by Michael Chojnicki
Alternative energy, “green” consumer products, and sustainable design are both common and alluring catch phrases these days. State-of-the-art concepts such as solar photovoltaics, geothermal heating, advanced framing techniques and cellulose insulation have long been promoted as sexy approaches to energy solutions and now global warming. However, it was Einstein who pointed out that you cannot solve problems with the same thinking that created them–in this case, more “green” technology. We must not forget to first use less.
I believe that the real promise of reducing energy use lies in more “down-to-earth” methods, which are also more accessible to everyone. Even if every new structure built from today on was a “net-zero” energy-use building, we would hardly make a dent in reducing our society’s voracious energy appetite. Weatherizing and retrofitting existing homes, government, and commercial structures is of utmost importance in reducing the atmosphere’s CO2 level.
Along with substantially decreasing our overall energy consumption, a radical re-education of our society with an emphasis on conservation is needed. On the economic side, by embracing and investing in renewable energy, sustainable design and weatherization principles, we apply a sustainable market-driven force to facilitate job creation and help stimulate the economy. Consumers can control or at least help define the financial market and the methods by which corporations produce products. Therefore sustainability is not only an intelligent approach environmentally, but also makes good financial sense for both individuals and the economy now and in the future.
An Opportunity in Disguise
Many feel we are at a turning point in our civilization and our planet– a thought both frightening and exciting. Frightening because if we don’t modify our behavior now there are certain to be devastating consequences. Exciting because it is an opportunity to bring about a new awareness of ourselves, our nation and the entire global village. This awareness of how we live and how our actions impact on the earth will lend a deeper understanding of our needs versus our wants. Each of us must gain this mindfulness.
In my opinion, lasting sustainability must be birthed from 3 primary components: Attitude, Awareness and Action:
- Attitude – a desire to know how you use energy and a willingness to commit and plan to be more energy conscious
- Awareness – understanding your “carbon footprint” (how your built environment consumes energy) and learning the principles behind renewable energy systems through ongoing education: reading and researach, seminars, forums and classes
- Action – becoming involved in local organizations and town planning boards to influence and advocate for sustainable energy practices. Above all, it is important to implement these systems and practices into your own life, home and business.
Renewable energy, weatherization, green architecture, energy efficiency measures, are not in themselves the answer. They are tools in reducing one’s carbon footprint – some more effective than others. The most fitting degree of each measure must be assessed and appropriately applied to the needs of each specific situation.
Another assessment to be made is the “embodied energy costs” of a product or system. The environmental costs of processing raw materials, fabrication, marketing, packaging and shipping of the product are often “hidden” costs. Even hybrids and electric cars need roads, tires, oil, plastic, and other nonrenewable costs such as lithium batteries, production of the electricity to recharge the batteries, etc. Even recycling has many embodied energy costs and other negative environmental impacts associated with it.
Recycling, reusing and reducing are all great sustainable practices. Nevertheless, the only 100% efficient answer to addressing our energy problems is by reassessing our needs and reducing our use. In this way, we are truly making a totally effective step to being more sustainable. Economically, reducing has a 100% payback of the investment since it costs nothing in the first place.
Most of us are coming to understand how massive a “carbon footprint” we have on our planet, in terms of how much fossil fuel we’ve consumed, knowingly or not, as a result of our lifestyles. Be clear: there is no judgment here. I am a guilty party also. But when our grandchildren ask us about our generation’s unbridled use of the earth’s resources and its effect on such disruptive global change – what will you tell them? The real question to be answered is not, “How could you have been so blind to your lifestyle’s effect on the planet?” but rather, “What did you do when it became painfully obvious as to how dire the consequences were becoming?” How will you answer?
One way to get started is to get involved in the “sustainable movement”. There are many local people, groups and organizations that are actively assisting to help usher in this new awareness as well numerous “green” events, seminars, forums and workshops right here in our area. The following is a list of local groups that are great starting points:
- Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Design (SASD) www.sasdonline.org 845-482-4764
- Sustainable Energy and Education Development Support (SEEDS) www.seedsgroup.net 570-224-0052
- Apple Pond Farm www.applepondfarm.com 845-482-4764
Since 1987 Michael Chojnicki has provided Architecture, Planning and Design Studio servicing the Catskill Region of New York and NE Pennsylvania. He received a Bachelors of Architecture from the University of Cincinnati in 1980. The main focus and direction of his Architectural Studio is on sustainable design, alternative energy, adaptive reuse of existing structures (such as barn conversions) and education.