Going green is here to stay

It is not easy being green," the statement was made by Kermit The Frog, a Muppet cartoon character from a children's television programme. Though it takes lots of green to go green, 2008 will go down in history as a year when green finally went mainstream. Everyone knows that green or sustainable design is the art of designing objects, environment and services to comply with the principles of economic, social and ecological sustainability.

The green movement which started as a response to the global "environmental crisis" driven by the growth of economic activity and human population, depletion of natural resources, damage to ecosystems and loss of biodiversity seems to have reached a tipping point this year in the USA and factors which will escalate its growth in the years to come will be global politics and economy.

The San Diego Union Sunday magazine reported: "the clean-energy move- ment gained momentum in ways big and small. Consumers turned to reusable shopping bags and automakers sold about 360,000 hybrid cars. Solar power grew by at least 30 percent in 2008. Wind energy has a banner year as well. New projects that began in Texas, Utah, and elsewhere will create 9,000 jobs. Green industries now generate upto 8.5 million jobs in the US, and President Obama has promised an ambitious programme to develop additional five million jobs in renewable energy. The Green Jobs Act of 2007, expected to be funded next year, will authorise $125 million to train new workers  in needed skills."


“The green movement which started as a response to the global "environmental crisis" driven by the growth of economic activity and human population, seems to have reached a tipping point this year”



The Wall Street Journal on December 30, 2008, had a front page article about the limitations of the green goal of "carbon-neutrality." It talked about how companies are attempting to re-engineer themselves so that they are no longer adding to the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases scientists say are contributing to climate change.

Companies are striving to become carbon-neutral with a combination of being more efficient by changing their practices and energy usage along with purchasing environmental "credits." These are financial instruments that bankroll environmental improvements made by others, such as running wind turbines or planting forests. The jury is still out on effectiveness of that approach because there is a lack of consensus on what should be counted in such programmes. However,one thing is for certain that going green is here to stay and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon.

A three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman in the latest book Hot, Flat and Crowded talks about why we need a green revolution and how it can renew America. The book talks about three main points from the title.

The "Hot" addresses climate change and the need of a "green revolution" for rapid response to habitat loss and environmental damage resulting from the world's dependence on fossil fuels.

The "Flat" part talks about economic changes brought about by globalisation and social levelling in recent years with the rise of middle classes in developing nations.  With the elimination of physical and political barriers there has been a focus on the creation of a global marketplace where people can sell their goods and services faster and cheaper.

The "Crowded" part talks about the explosion of the global population. The world population is slated to grow from the current 6.7 billion people to nine billion people by the year 2050.

“As architects we have an opportunity to use our vision & communication skills to take this green movement to unimaginable levels. It is our opportunity to not only impact the environment but bring about social change”


Since all these people will have to be housed, fed, educated and employed we need to be prepared that they do not take on to extreme activities. Going green is no longer a fad it has become a necessity for the human race to survive.

The US Green Building Council offers the following case on why architects must embrace green design. US buildings use 40 percent of energy, 72 percent of electricity, 13.6 percent of potable water and are responsible for 30 percent of CO2 emis sions. Green buildings can reduce the energy use by 24 percent-50 percent, reduce CO 2 emissions by 33 percent-39 percent, reduce water consumption by 40 percent, and reduce solid waste by 70 percent.

Thus, the occupants in green buildings are healthier and productive. The demand for green buildings is anticipated to jump from $12 billion in 2008 to $60 billion by 2010. The explosive growth is going to be triggered by unprecedented level of govern- ment incentives, heightened residential demand and improvement in sustainable materials.

The perceived benefits to business are 8-9 percent savings in operating costs, 7.5 percent increase in building value increase, 6.6 percent better Return on Investment, 3.5 percent increase in occupancy ratio and 3 percent increase in rent ratio. Looks like the green revolution is well on its way and is going to spread faster than the California wildfires.

With all the socio-political and economic momentum behind it, is it even worth asking the question whether the momentum behind green design is sustainable? I asked the  question to several people who are veterans in the building industry and got some surprising answers. When probed to reveal their authentic feeling about the green movement they said that it was a fad and businesses and professionals were exploiting it for the marketing gimmick.

They believed that oil prices would drop down further and stay at a lower level as people would be soon interested in green. If the government incentives were not there many of the green projects would lose economic viability.

Would corporations buy carbon credits if being perceived green does not give them marketing edge over their less green competitors? Why would someone buy a green bulb for $3 when a regular bulb can be bought for $1? Why would one shell out an extra $5,000 for a hybrid car in these uncertain economic times? They believed that there were plenty of other worthy causes such as feeding hungry children who can use their hard-earned dollars.

As architects and citizens of this planet how can we make sure that this movement does not lose its momentum? What started out as a cause does not fall on one side or get overshadowed by another cause? Whenever a cause is supported by numbers and economic benefits alone there is a dan- ger that something else, which offers a bigger reward will replace it.

Long before An Inconvenient Truth in which Al Gore exposed the truth about global warming and started a crusade against the same, the great Indian King Asoka around 263 BC took up a massive green undertaking of building roads lined with trees to aid the travellers. Now US President Obama is planning to spend millions of dollars in  infrastructure and green research projects to create jobs and stimulate the economic growth.

The answer to sustain the sustainability movement lies not in the actions but in the cause that transcends the motive of some personal gain the action is going to bring about. Asoka did not plant the trees to address the problem of global warming or to create jobs. No one got carbon credits. The action was taken for the sake of action out of love and compassion for all living beings. The action originated from clarity that everything is connected. As the saying goes, when a blade of grass moves, the whole universe shakes. Seeing unity in diversity and having compassion of all living things is the spirit of the green movement. This movement is offering humanity a great opportunity to forget our differences and work together to make this planet a worthy place of all current and future inhabitants.

The events of last year have made it obvious how all of us are connected. Mortgage loans made without scrutiny in the USA caused chaos in the global financial markets.  The decoupling economic theory was proven wrong. Phonetic teaching and misplaced ideology preached thousands of miles away resulted in horrific actions which lost lives of many and held others hostage for nearly three days in Mumbai. Hurricanes resulting from global warming created havoc. Economic leaders came together for a coordinated effort to get out of the massive economic problem the world is facing today. The "pre-authoritarianism" as Thomas Friedman talks about in his book has created economic conditions which have made many authoritarian régimes more powerful while funded by the petrodollars which has resulted in diminished freedom for many  of their citizens. In order to see that a gallon of gas is not only impacting the environment but diminishing freedom of a human being is a chilling thought.

As architects we have an opportunity to use our vision and communication skills to take this green movement to unimaginable levels. It is our opportunity to not only impact the environment but bring about social change. Like a sculpture sees a statue in stone we can see something new utilising what already exists. We can show what  it means to practice the principal of cradle-to-cradle by designing buildings and interiors capable of constantly appearing new by manipulating and recycling existing materials. We do not need to be green to promote our firm which practices green.

This is the beginning of a new year when many of us take on resolutions. Asoka's principles of dharma as non-violence, tolerance of all sects and opinions, respect for  all religious teachers, liberality towards friends, and humane treatment of all is something to draw inspiration from. Next time you pick up a sheet of paper think about the forest it came from, next time walk instead of driving to a place nearby, or when looking out see the scenery and feel that you are not separate from what you are seeing but a part of it and you will know that your are in the grasp of the green mindset.

(The writer is the Founder & President,DRV Design, San Diego, USA. He earned his B Arch from Sir J J College of Architecture, Mumbai, and moved to the US in 1974. He can be contacted at feedback@drvdesign.com)