At a program I recently attended about building green communities, an attendee commented on what she saw as the problem of “elitism” in the green movement. Bethesda, Md., which was the focus of the lecture, has one of the highest concentrations of PhDs in the country and successful businesses and residents contribute significant intellect and financial resources to the town’s sustainability initiative.
In her own community, the mixed-income residents are not focused on sustainability. For example, she said she sees recycling being loaded in garbage trucks.
I can understand the commenter’s complaint. The green movement relies, in part, on investing significant resources in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other technologies to build sustainable homes and communities. Poor, urban neighborhoods are often some of the least green and least healthy places in the country. Residents can’t afford to live in a better neighborhood, and government is often unwilling or unable to invest in changes. Low-income rural areas, affordable but far from jobs or community hubs, may not be any greener.
It’s easy for environmentalists to call for renovating our existing housing stock to make it more energy efficient and healthier when they don’t have to figure out how to afford new insulation and windows on a meager salary.
Because of my job, I have a broader view of the market. I see all kinds of homes—from $2 million luxury affairs to moderately priced tract developments to affordable multifamily dwellings—being built to green standards. Not only is green construction becoming normal, it’s becoming vital.
In this issue of EcoHome Update, we introduce the first of four case studies spotlighting winners of The Home Depot Foundation’s Awards of Excellence, a program that recognizes innovative “affordable housing built responsibly.” The non-profit developers didn’t build the projects green because they had money to burn; they did it to provide crucial energy cost savings and healthier living to low-income residents.
So “elitist” isn’t the right word to describe the green movement. Green building proponents don’t think they’re better than everyone else, they just think they see a better way to build our houses for a sustainable future.
“Resource-intensive” may better describe what the program commenter had in mind. Green advocates and our political leaders must remember that building a sustainable infrastructure requires hard work now. It’s crucial that in the rush to loosen up capital for the floundering housing and financial markets, we make funds available for development of things like energy-efficient products and materials and renewable energy. They’re investments that pay off over time, that won’t fluctuate in a shaky market--and that should be available to homeowners of all income levels.