In late February, NPR released a story dealing with historic preservation and green building that raised a lot of eyebrows in the preservation community. In fact, I think about fifteen different people forwarded me the story just in case I missed it. In a nutshell, the story talks about a new law that will go into effect next year in California requiring that all new construction meet significant green building standards. Preservationists worry that this with further reinforce the belief that only new buildings can be green. Patrice Frey, Director of Sustainability Research for the National Trust responded to the article on the PreservationNation blog. Another blog post by Ralph DiNola, LEED AP, LEED Faculty, Associate AIA, and preservationist, also responded to it in great detail. While there are some points that I might argue–like materials reuse credits and how and when they are applied–this is a great post that really breaks down a lot of issues that preservationists bring up on a regular basis. Certainly both blogs are worth the read, regardless of your feelings about LEED. Honestly, I’m still not sold, but think that it’s important to keep up with the changes and to try and understand them.
The other day I was having a discussion with a green building professional about rating systems and getting ranty about why things like windows were rewarded even in light of evidence that they aren’t terribly effective and certainly not cost-effective in terms of weatherization projects. I naturally just assumed that it was because of the money factor…rating systems catering to green product manufacturers that essentially buy add space in the manuals and training sessions that are related to those rating systems. And while I am still convinced that is part of it, this particular green building professional (and I should say, a friend of mine) brought up a valid point: it is easier to reward and keep track of something like new windows because they are rated by an independent party and therefore have a standard to measure by. In other words, how do we give points to a homeowner who says that they have restored their windows? What if there are no receipts? How can this be monitored and kept track of? I have to say, as much as I hate to admit it, it is a valid point and one we need to address in the preservation community.
The best way to encourage preservation is through incentives–we know this and this is why we push for increased tax incentives for historic properties. So let’s think: how can we prove that we have restored something and avoided landfill waste and new material usage? How can we show the good work we have done without receipts and manufacturing stickers? There are simply not enough auditors and long enough check lists to keep track of these kinds of things in historic homes and then apply them to a rating system. We need to find a creative solutions to these questions and more and find a way to prove what we are doing is good–in my opinion better–for the environment. The burden is on us.
I’ve been entrenched in a Falkner novel recently and this quote struck me: “Facts and truth really don’t have much to do with each other.” It’s basically sums up how I feel about most “green” products and services these days. It seems that common sense usually gets buried under the labels and jargon. Let’s fix that.