Matthew Trigg

2 December 2013 — Success can only be achieved in delivering ever more efficient, sustainable and eventually regenerative built environments if the green building movement actively seeks to eliminate itself, argues Matthew Trigg.

In 1995 Microsoft introduced Internet Explorer at a time when computer literacy remained poor outside of a core group of professionals, academics and enthusiasts. There was plenty of rhetoric about their potential, but outside leading organisations and this core group, computers were simply not seen as essential.

Sound familiar? It should. At present the green building is akin to where computer technology was in 1995. Rhetoric is high, public literacy remains low and the general movement remains separate from everyday life.

(The term “green building” is used here as a general term to describe a wide range of positive outcomes, not simply environmental in nature. Terms such as better or quality building could also be used, although these would be less well understood)

On the fringe for a long time, the contemporary green building movement emerged within the last decade as existing practice no longer aligned with evolving expectations. Put simply, existing professionals, organisations and regulators were ill-equipped to meet the challenge presented by issues such as rising energy costs, the need to address climate change and rising public concern around environmental issues.

Today the green building movement is a global network of interrelated individuals, organisations, businesses and government stakeholders, with a common language expressed most commonly through building rating tools.

Like computers in 1995, this is the core group for green building today. Unfortunately, on its current path, this group will remain in the minority indefinitely as its general approach causes separation from the wider population by default.

However “green building” is defined, the overall trend is toward ever specialised knowledge (proficiency) within its core group while community understanding (literacy) can often remain stagnant.

In time green building proficiency and literacy must both increase.

An essential public need

In moving beyond tokenistic interventions and exemplar projects, the idea of a green building must transform into an essential public need; to become as indispensable as the computer.

There will always be a demand for specialist knowledge, but a key prerequisite for the domination of computers today was in its core group surrendering a large part of their control and moving to a role focused on facilitation. For example, the demand for smart phones is not diminished by a lack of understanding of how they are created.

As green building literacy within a given population increases, there will be less need for the use of rating tools. Like smart phones, the average person should be able to compare two similar buildings based on their respective specifications. The indefinite use of rating tools will be indicative of failure.

As we further develop our proficiency, the best elements of existing tools, systems and networks must be integrated into the mainstream so support continued growth in green building literacy.

The general public (notably in their roles as consumers and voters) need to be empowered so they can take the lead in pushing for ever more efficient, sustainable and, in time, nothing short of regenerative built environments.

The green building movement must end as a distinct group in order to be successful; being clear on the legacy that all the innumerable efforts are trying to achieve.

An informed and active debate of what the green building movement’s legacy should be needs to begin in earnest.

Matthew Trigg is a cities and urban policy specialist based in London. On Twitter @BuiltEnvirons.

This article was originally published on the UK Green Building Council website.