Good substance, misunderstood name
I am a Certified Green Building Professional, a member of Build It Green and the US Green Building Council, and an avid advocate of the key principles included in "Green Building" as described by leading organizations in the field. However, common understanding of what is meant by Green Building is often incorrect or confused.
"Green washing" or over-hyped marketing spin attempting to caste a "save the planet" glow over every product/service imaginable has served to confuse, confound and turn off many people. Not a surprise, the label "Green Building" is highly ambiguous and we participate in a marketing-driven economy. So let's cut through the ambiguity, create some clarity with a more precise vocabulary and improve understanding of the substance underneath the confusing Green Building label.
The most important term in the new building vocabulary is "performance". We apply different criteria to judging the performance or effectiveness of all products and services. For example, cars are frequently judged by fuel efficiency, acceleration, power, passenger safety, aesthetics, comfort, etc. In the case of homes, we have operated with a very small set of performance criteria by which we judge and purchase homes. Aesthetics and first cost have pretty much dominated the discussion in the past, while other important performance criteria such as energy efficiency, indoor air quality and comfort have gone largely unnoticed for decades.
The situation is changing dramatically and rapidly although broad awareness of a newly evolved set of performance criteria with which we are beginning to evaluate homes has not yet occurred.
A Touch of History
So Green Building is an expression that some how evolved to label some of the enhanced home performance criteria that have evolved beginning in the 1970s as some of the leading engineering and technical minds in the building industry began to realize that we were not constructing high quality buildings. A movement began to research, develop and promote better building practices and the end product, homes. In 1986 the Affordable Comfort Conference began and has since evolved into the Affordable Comfort Institute (ACI), a leading non-profit organization dedicated to advancing home performance through building science training education and training.
One of the key realizations during this period was that we were not using sustainable building practices. For example, the vast majority of lumber used in home construction today still does not come from sustainably harvested forests. So one key development was the concept of sustainable building practices, and this one performance area is probably how the expression "Green Building" evolved. The problem is that sustainability has tended to be the dominant thought in peoples mind when they hear the expression Green Building ...to the exclusion of the many other important performance criteria which are included in Green Building rating systems like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and Green Point Rated by Build IT Green. If you look at the building performance checklists associated with these systems, use of sustainably harvested materials and construction practices represent a small fraction of the total set of performance criteria.
Green Building is primarily about home performance
So Green Building is really about home performance in five major categories:
Indoor Air Quality
Use of sustainable materials and practices ...includes durability
The "big three" are energy, water, and air and deal with direct, tangible performance benefits for the homeowner living in the home. While good for the planet as well, the major benefits accrue directly to the homeowner. For example, lower- or no - energy bills. And indoor air quality is a no brainer. This goes to the issue of the health and safety of your family. This is about saving your family, not the planet at large. Durability is just common sense. Homes should last at least a hundred years.
Think home performance first, save the planet at the same time
The point of the discussion here is that the term Green Building is poorly understood, misused and has developed the principle connotation of politically correct, "save the planet" sentiment. The truth is that while "sustainability" is one performance criterion included in the term, the majority of criteria addressed by true green building principles and practices are focused on delivering exceptional home performance. Concepts like quality and durability are at the heart of it.
Oops... did I mention the C word? Comfort
Not specifically addressed or well articulated in Green Building principles, unfortunately, is the single most important home performance criterion: comfort. Occupant comfort should be front and center in all building design and construction. It is not, and most US homes suffer from dreadful comfort levels in all areas: thermal, acoustical, respiratory and visual.
At One Sky Homes we choose to focus on performance as the critical concept to keep in mind when designing, building and renovating homes for customers. While we embrace all the principles included in the true Green Building, we find the term confusing and imprecise. See the page on High Performance Building for a further discussion of the complete list of performance criteria included in a High Performance Home Design.