The Doerr architectural firm in Colorado says it best on their website:
Most simply, the idea of sustainability, or ecological design, is to ensure that our actions and decisions today do not inhibit the opportunities of future generations.
This means making sure that our efforts work with our Earth’s ecological systems rather than in opposition to them.
Given that all human actions alter the systems we live in, the challenge of sustainability is a complex issue. It includes looking at how we attain the resources we use, using them in a way to get the most from them, and eliminating the idea of ‘waste’ from our vocabulary. There is no way to know with certainty how complex ecological systems will react to our influence, but there is an undeniable responsibility to act with the best of our knowledge.
Buildings account for about one-third of the energy consumed in the United States. Of this one-third, heating and cooling systems use 60 percent, while lights and appliances use the other 40 percent. Manufacturing and transporting building materials require much additional energy.
Some of the most important ecological issues impacted by the building process are:
* Global Climate Change – the result of increased pollution in the upper atmosphere.
* Declining sources of non-renewable fuels – and increased damage from their extraction and use.
* Habitat Destruction & Loss of Bio-Diversity – conversion of wild lands to human developments combined with resource extraction.
* Toxic Pollution – the over-reliance on synthetic chemicals has many consequences that have complex interactions once released.
The impacts of human development on other natural systems continue to grow and compound themselves. Since many of the best ideas of sustainable design also help reduce waste and costs to building owners and managers, it would be foolish not to use them. Every building project requires change to ecological systems and uses energy and resources; a perfectly green building is not truly possible. Instead, every building project presents the opportunity (some would argue, the responsibility) to improve its environmental performance, within the inevitable constraints of budget and building codes.
Here is a list of interesting sites on sustainable architecture and systems:
National Building Museum Show on Green Architecture (through June 3, 2007)