Using the Ecological Goods and Services model as the basis for understanding and developing measurable ecological sustainability as it relates to the creation of green buildings.
The Problem: It’s way too easy being green.
We in the architectural community are guilty of promoting ourselves as something we are not, and doing so on a massive scale. What we are not, is green. What we do not do is create projects that are ecologically sustainable.
In my opinion, our collective community of professional architects has never designed a building that remotely approaches ecological sustainability in any recognizably scientific way. Worse, we congratulate ourselves on creating “sustainable” or “green” buildings with “LEED” or “Living Building” certifications that do not in any scientific way, measure a projects impact on the global Ecological Goods and Services (Ecological Goods and Services are the combination of the “goods” such as wood, that nature provides us to build our projects, and the “services” that nature provides in the form of say a tree, such as sequestering atmospheric carbon and stabilizing our climate).
In some ways we are now worse off than when we started the so called green building movement some 20 years ago, because we have now almost completely blinded ourselves to the crux of the matter by focusing on a fantasy rather than the realities of true ecological sustainability. This is because we have developed, and as a profession completely bought into, systems that are supposed to measure ecological sustainability (LEED, and to a lesser extend the Living Building Challenge) that in fact do no such thing. We have now become blissfully unaware of the fact that, per square foot, our LEED projects often do more damage to global ecological Goods and Services than non LEED projects. We are clearly oblivious to the fact that our LEED projects take more from the earth than she can produce and put more into the earths biotic systems than she can sequester and cleanse. We therefore do not have to confront that our green designs, our sustainable buildings, our LEED projects; are actually contributing to ecological collapse rather than helping to stabilize or ecological systems on which we depend.
In our willingness to develop and fully adopt a non-scientific means of measuring ecological sustainably, we have failed to move our industry in a manner allows us to effectively, ethically and rigorously respond to the global ecological and climate emergency we face. We are like ships captains that have plugged a few recognizable and easy-to-repair leaks but not knowing, wanting or caring to take a more thorough inventory of more troublesome leaks or repair those that cost more to fix. Worse yet, in order to convince the rest of the crew, we have now taken to proclaim (and have created false certifications to prove it!) that there are actually no remaining leaks in our vessel and that our leaky and increasingly fragile ship is able to sustain her intended course and that no further action is required. We have failed as leaders in the green design field and ecological stewards, to recognize our true ecological impacts and accurately assess the dangers we face by increasing those impacts and this has contributed to the inability and unwillingness to create ways to address and solve our critical issues.
The Solution: Net Positive Ecological Design
A new green building protocol, developed by Todd Jersey Architecture, for not only repaying borrowed Ecological Goods and Services but for generating a net increase in Global Ecological Goods and Services.
If we are going to strive for sustainability we must determine the impacts of constructing, operating and maintaining our built environment on global Ecological Goods and Services (EG&S) and we must be honest about those impacts. We must measure what we are borrowing from our EG+S heritage and what we are emitting into the biosphere that must be sequestered by EG+S. We also must, in every development, go past paying back what we have borrowed and move quickly to create methods and protocols to re-build the earth’s ecological heritage and establish a method of guaranteeing that our projects have a Measurably Positive Ecological Impact (or MPEI) on our local and global ecosystems.
If we are to measure our impacts we need new metrics, benchmarks and protocols to help us determine what we owe and what we want to build and how we pay it back and start saving. To design projects that have a measurably positive impact on global ecological goods and services is the purpose of N+ED. To do so we need metrics with scientific integrity that are easy to use and understand. To that end, we are creating N+ED software where qualifiers such as construction materials, building square footage per occupant, distance from public transportation and building use are entered to establish an Ecological Cost per Square Foot or ECSF for the building. For instance, a conventionally built, plush and spacious office building in the suburbs that supports two commuters per 1,000 square foot has a much higher ECSF than an energy efficient building close to public transportation that supports six occupants per 1,000 square feet.
Once we have established our ECSF, we need to determine how to not only pay our debt but to create ecological savings. This is where things get exciting. This is where we move in a totally new direction and become ecological stewards and restorationists. To have an urban building project create a net positive impact we need to think outside the proverbial and literal “box” we find ourselves in and to think in big systems and uncommon solutions.
For instance; “Net Zero” is a term architects use to refer to a building that is designed to generate all the energy it needs from renewable sources. The Feichtmeir Residence, designed by TJA, is one if the first examples of Net Zero Energy Design in the nation. At a lecture by a well-regarded San Francisco architect on Net Zero Energy Design, the architect giving the lecture stated flatly that it is impossible to achieve Net Zero on large urban buildings that have a small amount of rooftop relative to number of building occupants. Thinking linearly this is a true statement. But if we think about the electrical energy grid as a system that can generate energy anywhere and deliver it anywhere within the grid, this statement is false. In addition, considering the earth’s atmosphere as a system, it does not make a difference whether you generate the renewable energy on your rooftop or someone else’s or even anyplace else for that matter. To achieve a net zero status the project simply needs to ensure the energy used is renewable. Thinking in systems, the possibility arises that we can pay others to generate that electricity in the desert in order to achieve a Net Zero Energy project while we use our rooftop to grow food, understanding that shipping food has a higher ecological impact than shipping electricity. We just need to account for paying back into the interconnected system resulting in a net increase in ecological goods and services.
This is similar to thinking about multiple income streams in a global economy. You, in a localized economic system, do not care if you make money by growing and selling your own vegetables or vegetables sold from a company you own stock in that has a home base in Europe. You, as a local expression of a global economic system, are enriched by the selling of vegetables in both local and non-local systems, interacting as a whole.
Thinking in systems allows for the possibility of having an Ecosystems Capital Building Protocol (ECP) in areas that have lower land and labor costs which opens up the possibility of achieving our MPEI at significantly lower than expected costs. We can think of this strategy as providing a greater ecological benefit for dollar spent or a greater Ecological Return on Investment.
This way of thinking allows for new and exciting possibilities. We can grow our ecological capital in ways where we can maximize our Ecological Return on Investment and in doing so we can empower restoration and eco capital building throughout out the globe in ways that also make the most positive social impact.
Todd Jersey Architecture is currently creating the Net Positive Ecological Design protocol to establish the use of the Ecological Goods and Services model as a way of measuring the ecological impact of our projects and a means of creating methods of making that impact a positive one. We have committed ourselves to creating projects that demonstrate true scientific ecological sustainability by generating a positive increase in Ecological Goods and Services and we will use our Net Positive Ecological Design protocol to fulfill this promise.
We believe that thinking in Ecological Goods and Services is an urgent paradigm for the green building movement and that it will allow us as a profession, to step out of our false sense of security and rely on rigorous social, economic and ecological indicators and benchmarks to help guide us in creating projects that will help forge an enduring and healthy future on our home planet.
For more information on Net Positive Ecological Design or to participate with us in this initiative please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Definition of Ecological Goods and Services: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological goods and services
Millennium Ecosystems Assessment: http://www.maweb.org/en/index.aspx
Restoring Natural Capital; the RNC Alliance: http://www.rncalliance.org/epages/rncalliance.sf/en_AU/?ObjectPath=/Shops/rncalliance/Products/%22Book%20001%22