(Written by Jack Milarch – NMHBA EVP/CEO – Originally published in the August 2007 Housing Journal)

The Intersection of Energy Conservation with the Green Building Movement – How About Those Bears?

By now everyone has figured out that “Green” is hot. I’m not talking chile here. I’m talking about the big movement sweeping our country. Maybe because I am a card carrying Lobbyist, I am always interested in observing discussions about hot issues and what it is about that topic that gets people excited. An interesting part of this “green” movement is that it means such different things to different people. This issue is so unusually diverse that it is sometimes difficult for me to even carry on a conversation with someone who has a whole different idea from mine of what it means to be “green”.

Some examples might help. I now regularly come across the popular and rapidly spreading governmental goal that our laws, regulations, and habits must be changed so our society becomes “carbon neutral”. I routinely hear city councilors, mayors, and presidential candidates promoting “carbon neutral” initiatives as an antidote to “global warming”. Our Governor talks about “energy independence” as being one of the reasons he is pushing energy conservation. A New Mexico Public Regulatory Commissioner recently told me he is promoting conservation because he wants PRC to deny applications for any new power plants, and especially any new coal fired generation facilities. One famously expansive California city/county is being sued because their subdivision approval process doesn’t adequately take into account the impact of new subdivisions on endangered Polar Bears.

OK, I can hear you saying “HUH?” on that last one so here is the connection, according to reports about the lawsuit:

  • Polar Bears have been listed as Endangered
  • Those bears rely on ice floes to keep them from drowning
  • There seems to be less ice around the arctic waters lately due to warmer oceans
  • People who live in far flung suburban subdivisions have a habit of driving their cars more than other people think they should, which probably causes more tail pipe carbon emissions than if they all lived in more compact communities and walked and rode mass transit
  • Too much carbon in the air is being blamed for contributing to global warming
  • Global warming is causing the oceans to warm, and the lack of big floating ice is causing already endangered polar bears to die of drowning. While arctic seals probably think this is a good thing, some people feel this should serve as a call to action.

What is my point in all the definitional issues about “green”? The point is that to have an intelligent discussion about any complicated issue you first need to understand the point of view of the person across from you, and on this issue it is particularly challenging to do that.

Some people are worried about global temperature changes, some are concerned about water conservation, some are stressed over population growth, others are worried about middle-eastern geopolitical power, and still others have simply found a new tool to keep their favorite open space out of developers’ hands.

As far as ideas for solutions to each person’s perception of the problem, some think building codes must require more insulation, many want to do whatever they are doing in California, some want tax credits or other incentives, some want to outlaw incandescent light bulbs, and some are convinced keeping the whole response voluntary is critical to continuing building technology evolution.

Everybody shows up at “green” building forums with their ideas for change.

Leadership in our association is having almost daily discussions with activists and government officials, at all levels, about changes to the way we build. Our land development and building construction habits and practices are in the spotlight, whether we like it or not. We will surely change in response to all this attention. Our Boards of Directors and our regulators are struggling with whether or not changes should be mandatory via government mandate or whether change should be voluntary on the part of the building industry and their customers.

My prediction is we will see lots of both, and it will come upon us quickly. Are you ready?