Friday, 31 December 2010

Sustainable building design

After decades of feckless consumption of natural materials and fossil fuels by the developed world, not only for constructing, heating and cooling our leaky buildings, some of us are finally beginning to realize that our current level of consumption is not sustainable, either economically or ecologically. Coupled with our relentless desire to acquire “stuff” that we have been brainwashed into thinking we need to support our lifestyles, we are in danger of descending into the black hole of fuel poverty while being surrounded by mountains of obsolete “stuff” we no longer need. Worse still, we seem to be expecting our scientists and engineers to invent yet more “stuff” to get us out of this mess

As a result, the whole business of sustainable building design is becoming a rather dodgy, hybrid bandwagon covered in greenwash and decorated with eco-bling. At the same time the concept of so-called eco-buildings is largely being perceived by the public in the UK as the preserve of Architects and their middle class clients who can afford to park their Porsches in front of their “Grand Designs” in beautiful locations. Either this or they have a vision of unwashed hippies living in straw bale huts in the forest, growing their own lentils and washing their clothes in the river. At least the hippies have made some lifestyle choices that genuinely reduce their impact on the planet but the wealthier converts to eco-living tend to spend the money they save on fuel on bigger steaks, bigger cars and flights to their second home in France

Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes is a small bunch of earnest and knowledgeable folk trying to see through the greenwash, strip out the eco-bling and create sustainable buildings for all the right reasons. They are surrounded by the modern equivalent of snake-oil salesmen who are peddling a dazzling plethora of eco-stuff and gizmos that promise the earth, the moon and the stars. Very few deliver anything of the sort and most of them rely on either toxic materials to make them or grid-based electricity to run them. Real eco-buildings have a super-insulated and air-tight fabric constructed from locally-sourced natural or recycled materials and make best use of solar gain

If we are serious about achieving one-planet living in the developed world we must all try and make the following changes to our lifestyle, in this order :-

1     STOP FLYING (especially short-haul)

2     EAT LESS MEAT (or preferably none)

3     DRIVE LESS (walk and cycle more)

4     BUY LESS STUFF (especially electric gadgets & cheap clothes)

5     LIVE IN A PASSIVHAUS (and if you can, work from home)