A couple years ago I was looking into the cold blue eyes of a lying, money grubbing man. He also happened to be a neighborhood contractor. And he said to my face in all seriousness, “I am a green contractor.”

Having seen the future of contracting he had started to use low VOC paints and he had hired a construction manager with LEED AP credentials. I saw right through it. He was simply a smart business man with good marketing skills. Yet maybe he did see himself as a green contractor. Maybe he just had a different definition. To some people he probably did look like a green contractor.

I walked away with an acute awareness that the bandwagon called “green” was immense.

How many times has a middle aged burly man stood up in the aisles of Lowes and miraculously become a “Green Contractor.” These days it happens all the time.

But then I started thinking:

What if this despicable human who couldn’t care less about the planet and only cared about his selfish gain actually acted like a good green builder, meaning he recycled, used non toxic materials, built lots of green roofs and helped people live a healthy life?

Sure he was doing it for all the wrong reasons but does the outcome render the intention immaterial?

What if you expand this person to all people so that the entire world population were obsessed with being ecological, some out of love and others out of self serving interests?

Would we not turn the planet green nonetheless?

I don’t know.

What I did realize from that man was that I needed to own the definition of green, not types like him. I had to define it to the world. I do this both though my actions and my self imposed Life Label as a “Green Contractor and Builder”, combining name and act to create a definition people can gauge other people by.

Ever since that contractor put on the same team jersey as me despite not being on the team I have been obsessed with what it means to be a “Green Builder.” I am constantly searching, like a soul is explored, into what it really means to be a green builder, fully knowing that my definition will immediately become outdated.

How can you define a living entity? Have you ever stared at a cloud, how the only way you know it is changing shape  is because the shape looks different than a second ago. But you never saw it change! It is too subtle.

And again, does it matter if in the end they build green?

But last week it hit me like a ray of sun shining though FSC sawdust in the air. This time I really think I got it.

Here it is, the definition of “Green Builder”:

Somebody who puts the welfare of the planet before anything else.


It is not how many VOC’s your paint has. It is who you are looking out for.

Who is number one on the list? The health of the planet.

As a builder, does every single decision you make hover over how you can make the planet healthier?

If you answer yes then you can call yourself a “Green Builder.”

Before you accuse me of being impractical and fanatically idealistic, remind yourself that the client and the contractor belong to the planet, so their health on all levels is part of the “Green Builder” equation. The contractor needs to make money and the client needs a home to be “healthy”.

For they are part of the whole we seek to keep full of health.

But a Green Builder does not dwell too long on the health of the client and his own self. After a breif pause on those needs, the Green Builders pans out wide again, very wide to see the whole picture, relegating the needs of client and contractor in context to the whole world.

We are not narrow sighted in our outlook but far reaching and broad. We see global. Take it a step further: universal. Forget Earth, how about:

A Green Builder wants to make the Universe healthier.

They do it with every stroke of that paint brush.

With this definition everything is so easy. The next time I look into those cold blue eyes and the man tells me he is  a Green Contractor I simply need to ask myself, “Does this man put the health of the planet above all else?”

The answer is no. So it does not matter how well he walks the walk of green building because with this definition the attention is shifted away from action and results and put on PRIORITIES.

It is all about priorities. Two babies drowning in a pool. The one you save first is your priority. Where do this person’s priorities lie? With himself, with me, with the world? The two first options are atomistic, meaning singular and exclusive. The third option, the world, is holistic and include the other two options.

Ever heard of the “Win Win” concept in business where instead of only you win or only I win we both win. Not yin, not yang but the circle of both. Holistic.

So this brings us to the grand finales of Green Contractor Defined!

A green contractor is one who always thinks holistically

Sure they put the world first, sure they also help the client and themselves but more important than those atomistic details, the Green Contractor is constantly looking for the entire picture. They are endlessly trying to see the always changing whole.

Like cloud watchers they strive to define the undefinable, to peek ever so quickly into the meaning of life that ties all these parts into a unified mass. In the end a green builder doesn’t build houses. A green builder builds meaning that makes sense when looked at close as a paint stroke and far as a nebula.

Right now that meaning is green, tomorrow it may be something else. Only the green builder will know.

Peeking through universe