation sector accounted for 28% of emissions in 2021.
So I’m confused by that. Can you elaborate?
It also says that the other 40% comes from buildings. The fact that transportation and buildings supposedly account for 100% of "direct carbon emissions" in that county must mean the metric being discussed is more narrow than total systems-wide carbon emissions. Or, transportation and buildings have been defined so broadly so as to capture every form of emission. Not sure.
Ann said, "I live in a county where nearly 60 percent of our direct carbon emissions are from transportation and 40 percent from buildings." Counties differ. I assume that Ann has studied data specific to the county where she lives.
> We are tremendously frustrated. In some respects, the state housing mandates may be wrong-headed, but this is just going to happen.
What is wrong headed about them? SB35 essentially forces job rich urban and suburban communities to stop preventing new higher density workplace-accessible housing to be built.
My interpretation of Ann's statement was that she was referring to her frustration with the fact that few builders consider the issue of embodied carbon emissions. It's probably true that most new construction is responsible for embodied carbon emissions that are hard to justify in light of our current climate crisis.
New housing may be responsible for a lot of embodied carbon, but at least in California we have a serious dearth of housing overall, coupled with large swaths of low density existing housing.
The new housing is going to be built, because the alternative is worsening unaffordability. However, we're better off with it being built closer to the urban core than 1-2 hours drive away, which is what has been happening.
Cities within a 20 minute drive of San Francisco or San Jose that have one dwelling per 1/2 acre lot maximum are the issue.
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