GreenBuild: Richard Moe Has a Tough Row to Hoe

richard moe picture

I really felt sorry for Richard Moe, and a bit angry, too. Here he is, the keynote speaker for Thursday morning, with a hall that can seat thousands, and there are maybe two hundred people. Downstairs they are crowding in to other seminars on how to build green buildings, not realizing that up in the ballroom the President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation is talking about what is by far biggest green market for architects in the country- fixing what we have.

Moe reminds us in his introduction that 43% of America's carbon emissions come from the operation of buildings. And that doesn't include the carbon that is generated by extracting, manufacturing and transporting building materials; it can take up to 50 years before the energy used to build a green building is compensated for by the energy savings gained by building it.

Moe then used the occasion to release a draft of the Pocantico Proclamation on Sustainability and Preservation, developed by preservationists, architects, green builders and energy experts.

moe speaking at greenbuild photo

You can see Richard Moe's speech at Greenbuild 365 or read my summary below:

Principle #1: Promote a culture of reuse:

We know that the way we use our buildings causes big problems — but incredibly, we keep trying to solve the problem by constructing more and more new buildings while largely ignoring the ones we already have. That makes no sense. In addition to building green, we have to make wiser use of what we've already built.

One of the basic truths we acknowledge about climate change is that it is fundamentally the result of overconsumption of natural resources — namely carbon-intense resources such as oil and coal. We often think of this in terms of the oil needed to power our cars, and the coal that powers many of our buildings — but constructing buildings is also an energy- and carbon-intense activity.

The retention and reuse of older buildings is an effective tool for the responsible, sustainable stewardship of our environmental resources — including those that have already been expended. I'm talking about "embodied energy."

Principle #2: Reinvest at a Community Scale

Instead of building more and more highways and strip malls and subdivisions, we ought to be reinvesting in the communities we already have. LEED Neighborhood Development has an entire section — "Green Infrastructure and Buildings" — that focuses on this. LEED ND, which just came out for public comment earlier this week, includes very important language that encourages preservation and reuse of older buildings instead of demolition.

Principle #3: Value the Lessons of Heritage Buildings and Communities

It's often alleged that historic buildings are energy hogs — but in fact, some older buildings are as energy-efficient as many recently-built ones. When the General Services Administration examined its nationwide buildings inventory in 1999, it found that utility costs for historic buildings were 27% less than for more modern buildings. In fact, data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency suggests that buildings constructed before 1920 are actually more energy- efficient than those put up between 1920 and 2000.

It's not hard to figure out why. Many older buildings have thick, solid walls, resulting in greater thermal mass and reducing the amount of energy needed for heating and cooling. Buildings designed before the widespread use of electricity feature transoms, high ceilings, and big, operable windows for natural light and ventilation, as well as shaded porches, overhanging eaves and other features to reduce solar gain. Architects and builders used careful siting and landscaping as tools for maximizing sun exposure during the winter months and minimizing it during warmer months.

Principle #4: Make Use of the Economic Advantages of Reuse, Reinvestment and Retrofits

Here's the basic message: Dollar for dollar, rehabilitation creates more jobs than new construction. Several studies and an economic input-output model developed by Carnegie Mellon University demonstrate that preservation activities create more jobs than new construction. For example, one study found that $1 million invested in the rehabilitation of an existing building creates 9-13 more jobs than the same $1 million invested in new construction. Why? Quite simply, rehabilitation activities are more labor-intensive than new construction — that is, they require more man-hours and fewer materials. This has other implications for our conversation about sustainable development as well. An economy that is more labor-intensive and less materials-intensive is a greener economy.

As Van Jones says: "the main piece of technology in the green economy is a caulk gun."

Principle #5: Re-imagine Historic Preservation Policies and Practices as
They Relate to Sustainability

In its early years, preservation focused on keeping buildings from being torn down.
Now we understand that just saving them isn't enough — we also have to do our best to improve their energy efficiency and ensure that their impact on the environment isn't harmful.

Principle #6: Take Immediate and Decisive Action

It's not enough to talk about how historic preservation can inform green building, or how green building practices can be integrated with preservation practices. We must roll up our sleeves and put these principles into practice.

More on Green Building preservation on TreeHugger:

Diane Keaton on How We Treat Old Buildings Like Plastic Bags
Big Steps in Building: Deconstruct, Don't Demolish
Documenting Destruction: Paul Rudoph Houses
Big Steps in Building: Ban Demolition
Refab Now!
Noooo Edinburgh, Don't Lift Ban on Changing Windows in Historic Structures

GreenBuild: Richard Moe Has a Tough Row to Hoe
I really felt sorry for Richard Moe, and a bit angry, too. Here he is, the keynote speaker for Thursday morning, with a hall that can seat thousands, and there are maybe two hundred people. Downstairs they are crowding in to other seminars on how to

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