Sustainable Building

Ever wondered who coined the definition of sustainable building? Many people had a good idea what it was but it really became official with the publication of the Brundtland Report.

The Report by the Brundtland Commission, titled “Our Common Future”, was published by Oxford University Press in 1987 and laid the definition for sustainable development and the change of politics needed for achieving that.

The sustainable movement uses this definition as the common reference. One sentence in the Brundtland Report is most commonly cited:

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

And thus most green builders define green building as building that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

If your current motto is, “Use what you need without any consideration for the future.” then the Brundtland definition is a great improvement. It is saying, “Build what you gotta build but make sure it doesn’t screw people in the future.”

But truth be told it is a transitional solution. It is a little like saying, “I try to keep the house clean.” It is a weak statement at best. It is based on the concept of doing LESS damage. But if you have ever seen a graph with a line that become less and less you know you can never reach zero.

You can half the damage you do. Then you can half it again. And again and again. But you will never be able to completely reduce the damage to zero because your basis is flawed. You are trying to do LESS damage. Until you remove the concept of damage from the equation you are fighting a loosing battle.

The next step in our building evolution is to Built It Forward. This is where you aren’t trying to lessen the damage but actively increasing the benefit of future generations. It is not about being less bad. Bad is not part of the equation. It is about being more good.

You are essentially going beyond just “putting money in the bank for your own savings without depleting other peoples’ savings” (which is the current definition of sustainability).

When you Build It Forward you actively plan on putting money in your own account AND IN OTHER PEOPLES’ ACCOUNTS. You become the Robin Hood of building.

In a land lacking abundance this may seem impossible. But with smart design, pro-active planning, future thinking and skill it can be done.

Truth be told nature does it all the time. Look at the cherry tree. It gives off many more blossoms than it needs for its own survival. It creates an abundance of food and housing for the ecosystem around it without any personal sacrifice.

We can build that way too. We can build houses that deplete the landfills, produce clean water, energy and nutrients, and provide an abundance of food and housing for the ecosystem around it without any sacrifice.

Build It Forward or don’t build at all.

So what does this mean if you are a green builder in Brooklyn? When doing a green renovation on a Brooklyn brownstone you want to embody the concept of Building It Forward:

Salvage materials – dumpsters and other jobs

Gray water system

Solar PV and Thermal

Rain Water Collection

Green Roof

Build so that it can be disassembled and reused


Edible Garden

Solar Heating

Efficient Boiler

Design for Cooling and Heating

The list goes on but it is possible. We are doing a lot of it on the Brooklyn Green Show House. If all brownstones were built this way we would save money and live in a thriving natural habitat.

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