When Al Gore proposed the idea last month that the U.S. could supply 100% of its energy needs with alternative sources within 10 years, he may have been overly optimistic with his statement, but not with his goals. Just as he did with the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Gore continues to push the reset button on our energy and environmental priorities, something we all should do.
Of course, Gore’s 10-year plan was met with skepticism, even from green energy advocates, not because the technologies to capture enough wind and solar energy to meet our needs don’t exist, but because the infrastructure to distribute the energy doesn’t—yet. Does this disqualify the goal? Is this a reason not to move forward with urgency? Did President Kennedy have blueprints for the Apollo mission when he committed to sending a man to the moon?
The fact that both major parties’ presidential candidates have put “green energy” into their platforms is encouraging, as long as whoever wins has the political courage and vision to lead this country to its energy future. It is, after all, a matter of priorities.
Presidential politics aside, when you look at the list of green building concepts, decisions, and details that you need to balance in producing sustainable homes, and then weigh issues like cost and market acceptance, it’s no wonder there’s confusion about our own priorities within the industry. But that also is due, in part, to the fact that our priorities always shift, as they should.
Green building has its deepest roots in energy efficiency and alternate energy systems. Critical priorities, including indoor air quality (IAQ), resource efficiency, and broader issues that surround embodied energy and life-cycle analysis, came into play after the focus on energy consumption in buildings. Each priority, it seems, reveals the next.
For example, nobody was really focused on air quality in buildings until energy-related efforts to tighten building shells reduced air-change levels enough to make IAQ a concern. As each technical discipline has added its voice to the story of sustainable design and construction, the interlacing priorities have become integral to what we now call green building.
But there are times when shifting priorities becomes important. Without suggesting that you weaken your focus or efforts on your overall green building missions, we feel this is one of those times.
Energy should still be at the top of your priority list, of course, but if you’re not already integrating photovoltaics into your projects and doing more to move toward zero net-energy performance, you should be. Proven performance, manufacturing advances, and reasonable return on investment have replaced any questions about solar technologies’ viability for residential applications.
And then there’s water. It’s clear that water conservation will soon rival energy efficiency for top priority status. And to see so much potable water used for irrigation and landscaping is painful. So we encourage you to look beyond the beautiful water-smart bath fixtures you may already be using and make sure you incorporate sensible, water-conserving landscape design and irrigation system components into your plans as well.
We hope the stories in this issue on photovoltaics (page 33) and water-conserving landscaping (page 45) will help with your own priority check.
President of LaLiberteOnline and a principal of Building Knowledge Inc., Mark LaLiberte is a highly regarded green building consultant who helps builders nationwide understand and apply proper building science construction principles to improve their homes. www.buildingknowledge.com; www.laliberteonline.com.