There is this great Zen saying: “Before Enlightenment, fetch water, chop wood. After Enlightenment, fetch water, chop wood.”

From the Zen perspective it is an acknowledgment of the “isness” of being, meaning that with enlightenment you see life as it is, free of expectation or judgment. You and life are simply “being” perfectly and the mundane daily tasks like chopping wood become part of the perfect rotation of the cosmos.

Trying to describe the one handed clap in words of course comes across as clunky but my point is that a person’s inner being might totally transform yet their outer actions appear the same.

And that is a lot of what green building is about.

Take the awareness of conservation, for example. Let’s say two builders in Brooklyn are each renovating a Brownstone. They both use salvaged old beams from a dumpster and cover them up with drywall so the inspector does not see them.

One of those builders is dishonest and cheap, cutting corners by using “junk” wood and hiding it behind drywall before anyone catches him. He does it to put extra money in his pocket and doesn’t care about his client or anything else. Pretty simple. Most of us have come across this kind of builder.

The other builder is an honest green builder and yet it appears does the exact same thing. Why? This is an example of similar external actions but different internal motivation.

The green builder salvaged the beams to lessen the impact on the landfill and so new trees would not be cut. He knows that old wood if picked correctly is much stronger. He also knows the Department of Buildings does not allow this kind of wood because in his opinion it is behind the times as well as trying to deal with dishonest builders.

So the green builder hides the wood from the inspector in order to have less of an environmental impact and a stronger house.

Outwardly there is no difference between a corrupt builder trying to save money by using old beams and a green builder trying to save the environment and build better.

This goes on so much in green building and is why green building can be misleading. For example it is hard sometimes explaining how one house built green is radically different from another that wasn’t. On the surface they might not seem so different.

After all every smart business tries to reduce waste and re-use materials because it saves money. Who doesn’t want to reduce the impact on the land fills: less dumpsters sent to the dump means less money spent. All businesses want to have happy employees and if that means using less chemicals on the job then so be it. You can pretty much explain the logic of all green building practices from current building perspectives.

But that is the huge difference: the green building perspective is vastly different. The angle is different. Instead of looking from the view of profit for that individual business you are looking from the viewpoint of “profit” for the whole planet, the whole community, the whole ecosystem, the whole house……it is a vastly more holistic view.

Even though the external actions may sometimes align and seem similar, they are not because of the “reason” behind the actions.

So why are you building green? Is it because you are a contractor and that is where the money is? Is it because you own a home and have allergies? Is it because you want your local river to be cleaner? We all have reasons for building green. All these reasons might make the exact same house. But the reason behind that house is so important.

The holistic reason is the most powerful because it looks at all the reasons and creates a holistic synergy of them all: not only does the contractor make money but you get rid of your allergies AND the river becomes cleaner.

That is true green building.

It takes more time, more honesty, more knowledge and more maturity. It is not the easiest in the short term but it is the only path to a healthy world.

Built It Forward or Don’t Build At All.