The book Green from the Ground Up, Sustainable, Healthy, and Energy-Efficient Home Construction, offers everything its title promises, and yet that very same title shows how wrong the authors are. It is 330 pages full of intelligent “green” building techniques covering everything from efficient insulation techniques to natural ventilation.
The book is a fantastic overview of pretty much every good green technique being practiced by green builders, in New York and elsewhere in North America.
And yet as I read the book, getting closer and closer to the end I realized how far their definition of green is to mine. It was discouraging.
Completely missing from the entire book was any mention of salvaging materials. The word salvage doesn’t even appear in all 330 glossy pages.
Once in a short picture caption they mention the reuse of wood as a kitchen counter. And another picture caption mentions reused flooring. But both times it was all about aesthetics and not ecology.
How can you write an all inclusive green building book without once mentioning salvage? The authors don’t think salvage is part of green building. The authors are wrong. Salvage is the most green building technique there is.
It does not matter how many green counters you buy, you are still stuck in the old paradigm of material depletion, consumption and waste.
Until salvage becomes the CENTER of green building we will continue to destroy this planet.
Do the authors, who are clearly knowledgeable and experts in many green techniques, really believe that if the whole world all of a sudden started building by their techniques we would be ok?
The answer is a loud NO. We would still consume too many resources and create too much waste.
New green products have their place. For example new energy efficient fridges save massive amounts of energy compared to older ones. And waste also has its place. There are some things that deserve to be thrown away, like synthetic linoleum flooring.
But they are the exception to the main green building tenet: that cradle to cradle thinking is key to our success in returning to earth what we have taken.
Nature is a cycle and nothing is ever wasted. The rain forest does not have toxic garbage dumps. One animal’s waste is another’s food.
And likewise, one builder’s waste can be another builder’s materials. I know this. Eco Brooklyn buys very little materials and yet we do beautiful gut renovations of brownstones because there is so much good material that gets thrown out.
Ever since the start of the industrial revolution society has been on the fast track to collecting natural resources and producing things. Our world is full of stuff and increasingly short on natural resources.
Lets slow it down a little. Lets stop being so damn productive so we can consume more. We have many years before we need to make more stuff. Lets sit back and enjoy the stuff we have. Lets spend more time organizing and maintaining our stuff and less time trying to get newer versions of it. Lets be more Wabi Sabi.
As a green builder our problem is not a lack of stuff. We have access to lots of good salvaged materials. Our job sites are bursting at the seems with excellent quality salvaged materials. New York City is the Gotham Forest. NY has enough old growth wood in the bowels of its buildings to rebuild for years and never have to cut down a new tree.
Our problem as a green building company interested in ecology is to get other builders to waste less. Almost daily I meet with other builders to see if they would be willing to throw less materials in the dumpster. But habits are hard to break. Money is not stopping them since they would save money. If they throw less away they spend less on dumpster fees. Ethics is not stopping them since they want to be greener. Simple bad habits are the only thing stopping them from being greener.
The book Green from the Ground Up is a good in depth primer on isolated green building techniques. It is like the follow up to the book Green Building for Idiots. A quick reference guide if you want to know the definition of a ground source heat pump for example. For many people it will be an enlightening book.
But Green from the Ground Up lacks the holistic universal view that will really save this planet. And that starts with salvage.