There is a green controversy brewing in Berkeley, California. Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus Development Corp and an international philanthropist, wants to build a 10,000-square-foot house complete with a 10-car garage. Under Berkeley’s current green point system the house would qualify for Berkeley’s “green” designation despite its size, and that has neighbors and local environmentalists upset.
According to the New York Times: Berkeley’s green point system was developed by a nonprofit group called Built It Green and adopted by the city government. Items on the checklist include: tightly seal the air barrier between the garage and living area; insulate hot water pipes; use Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood; use paint low in volatile organic compounds. About 70 local governments in California have ordinances based on the Build It Green checklist, according to Bruce Mast, an executive of the organization.
The article also correctly notes that the United States Green Building Council’s LEED program does reduce points for larger than average homes. Those points must then be regained with additional “green” features and building practices in order to achieve a LEED designation.
While virtually everyone agrees that smaller footprint homes are better for our environment, not everyone is going to give up their large luxury homes – nor do I think they should have to. Those who can afford to build a luxury home are also the people who can best afford to include cutting edge “green” materials and techniques, which will in turn benefit all green building at all price levels. We should continue to encourage this type of “green” investment with a sensible point system like the LEED program that addresses the size of the home as well as the sustainability of its design.
Neighbors Susan and Chuck Fadley were quoted in the article as saying that “green building begins with using ‘just enough’ and preserving what already exists. Clearly the idea of ‘just enough’ is not part of the design concept.” And as an ideal, I agree. But in our idealism, we must not make this or any aspect of sustainable living seem so austere that its achievement feels like a punishment. A luxury home that is also a genuinely “green” home should be showcased because it allows the general public to see that “green building” doesn’t just mean living in a yurt anymore.