News and Articles by Anthony Ricigliano: It’s actually surprising that the United States has the third largest ecological footprint per capita, behind the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. While we try to do the right thing we still face huge challenges in overcoming our environmental deficit. Sustainability comes in many forms with one of them being “smart buildings.”
What we need to do to truly make positive changes in terms of how we treat our environment is to consider the big picture of our actions to see whether we’re actually headed in the right direction. Let’s take a look at smart buildings and their role in reducing their inhabitants’ carbon footprint. Unfortunately, smart buildings may sound great in theory but could be falling short in a number of areas. In terms of sustainability and shrinking carbon footprints smart buildings fail the test under the following circumstances, according to TED.com, a non-profit organization devoted to "Ideas worth spreading”:
- Employees are required to commute over long distances.
- The energy they consume is carbon-intensive.
- Their technology is too complicated to use or too difficult to maintain.
- Their impact stops at the property line.
- They deny the use of pre-existing infrastructure or building fabric.
- They are conceived in isolation from larger, systemic environmental change.
By looking at the big picture, a smart building could actually do more harm than good simply by moving further away from the people that work there. Even a building that is self sufficient to the point of being off the grid will have a higher carbon footprint than a dilapidated old building if it encourages or requires dependence on an automobile to get there. To wit, shortening the daily commute of a typical person by six miles can save as much carbon as a 50 percent reduction in energy use for home heating.
"Green" buildings and green initiatives in a vacuum are not enough to make a material difference. What is required is a big picture approach to avoid the common practice of doing some good and then undoing it with an action that cancels out the position actions which preceded it.
In short, we must make the most of what we already have and be aware that all of our actions can have an impact. We have to get over the feel-good perception that going "green" and leaving it at that is the answer to all of our problems. By analogy, (also from TED.com) “the electric hybrid Toyota Prius is an energy-efficient car. However, when accounting for the energy used to manufacture a new Prius, one would actually save more energy by continuing to drive a mid-'90s Geo Metro.” This probably isn’t what Prius owners want hear but you get the picture.
Going green must become a behavior or a lifestyle as opposed to a series of isolated actions. It’s not going to easy and, by the way, this isn’t meant to diminish isolated actions. It’s often these very actions that act as the seed of change in our overall behavior.