When Grass is Not 'Greener'

When Grass is Not 'Greener'

The frozen tundra - regions near the earth's poles -  is a fascinating place. There are extremely low temperatures, long winters, short summers, no growing seasons, and periods of either 24 hours of daylight or darkness. What's most notable about this rough climatic region is that there are little to no plants. No greenery. Yet, life still thrives here. Iv'e always been facinated by this. How can life sustain itself in such harsh conditions? Despite circumstances, the people, animals, and few hardy plants that do manage to grow here, have used the resources at their disposal to create a durable, successful and SUSTAINABLE eco-system that has existed for centuries.    

Today's world would have you think 'Green' = Sustainable. But severe natural climates like the tundra and deserts teach us otherwise. The two terms are related but they are not synonomous. Nonetheless, we've developed an entire market of 'Green' products that completely over-shadow the importance of comprehensive sustainability. We've also been convinced that frivolously throwing a few trees and grasses on our buildings and in our cities is the sustainable thing to do. It's much bigger than that. 

'Green' products are environmentally friendly items with regards to themselves, but outside of a comprehensive sustainable system they hold only a small percentage of global energy savings, waste reduction, and greenhouse gas emission reduction. Photo from CC.

More attention should be directed not toward the products we buy,  but the system they're in. For example, how 'green' is a bottle of environmentally freindly and bio-degradable soap if the transportation and packaging require more energy and produce more carbon than the bottle saves?  Re-Think the system.. Photo from CC.

More attention should be directed not toward the products we buy,  but the system they're in. For example, how 'green' is a bottle of environmentally freindly and bio-degradable soap if the transportation and packaging require more energy and produce more carbon than the bottle saves?  Re-Think the system.. Photo from CC.

There are a many definitions of the word "sustainable". But there are three pretty good one's that I'd like to share with you. These I feel align with the true etymology of the word...

Merrian-Webster: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods.

Dictionary. com: as pertaining to a system that maintains its own viability by using techniques that allow for continual reuse. 

Lastly, a definition put forward by the World Commission on Environment and Development states, "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

Farmer's Markets are very sustainable. They are usually within walking distance, showcase only local and regional foods, support local economies, and they do their job of providing quality food to a community. The only 'green' present is that which you can eat. Photo by Marques King

Farmer's Markets are very sustainable. They are usually within walking distance, showcase only local and regional foods, support local economies, and they do their job of providing quality food to a community. The only 'green' present is that which you can eat. Photo by Marques King

Buildings account for the largest portion of energy usage globally. A fantastic way to reduce that impact is by building with passive and local materials. This Adobe house is native to the desert. It uses a local mud brick and plaster for its walls which is more than plentiful in the region. An added benefit is the thickness of walls which control temperature inside the home, and reduce the amount of energy use. Photo from CC.

Buildings account for the largest portion of energy usage globally. A fantastic way to reduce that impact is by building with passive and local materials. This Adobe house is native to the desert. It uses a local mud brick and plaster for its walls which is more than plentiful in the region. An added benefit is the thickness of walls which control temperature inside the home, and reduce the amount of energy use. Photo from CC.

So, sustainability has little to do with any singular product or service. Nor is it about how much grass, trees, and plants a place has. This is not to deny the importance of vegatation in society or the significance of environmentally freindly products. But it is to say that greenery and products alone do very little for sustainability. Sustainability is a system and a lifestyle. It is the way in which you and I will choose to live and how we utilize energy. To be sustainable is to adapt to the resources around us, and to live a lifestyle where those resources can be continually maintained and reused, for the people of the present and the generations of tomorrow. Some of the most sustainable civilizations and environments in history, in fact, had very little 'green'.

A somewhat modest version of a current design trend called, 'trees in the tower'. Buildings like this try to replenish greenery removed by construction by putting it all over the new structure. An admirable cause, but short-sighted. These structures ignore other elements of the environmental system in which it exists. Concrete and Steel are still the primary construction materials for these buildings, two materials that emit tremendous amounts of carbon into the air during its manufactuering, not to mention more expensive. The increased weight and water from the 'greenery' requires more structure which also emits more carbon. Furthermore the building is surrounded by auto focused transportation, which emits more carbon & greenhouse gases, discourages walkability, shuns social engagement on the street, and many other adverse effects. Green does not always lead to sustainability. Photo from CC.

A somewhat modest version of a current design trend called, 'trees in the tower'. Buildings like this try to replenish greenery removed by construction by putting it all over the new structure. An admirable cause, but short-sighted. These structures ignore other elements of the environmental system in which it exists. Concrete and Steel are still the primary construction materials for these buildings, two materials that emit tremendous amounts of carbon into the air during its manufactuering, not to mention more expensive. The increased weight and water from the 'greenery' requires more structure which also emits more carbon. Furthermore the building is surrounded by auto focused transportation, which emits more carbon & greenhouse gases, discourages walkability, shuns social engagement on the street, and many other adverse effects. Green does not always lead to sustainability. Photo from CC.

In the midst of ignorant climate change detractors that happen to be in positions of influence, the pursuit of true sustainability takes another hit. It has been scientifically proven that the way humans are living today - that is the SYSTEMS we have estabalished for ourselves - is exponentially deteriorating and depleting finite resources and conditions on our planet. Yet, these 'leaders' continue to invest in terminal technologies and markets that contribute to this condemning trend. Private sector 'Green' products and services have their part to play in the pursuit of sustainability. But outside of the system - a self sustaining one - they are absolutely useless and in many cases defeat the goal of sustainability in the first place. We only need to look back a few hundred years see exactly how humans have and can live sustainablly on this planet.

Thinking that using 'Green' products is enough to be sustainable takes attention away from the larger issues, one of which is that our cities and neighborhoods are becoming increasing inefficient. These communities often have things like bad food choices, poor infrastructure, and undefiend public spaces. These one dimensional areas have many unhealthy effects on the individual. Image by Dhiru Thadani.

Thinking that using 'Green' products is enough to be sustainable takes attention away from the larger issues, one of which is that our cities and neighborhoods are becoming increasing inefficient. These communities often have things like bad food choices, poor infrastructure, and undefiend public spaces. These one dimensional areas have many unhealthy effects on the individual. Image by Dhiru Thadani.

My mentor, Dhiru Thadani says often in lectures " Sustainability is not a design aesthetic, but a design ethic" In layman's terms, sustainability is a philospohical procedure; a modus operandi;  a criteria to make decisions by. It is not solely a product nor the over application of "green" things. Collectively we must understand this if humans are to truely live sustainably on this planet. We must also remember that humans have lived sustainablly on Planet Earth for thousands of years, and only recently have we strayed away from basic principles of a self-sustaining lifestyle. This green movement, as with any aesthetic and trend, will fade away. And if we continue to place our 'faith' in it or ignore other negative effects of our current way of life, this planet will too, abruptly, pass with it. You and I will be gone. But what about your childern and your childern's children?  

Let's stop being green, and let's start living sustainable. 

Image drawn by Dhiru Thadani

Image drawn by Dhiru Thadani

STUDI GROUP NOTES

BOOKS

All of my book recommendations are books that I own, have read or am in the process of reading. I personally vouch that they will bring you tremendous value and a continued education on the subject just as they have for me. Enjoy!
History of Architecture: Part VI

History of Architecture: Part VI

Broken System Pt. 2 - Being Black in America

Broken System Pt. 2 - Being Black in America