This post was originally published at Dwell.com and has been reprinted with permission.
“LEED is a great starting point. It’s the reason we’re able to be in this room and have a common language,” he says. “But it was never meant to be used as a measuring stick.” Reed, along with Atlanta-based architect Paula Vaughan and Vancouver engineer Blair McCarry, both of Perkins + Will, argue for a more holistic approach to “sustainable design” in a panel called “Beyond LEED: Living Buildings and the 2030 Challenge” at SXSW Eco, an offshoot of the sprawling Austin festival that takes place every March.
Even with all this talk of “sustainability,” we’re not doing a very good job of creating a culture that produces more energy and resources than it consumes, Reed says. “Like Bill McDonough said, sustainability is a slower way to die.” We are still creating buildings that are just above what the law requires, Reed says, and even if we achieve a zero carbon footprint, “zero is not sustainable.”
We can’t just look at building and infrastructure, Reed says. We have to be actively regenerating the living systems in which we subsist. The first place to start is semantics. “We have to think beyond ‘the environment.’ ‘The environment’ is what’s beyond us. ‘Ecology’ includes us.”
Reed cites an example of a cooperatively owned grocery store he worked with in Vermont: Instead of simply designing a building that would score high on the LEED scale, he helped them look at the needs of the ecosystem of the area, which weren’t just limited to a place to buy food. Because the town was surrounded by abandoned farms whose soil was so depleted that it wasn’t suitable for growing, Reed and his Integrative Design Collaborative recommended adding an agriculture and soil center to help members of the community grow their own food in their yards and expand the daycare center so shoppers and employees’ children could play while they shopped or worked.
Reed continues to explain his perspective. Just as each of us is bigger than the sum of our body parts, a building or even a community isn’t defined by each of the individual pieces, he says. We can’t think of humans and nature as being two opposite forces. Humans are nature, not merely coexisting with nature. An urban neighborhood is its own ecosystem, and we need to be designing our lifestyle to support that ecosystem. “Humans can reconcile with nature, not compromise.”
At Perkins + Will’s headquarters on Peachtree Street in Atlanta (named one of the top 10 green buildings of 2012), Vaughan’s team needed to renovate their own 1980s, concrete building, and they used the 2030 Challenge to help set their goal to have a carbon neutral building by 2030.
One of the first things to go was a traffic circle that faced a pedestrian-heavy street. “We wanted to reweave the traffic fabric,” Vaughan says. The rerouted traffic to the side of the building and created an open street-level terrace that anyone could enjoy. They added fixed louvers and a retractable awning to the all-glass, west-facing facade.
Vaughan says that one of the hardest parts about the project was learning how to “design energy.” They installed radiant heating and cooling throughout the building and set up microturbines on the roof. Because the microturbines created excess heat, they found a way to collect that energy and use it heat the water for the building.
At the end of the session, Reed brings the conversation back to the big picture. “Even if the companies step up, that isn’t enough,” he says. “What has to change is our culture. It’s not just a building; it’s an opportunity. We affect the world through what we eat and where we live, and farming and building practices are the biggest influences on the planet.”
Read more at Dwell.com.
Addie Broyles is a writer based in Austin, Texas. As the food writer for the Austin American-Statesman, she writes a weekly column and blog called Relish Austin and her stories usually appear in the Wednesday print section of the newspaper. When she’s not wrangling backyard chickens or her two young sons, the Ozarks native and University of Missouri graduate writes about women and food at TheFeministKitchen.com and is the advisory council chair of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance. In 2011, Addie was named by Tribeza magazine as one of the top 10 Austinites to watch and was voted the top food writer in the city by the Austin Chronicle. She recently won the National Headliner Award for special or feature column on one subject by an individual.