Rethinking Dilbert's green home
Yesterday's Wall Street Journal ran a screed against building "green" homes by Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip "Dilbert." It's unfortunate that the Journal and Adams would choose to try to inflame public sentiment against green building in such a hackneyed way.
Seems Adams and his wife built a brand new "green" home and ended up spending a lot of money without actually reducing operating costs.
I'm going to put aside Adams' lede which is a gross mis-characterization of the green building sector as a bastion of hippies who build "ugly" buildings "using mostly twigs, pinecones and abandoned bird nests," to focus on the factual errors that make up the bulk of the piece, which I've already been sent twice though I haven't checked my email in a few minutes.
After reading the column, it's pretty apparent that Adams didn't do his research before making some key decisions. As anyone who has built any kind of home will tell you, not doing enough research is a path guaranteed to cause problems. Unfortunately, Adams seems to have not done any research after the fact either. Among other glaring inaccuracies in his piece are claims that, "...the greenest sort of home would have few windows because windows bleed heat," "... you could put a lovely garden on your roof ...But don't try telling me a garden roof wouldn't be a maintenance nightmare," and "Remember to skip the water-wasting lawn. White pebbles are the way to go if you want to save the Earth."
One has to wonder how Adams arrived at any of these conclusions as he claims to have spoken with a number of green building experts throughout the building process. Apparently none of them told him about high-efficiency windows such as those manufactured by Serious Materials, buildings certified as Passive Houses that use 90 percent less energy than a building built to code yet still allow in lots of natural light, green roofs that use native plants so watering needs are minimized, tray systems to contain soil and the numerous companies that will install them for a homeowner. And apparently, none of the landscape designers in California with experience using native plants (or anywhere else for that matter) were a part of his expert team since the only choices he saw for his project were a white pebble lawn, artificial grass or a lush, green lawn of real grass.
It's unfortunate as well that The Journal, arguably the country's business newspaper of record, ignores the bright green spot in the real estate market. Take for example the Portland Metropolitan area. The area's Multiple Listing Service tracks sales of certified "green" homes and found that even in this very down market, the market share of new and existing certified "green" homes is increasing even as those homes are commanding price premiums of as much as 29 percent in some counties, according to Earth Advantage.
Nationally, 93 percent of design and construction professionals continue to endorse green building despite the recession because they believe that energy costs will continue to increase in the future. This belief led 88 percent of respondents to the “Fourth Annual Green Building Study,” (PDF) conducted by Allen Matkins, Constructive Technologies Group (CTG) and the Green Building Insider, to say they are more likely to include energy saving or sustainable elements in their future construction projects. That is a 14 percent increase compared to 2008.
One might think that the Journal, a bastion of conservative business thinking, might see the business opportunity in all of this and stop lambasting sustainable building techniques via big name authors who set the bar for sustainability ridiculously low and still fail to achieve the goal.
I prefer a more pragmatic definition of green. I think of it as living the life you want, with as much Earth-wise efficiency as your time and budget reasonably allow.
But I guess a fear of change and a mis-understanding of the value in long-term sustainable thinking still rule the day at the Journal and in the world of "Dilbert." Maybe it's time for Adams to leave the safety of thinking inside the cubicle once and for all. Then he might find that his self-professed love for the Earth can be easily melded with a comfortable, sustainable life that actually costs less than the one he tried to leave behind when building his new "green" home.