I've been thinking about this for a while. There is a lot of hoopla regarding green building and green lifestyle these days. There are certainly many levels of greenness and I applaud you for whatever level you have reached. Unfortunately, being truly green is a lot more complex than it might seem on the surface.
Let's start with transportation. When we think of green, we need to take into consideration the carbon footprint for sure, but we also need to take into consideration the use of resources (after all, we do live in a finite world) and how long will it take that new green product to become a net gain for the environment. You buy a new Prius. This is very green because it gets very high mileage. Not green immediately. How much steel, oil (including all the plastics) and polution was used/caused in its manufacture? How much oil was used in shipping it to the USA and then to your town? Compare this with a ten year old high mileage vehicle (since emission standards have not improved in this time I will not talk about that). The manufacturing costs (polution, resource use) have nearly been amortized. In the beginning, at least, the ten year old vehicle will be greener than the new Prius. How long will it take the Prius to catch up? In this blog I'll not talk about public transportation because the nature of most of our work requires private transportation (there is probably very little green about private transportation).
Food use and production; where does your food come from? Is it shipped halfway around the world? Is it a result of industrial monoculture farming (relying heavily on oil for fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides and harvesting)? Truly green food is both local and seasonal. We eat what is produced in our local area, when it is produced. If you want it to be green, you also have to take into consideration the treatment of the land and animals that you eat. If the land is being despoiled with petroleum based chemicals, if the animals are treated as production units (feed lots, cages, etc.) it is not green. Even if it is organic, if it's shipped from far off, it's not green.
Local economies; A green economy is one that is sustaining of the locality. If your buying your goods and services from the big box stores/national or international chains, you are not sustaining your local economy. This is not green. Buying local circulates the money local. Buying from chains sends the money somewhere else.
What is a truly green house? The analogy written above about the Prius fits here too. Can we find truly sustainable wood products? Not with todays knowledge. There are certainly some small, local mills and timber operations that strive to do sustainability, but on a national level it is pretty grim. Building to LEEDS standards is certainly a large step in the right direction, but is only a step. Where do the materials and products for future housing come from? What is the carbon/resource footprint of future housing?
This post is not meant as a pooh poohing of green building and practices. It is only meant as a thought provoker. I am thrilled that our industry is beginning to take these things into consideration, and I know that all of us fit somewhere in the continuum of green; either not green, partially green, predominately green (I doubt that there is anyone in this country that is 100% green; we do, after all, live in an industrial society).
Thanks for reading this screed. I hope it provokes thought and action.
REDUCE; REUSE; RECYCLE
David Helm, Helm Home Inspections
Washington Licensed Home Inspector #272
WSDA Licensed Structural Pest Inspector #69844