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The vegetated green roof on the Arlington County Government CenterI’m not even a fan of the term “green” but I use it here to explain what exactly it means in the design community. Right now the term “green” is a buzz word associated with everything and anything that’s supposedly better for our environment. Whether it’s a 2o Watt lamp instead of a 60 Watt lamp, or whether it is a material that comes from a local source instead of an international one… it’s considered “green”. Does it mean that you’re a tree hugger because you design green? Absolutely not, but it does mean that you care about the world you live in… and that is what’s important here.

Here’s a short description of sustainable design and how it helps create environments that help replenish themselves and become “producers” rather than “consumers.” This isn’t just good practice, it’s smart design.

The Concept of Sustainability

The concept of sustainable design has come to the forefront in the last 20 years. It is a concept that recognizes that human civilization is an integral part of the natural world and that nature must be preserved and perpetuated if the human community itself is to survive. Sustainable design articulates this idea through developments that exemplify the principles of conservation and encourage the application of those principles in our daily lives.

A corollary concept, and one that supports sustainable design, is that of bioregionalism – the idea that all life is established and maintained on a functional community basis and that all of these distinctive communities (bioregions) have mutually supporting life systems that are generally self-sustaining. The concept of sustainable design holds that future technologies must function primarily within bioregional patterns and scales. They must maintain biological diversity and environmental integrity, contribute to the health of air, water, and soils, incorporate design and construction that reflect bioregional conditions, and reduce the impacts of human use.

Sustainable design, sustainable development, design with nature, environmentally sensitive design, holistic resource management – regardless of what it’s called, “sustainability,” the capability of natural and cultural systems being continued over time, is key.

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The Hannover Principles
1. Insist on rights of humanity and nature to co-exist
2. Recognize interdependence.
3. Respect relationships between spirit and matter.
4. Accept responsibility for the consequences of design.
5. Create safe objects of long-term value.
6. Eliminate the concept of waste.
7. Rely on natural energy flows.
8. Understand the limitations of design.
9. Seek constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge.”

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So next time you’re designing something, think about what you’re doing and how you can benefit the environment. Be thinking about things like how your design can work with nature. Learn to take responsibility for your design and to design with long-term benefits in mind. Remove the word “waste” from your dictionary. Improve upon what’s already been done and take it to the next level.

Don’t worry, designing green doesn’t mean you’re a tree hugger, but it does leave a statement about yourself that you care about the world you live in. We have the resources to design and build smarter, the question comes down to why don’t we? We are already seeing the financial benefits from designing more sustainable buildings, why should the ‘first cost’ be the driving factor anymore?

I’ll leave you with this, as for investors and developers, sometimes numbers speak louder than words.

“Reaping More Green From Green
Significant sales premiums are also possible. In
Chicago, the John Buck Company spent $270 million
constructing 111 South Wacker Drive, a LEED-gold-certified
51-story tower in the Loop district. Completed in
late 2005 when the Loop market was struggling with an
18% vacancy rate for Class A office space, the building
leased quickly to prestigious tenants. In January 2006, it
was sold to a German investment fund for $386 million,
a $116 million profit.

For more information check out U.S. Green Building Council:

Read more on the financial benefits of designing green:

Learn more about sustainable design:


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