"Truly Sustainable"

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Stacy Julian


A large number of the comments readers post online divide into two camps—those that dismiss sustainability and those that misrepresent it.


The former group, echoing many conservatives, rejects global warming as a hoax, Al Gore as a con man, and the UN as a “propaganda machine.” The latter group, following many liberals, offers the opposite view—that sustainability is “essential” but that nothing labeled “green” ever measures up. Both extremes rage about greenwashing—but for opposite reasons. One suggests that sustainable design expects too much, while the other implies that it expects too little. As one reader asked recently, “How committed are you and the magazine you represent to truly sustainable design?”


This question exposes the fallacy at the heart of both points of view. Sustainability shouldn't be considered a binary condition—“green” or “not green.” There are spectrums of performance, from bad to good, with many ideas about what constitutes both “good” and “bad.” It is this diversity of values—and the shared desire to improve—that can unite the two camps.


When it comes down to it, the most important things are to keep an open mind and to keep trying to do better. Every day. What if we all redirected the energy of our complaints toward making real improvements? What a difference that would make.


This is my last regular blog for ARCHITECT. Thanks for reading!


Comments (8 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 9:30 PM Thursday, February 28, 2013

    Anonymous from January 9, 2011: You write, "sustainability is a binary condition. just because you have lighter shades of green ... doesn't ensure that the project is actually sustainable." If sustainability is binary, meaning that something either is or isn't sustainable, like an "on/off" switch, then define exactly what you mean by "actually sustainable." Describe what conditions make a building, for example, "actually sustainable," as opposed to "sort of" sustainable. Is it LEED Platinum? Is it net zero? What is it? Where do you draw the line between not sustainable and sustainable? You can't do it.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 9:32 AM Thursday, January 13, 2011

    The context of the greenest most "sustainable" building that exists or that you can imagine existing would exist within an unsustainable context, thus calling it sustainable is incorrect. Buildings don't live in a vacuum. We should be working to make the context in which buildings exist and come to be sustainable, then our buildings would be green by default and we would have to go out of our way to make them "unsustainable."

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 3:36 PM Sunday, January 09, 2011

    sustainability is a binary condition. just because you have lighter shades of green (e.g. low/no VOC paints, FSC wood) doesn't ensure that the project is actually sustainable. if you're utilizing closed cell spray foam w/ high GWP blowing agents - great, you've got a house that's airtight with a decent R-value, but you won't recoup the damage you just unleashed by using a product that degrades the environment. merely tacking on a bike rack or green roof doesn't make a project sustainable, either. great care, foresight and thought needs to go into a project to make it sustainable.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 11:38 AM Monday, January 03, 2011

    Sustainability is the goal of the process we are undergoing as a planet. "Sustainable" should be just as shown here, in quotation marks; it is is a misnomer because it is the end state we are working toward not the means. The means can be found between the "horns" of the dilemma you address. I would contend that energy underlies the largest portion of environmental concerns as is it relates to achieving sustainability and that most of the other dominoes/puzzle pieces will fall into place if we figure this one out.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 6:00 PM Wednesday, December 29, 2010

    Lance, Thanks for your many insiteful articles! Best Wishes! As for 'Green' and 'sustainability' the movement has been taken over by those whose main goal is to make money and control world resources. However, we all should do everything we can to recycle, reuse, use all resources efficiently and not pollute the environment. We all can participate, buy local, bicycle, walk, garden, design the most energy efficient buildings that respect the sun and earth. We cant rely on the government to save us through legislating green design. the government is unfortunately involved in 'perpetual wars' and securing the 'Homeland' against terrorists that they create so we must live in fear, happy new year!

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 5:09 PM Wednesday, December 29, 2010

    Hey, it's a multimillion dollars business, from teaching it to adopting it. Sustainable or Green? pay your money take your choice. But watch your liability if it would not work in saving you money in the long run. How about just be responsible in specifying building materials that have long term values and compliment both nature and the inhabitants. Forget about scoring LEED points that would not help the environment and the quality of life for the inhabitants who live in the man made structures.

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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 4:44 PM Wednesday, December 29, 2010

    i am getting tired of the green propoganda. what ever happen to just plain old being environmentally conscious? and just doing what is right? i grew up with conservationist parents. it became a way of life. it wasn't so much about being green as it was in trying to save green, i.e. cash. it was less expensive to be less wasteful. that is what a lot of the green movemment today looses track of. taut the cost benefits and the rest follows.

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  • Posted by: m2march | Time: 1:47 PM Wednesday, December 29, 2010

    Unfortunately your premise that the "two camps" can be united is based on the presupposition that the Green Movements ends jutifies its means. Neither of those positions can be coreced via the plea of "diversity", they are essentially polar opposites. The common ground is the need to achieve plentiful CHEAP energy, clean water and enviroment WITHOUT the Social Engineering.

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About the Blogger

Lance Hosey

thumbnail image Contributing editor and author of ARCHITECT’s monthly Eco column, Lance Hosey, AIA, LEED AP, Hon. FIGP, is president and CEO of GreenBlue, a nonprofit and consultancy dedicated to environmental innovation and the creative redesign of industry. A registered architect, he is a former director at William McDonough + Partners. With Kira Gould, he is the co-author of Women in Green: Voices of Sustainable Design (2007). His forthcoming book, The Shape of Green: Aesthetics, Ecology, and Design, studies how form and image can enhance conservation, comfort, and community at every scale of design, from products to cities.