I was trained in sustainable design during my college days. Things have changed since then. We have BIM, Green Building Studio, DOE Software, IES VE and a host of other applications that take the guesswork and long hours of manual analysis out of the equation. Design has changed since then as well. We have started experimenting with new forms as said technology has enabled us to do so. Whole industries have grown up around "green technology" to aid in making our buildings more efficient, smarter, and carbon neutral.
- Can we believe, or even understand, the analysis?
- How far do we have to model to be accurate?
- Are new building forms really supporting the idea of green?
- Are all of these technologies truly beneficial, cost effective?
- How and when?
Let's go ahead and admit it; we are inherently flawed. We are lazy at times, forgetful at others. We are occasionally prone to the idea that we are entitled to something, and our egos will get in the way when we aren't keeping them in check. Coincidentally, these are the things that a goodly amount of our green technology is aimed at neutralizing. Now, I'm not saying that the development of LED or CFL lights is a bad thing. They absolutely use less energy while the light is being used and that is a good thing. (I have not researched whether the production process negates any of the benefits, but that isn't the point right now.) My point is that the problem is exacerbated by the fact that we don't turn them off when we are done because we are lazy or forgetful. So to combat it even further we develop fixtures that recognize when we enter and leave a room, or expensive automation systems that make 'smart homes'. We add to the construction cost of a building to counteract our own foibles. My Kroger has installed sensors in the freezers that turn on the lights when you are walking past the pizzas, tater tots, and peas. In that situation, and in many others, I think it is a brilliant use of the technology; but on a residential or office level, I see it as an unnecessary cost that could be avoided by simply paying attention. These are some examples of many where we take a valid technology and perhaps make it frivolous.
Other times, it has less to do with technology compensating for us, but our own sense of entitlement that can destroy an otherwise useful advancement. How about HVAC? And I'm talking about both sides: heating and cooling. While we develop ever more efficient processes, we have become far more entitled about our comfort than our forefathers. Even though we are more efficient, we are still using more energy. Where in the Bill of Rights, Magna Carta, or any other document about human liberties does it state that we have the express right to be perfectly comfortable at all times? It's not in there. So you may happen to like wearing turtleneck sweaters and think that you look snazzy in them, but then you probably shouldn't live in Florida and keep your AC turned down to 50 degrees year round. The same goes for heating. Many of us may like wearing shorts around the house in winter, but our overdeveloped sense of 'comfort' is impeding our children's ability to have affordable energy in the future. We humans are highly adaptable creatures that can purchase sweaters. We should do so. And we know this. We have seen billboards and commercials stating what the "optimal" summer and winter HVAC settings should be. Yet we still don't (or won't) do it.