The movement that is greening the built environment is accelerating and according to some estimates, as much as 3% of total commercial and institutional construction in the
In spite of the apparent success of this movement in the
In this edition I will address the fundamental myths being passed around in the USGBC community. The most grating of these fundamental myths violate the laws of physics, common sense, or both. Below are three examples of these myths which are circulated at large in the green building community and which address the issue of design and its relationship to nature. The italics are my rendition of these commonly accepted myths, followed by a brief explanation of why they are indeed myths and deserve to be made part of a concrete mix and buried forever.
1. Humans should rely on nature as the model for design. The subtext accompanying this is that nature has done the hard work. “Nature's ecosystems have nearly four billion years experience developing efficient, adaptive, resilient systems. Why reinvent the wheel, when the R & D has already been done? (from Gil Friend’s August 7, 2006 blog, http://radio.weblogs.com/0109157/)” Well the problem here is that nature’s designs are based on evolution and history whereas humans are the single species that is forward-looking, that creates new materials, products and processes based on discovering the laws of physics and applying them to solve problems. We are a risk taking species, it is our nature and we invent and explore for the sake of invention and exploration. Certainly nature is a significant input, but far from the only one. I would guesstimate that we use and can use only a limited range of mostly metaphors from nature and very few models. I have written more extensively about this in a draft paper you can find at http://www.treeo.ufl.edu/rsc06/Refining%20Ecological%20Design-Kibert-29%20March%202006.pdf The green building design community is also deeply smitten by the concept of biomimicry which is many consider to be the foundation of so-called ecological design and which relies entirely on nature as the model. With all due respect to Janine Benyus, the author of “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature” (1997,
2. Nature has closed loop behavior, biological waste is always food for other organisms, and we should mimic nature’s behavior. This myth, like the others, is well-intended and meant to inform us that we need to minimize waste and reuse and recycle materials. However this statement is related to the Myth #1 above and is equally off target. In fact there are numerous examples of ‘waste’ in nature: coal, petroleum, elemental sulfur, chalk, limestone, iron ore and phosphate rock are all examples of geochemically transformed biological waste. In other words nature produces significant waste which is simply degraded matter and is not food for other organisms. Thus designing our industrial system based on industries using the waste of other industries is purely Imagineering and nothing more. (See “On the life cycle metaphor: Where ecology and economics diverge,” a working paper by Robert Ayres of INSEAD, 2002/119/EPS/CMER). Also note that complete cradle-to-cradle behavior (as laid out in “Crade-to-Cradle” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, 2002,
3. Nature runs off current solar income. This myth is meant to tell us that we need to shift off our diet of non-renewable fossil fuels to a solar diet. It is like the other myths just that, a myth. It begs the obvious question which is: what happens when the sun goes down? Clearly much of nature runs off both current AND stored solar income. And indeed, there are natural systems that run of geochemical energy or other energy sources totally disconnected from solar inputs. Yes we should use renewables to the maximum extent possible for our energy systems. However, they are generally very expensive and take enormous quantities of land, whether it be biomass, wind energy, or photovoltaics. If one scours the literature about how we will derive our energy for the future, the credible prognosticators tell us it is far more likely to be a nuclear-hydrogen based system rather than one based on renewables. Certainly they will be part of the mix but hardly the dominant source of energy, at least for the coming centuries. A recent analysis of
This is just one set of green building movement myths, the “nature as model” set, that need to be exploded. Please feel free to post your favorite myths here. In the next edition I will address even more dangerous myths that are directly in the green building development process.