Third party rating systems for ‘green’ and ‘sustainably’ designed buildings have been around for several decades. The most widely recognized ones include ‘B.R.E.E.A.M.’ from the UK, ‘PassivHaus’ from Germany, ‘GreenGlobes’ out of Canada, and the ‘L.E.E.D.’ rating system(s) developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. There are dozens of smaller, local programs scattered across the U.S. including the ‘Earthcraft’ program here in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
But the one that has offered me endless inspiration and hope, is the ‘Wilderness-Based Checklist for Design and Construction’ created by architect Malcolm Wells in 1969. It is based on a very simple metric: the natural wilderness. If a building could replicate natural systems, as outlined by Wells, then we could truly say, ‘this building is sustainable.’
Although the other programs are well intended, they fall short of what natural ecosystems achieve every day based on soil, rain, and sunlight. It is humbling to say the least. Where our attempts truly fail, however, is that they place us on a path forward that isn’t achieving our stated goals. Carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels continue to go up, deforestation continues apace, and every other species of life on this planet faces an increasingly dubious future. The effects are driven by the exponential growth of human populations on a finite planet.
And just in case you’re convinced that technology is going to ‘save us,’ here’s an example to ponder: there is fundamentally no difference between an electric vehicle, a hybrid, or a standard combustion engine. Why? Because they all rely on a global supply chain of industrialized resources and manufacturing, debt based finance, and underlying infrastructure. And since none of them produce anything, (except maybe carbon dioxide, which we have enough of, thank you very much) none of them are sustainable. They are energy and resource sinks.
The ‘Wilderness-Based Checklist for Design and Construction’ needs no explanation. It can be deciphered by any 4th grade biologist. I hope it inspires you.