I’m involved with a local bungalow club, and our most recent event was a talk by Peter Lytle, director of the Live Green, Live Smart Institute. The Institute’s charter is to encourage sustainable behavior, and its showcase is the Sustainable House™, a 1948 rambler Lytle remodeled to show how green an ordinary house could become. Lytle’s contractor, Ron Jensen, talked about the house, but Lytle himself talked about global warming and greenhouse gases and the imminent catastrophe the world was facing—by 2050, he told us, the global environment would be toast.
As I looked around the room, I could tell that the audience, a group of bungalow owners who are mostly 45+, were all having the same grim thought: “2050? I’m planning to be dead by then.” We needed a little encouragement—to keep going, much less to improve the efficiency of our beloved old houses.
Steven Chu, the new Energy Secretary, was recently interviewed for a piece in the New York Times Magazine. Chu thinks about reducing global warming in a very serious way, since he’s charged with policy and action on it, but when interviewer Deborah Solomon asked him what Americans could do to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, he had some simple advice: “The most important thing is making sure that your home is properly insulated, that your leaky doors and windows are fixed.”
Sustainability in building isn’t about whizbang technology or glitzy design. It’s about the small things that any homeowner or home dweller can do. Those small changes can have a big result. If all of us use less electricity, run less water, and put less waste into landfills—the kind of thing that involves small decisions and small changes every day—it translates into a big impact on sustainability.
You may be planning to be dead by 2050, but your kids and grandkids aren’t. To save the planet with the built environment, turn off the lights, shorten your showers, put the eggshells in the compost, and don’t give up hope.