Deconstructing sustainability

The following post is by Kathleen O’Brien:

There’s some discussion among professionals and sustainable building advocates about market “fatigue” as regards green building.  Given the tendency of many in the industry to value and use green building techniques for their marketing benefits above all else, this is no surprise.

In his recent book, The Shape of Green, Lance Hosey notes that “associating sustainability with its trappings rather than its principles risks looking passé.”  When sustainability is treated as a “style,” says Hosey, “it can go out of style.”  He describes the unfortunate and conspicuous use of green technologies such as solar panels or a green roof on buildings that are pronounced sustainable, but have little to say for themselves other than the “green bling” they are sporting.

But Hosey does far more than bemoan this circumstance, and he doesn’t suggest tossing out the concept of sustainability because some marketers are onto the next new thing, or some architects continue to view (wrongly) that sustainability is inelegant and antithetical to high design.  In my view, Hosey returns sustainability to its rightful place when he reminds us that sustainability  is a set of “principles and mechanics for making design more responsive and responsible, environmentally, socially, and economically.”   Designers need “an aesthetics of ecology” that can “guide designers to make things more environmentally intelligent, humane, and elegant all at once.”

Hosey is asking us to shift our perspective from technological design to ecological design, and offers three principles that together result in sustainable solutions:  conservation, attraction, and connection.  Well worth the read.

Kathleen O’Brien is a long time advocate for and prolific writer about green building and sustainable development since before it was “cool.” She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. Recently retired from O’Brien & Company, the green consulting firm she founded over 22 years ago,  she is now the Executive Director of The EMERGE Leadership Project, a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to accelerate life-sustaining solutions in the built environment through emergent leadership training.