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Achievable Sustainability 101

Advocating for the diversification of buildings, biomes, and businesses to establish sustainable legacies.

✔ Why certification for holistic and sustainable buildings is seldom achieved

✔ Recognizing circumstantial trade-offs, and principles to keep in mind during a design-build

✔ In the works: Making our 'Digestible Design Diagrams' even better!


In the world of nature-oriented building, there are many different types of standards.


Maybe you've heard of the Living Building Challenge, Passive House, LEED and WELL Standards, etc. as regulatory bodies for sustainable buildings.


And if you haven't heard of them that's because it's no easy feat! You don't just stroll down your neighborhood and say 'Look, there's another sustainable house!'


Obviously, this isn't typically apparent from the outside. But the fact is, you probably see way more conventional buildings on your daily stroll. Which begs the question - What's the bottleneck?


Find local professionals to help you with your project.



Let me give you a quick crash course in some of these standards so you have a better understanding.


(Listed from hardest to easiest to acquire)


1. Living Building Challenge: The highest standard for sustainable construction. The buildings not only have to be efficient but they have to produce more energy than they use, ie, a net-positive effect on the environment.


2. Passive House: Focuses on energy efficiency. Passive House has high standards for an airtight and a well-insulated building envelope so the building requires minimal heating and cooling.


3. LEED: This is a sustainable building scorecard evaluating anything and everything around energy, water, materials, indoor air quality.

4. WELL: Focuses on the health of the occupant. It emphasizes indoor air quality, natural light, and non-toxic materials.



These standards are brilliant and can set us on the path in a positive direction with our built environments.


On the journey to achieve them, we can be suddenly derailed.


Here's a story of a team of design professionals working toward the Living Building Challenge. They were set up for success with the right team, a reasonable budget, and timeline, but then…


At the last minute, the client realized she wanted and needed a cat door for her precious friend, without having to completely re-engineer a cat door this completely blew the airtightness of the building…


The point is, we humans are multifaceted.


Even when we are on the right track, we have to navigate unique human dynamics. Our lifestyles, relationships, and philosophies do not simply go away. We have to learn how to incorporate them holistically.




Formula for Achievable Sustainability


Have you ever been working on a project, or trying to solve a problem, when a purist enters the scene? It can be maddening when you are just trying to use what you have and come up with a solution to the best of your ability.

Or maybe you are the purist in the room and your love for natural materials is so strong that it would be a betrayal to use anything but. Maybe you think using concrete and plastic is 'cheating'. Believe me, I know the feeling.


The reality is that every situation is unique.

Many people call it 'Practical Sustainability' for that reason. We can aim high while ALSO having realistic expectations along the way.

That's not to say it's cutting corners or doing it 'wrong.' With each new circumstance, comes new criteria. Life reminder: we make trade-offs in absolutely everything we do.

The real question is, what is the priority?

PRO TIP: Each time I start a new project I reflect on what the goal of this project is. What is the dream outcome? What metrics are being used to rate success? What trade-offs am I willing to make along the way?

So to bridge the gap, I prioritize what's important, and say 'whatever' to everything else…



So what's the formula to make sustainable building achievable?

When working on a project, there are 3 main factors I like to consider. Although this is not all-encompassing, it is simple enough to demonstrate the principles.


1. Regional Suitability: Includes, but not limited to questions such as: What is the community needing? Does this fit into the surrounding landscape? What can the vernacular history and climate-specific architecture show me?

2. Available Resources: What local and natural materials are available in abundance? Are there free resources to utilize? What types of professional support are available locally? What can be utilized without importing? If importing is practical, is its use minimal?

3. Inputs Over Time: How long will the building last? What type of weathering is expected? How much maintenance will be required? How much of the building requires mechanical equipment? How often are they likely to break? How much will all this cost? Who's available to fix it?


So take: (Regional Suitability + Available Resources) - Inputs Over Time = Achievable Sustainability. A high score on the first 2 and a low score on the latter will give you a high score overall. That's what we are going for!


Try it for yourself! Do a mini self-audit of your building project rating each item on a scale of 1-10 and see how you do!



How to Add Value to the Marketplace


I often have to remind myself that our monetary system is simply a recognition of what we collectively value.

When we think about money, we often think of tangibles or things one has (think: the haves and the have-nots). But value sits on the other side of the coin, in the abstract.


For example, let's say everyone in the world decided they cherished rubber ducks (for some god-forsaken reason). Economy 101 would tell us the prices for rubber ducks would skyrocket.

Supply and demand aside, value is created. What made everyone decide they loved rubber ducks in the first place? It's not about the physical rubber duck at all, it's about everything else that you can do with it.


 

Quick side note: I want to disclose that I have never had a 9-5 job in my entire life. The value I have had on my freedom is incredibly high, that no amount of money could justify sitting in a cold, lifeless office all day working for 'the man' 40+ hours a week.



This led me on a very entrepreneurial path straight out of the gate. Since necessity is the mother of invention, I learned very quickly how to go above and beyond to get involved in the right projects.


Here's what I find that works:


1. Reach Out: Some call it cold calling, I call it finding cool people.

2. Offer More: What sets you apart from the rest? This is a must.

3. Referrals: What's better than kind words? Remarkable experiences.

4. Make Yourself Discoverable: The internet is a magical place.

5. Repeat


Now, as 2024 approaches, I want to use this same framework to uplevel the sustainable building industry. It's a lofty goal, I know, but I'm starting small.


When I saw some traction of my 'Design Diagrams,' I took the hint. And with that, I launched into a new vision…

It went something like: 'How I can better serve my peers in the industry? How do I get their amazing ideas out to more people? How do I launch a marketing service when I don't know a thing about marketing?!'


And although I still don't have all the answers yet, I know that growing this network is important. Making what I offer transformative and one-of-a-kind could likely set all of us on a very valuable path.


I will be sharing my journey along the way. So stay tuned as I am sure to make a lot of mistakes that hopefully you can learn from!

P. S. 'Digestible Design Diagrams' will be available starting in early 2024!



Interested in building a resilient property?


 







 

We are on the precipice of a new era in architecture.

The choices we make greatly shape our future generations. Building sustainably isn't just about being eco-friendly, it's about building a better quality of life today for the generations to come. It sparks creativity and brings economic and social opportunities to the community at large.

I hope the next time you're faced with the decision to build resiliently or not; you choose to craft a legacy of sustainability that'll stand strong for ages to come.




















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 CHRISTINA

I love all things natural. I love building places we can call home and in turn be our most authentic selves. 
 

Although I specialize in architecture and interior design, I appreciate all forms of design where form and function are in balance.

My hope is to inspire others to find eco-friendly options valuable and beautiful. 

This is where eco meets elegance... 

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