I practice green building for a simple reason: Love.
It sounds corny, but it’s the truth—and I think it’s the truth for many of us in the green building movement. Why else would we do it when it can sometimes be so difficult? Typically, we meet considerable resistance—we have to confront people who do not want to do things differently, and we have to fight to make change, which sometimes feels like the opposite of love. Often, we lose and have to compromise. We take risks—personal and professional—and have to unlearn and relearn things when it would be so much easier to just do things “the normal way.”
I know that some people practice green building for different reasons—for money, for market position, or because others are doing it—and these are okay places to start.
But I think most people are in it for a much more fundamental reason.
We know that the built environment is humanity’s largest manifestation. Our biggest impacts on the health of the planet come from our cities and towns and the buildings and homes within them. We understand that as the planet’s population is growing, these impacts are expanding.
With a heavy heart we understand that all life support systems around the globe are in decline and that the rate of that decline is increasing. We see the diminishment of so many places that we love and fear for the places that are next to weaken or disappear altogether.
It is our love that pushes us to sit with the pain of this reality and then act in the ways we have at our disposal.
I do not believe that some silver-bullet technology or messianic politician will rescue us. The only thing that can save us is a sustained awakening of the human heart. This is required to return our species to where we belong as an essential, integral part of our beautiful, wonderful, amazing planet—not separate from the natural world, and certainly not “above it” as the dominating entity. That’s not love—it’s ego.
When you love something, you want to take care of it—to preserve it and ensure its well-being through time. I love my children like this, but love can extend outward in powerful ways beyond our families to other things. And when you love a place, you want to take care of it, too.
Some people pursue green building for very personal reasons. They love their children and grandchildren and understand that leaving them a healthy future is essential. They understand that environmental impacts that once seemed far away are in the here and now, already upon us.
Some people get into green building because they love their communities and the wider networks of people who surround them. Like many of us, I have seen development destroy the places of my childhood—both natural and man-made. Like many of us, I am motivated to turn back the tide and take part in regenerating the land, blurring the distinction between the built and natural environments.
Others embrace green building because they see people’s health suffering from poor indoor air quality and exposure to toxins. They see loved ones with cancers that are clearly environmentally related and watch as people they care about struggle with allergies and asthma. I have lost too many people I love to cancer and struggled my entire life with allergies that were likely caused by pollution in my hometown. People realize that we are surrounded by a spew of toxic chemicals, and without product transparency we cannot even know how to begin eradicating them. If we don’t know what’s in the things we buy, how can we tell the good from the bad?
Some people get pulled into green building because they also begin to understand that the way we design, build, and operate our buildings often has hidden consequences that hurt the most economically disadvantaged among us. They begin to connect the dots between the things we use and where they are made. They understand that the majority of the pollution caused by manufacturing ends up affecting people who will never enjoy the fruits of their own labor.
When you dig into it, you realize that you can’t have two worlds—the haves and have-nots—and expect to have a healthy future for all. Economic resilience, ecological resilience, and local self-reliance are all inextricably linked.
It is possible to love people you’ll never have the chance to meet. A love for all of humanity drives members of this movement to make change.
Of course there are other people who do this because of a pure love of the wild. Yes, they love trees and might be inclined to hug them. Some like to hunt and fish, getting sustenance directly from the natural world. Others hunt only with cameras, chasing rainbows and vistas of light and dark. Some spend time in wild places whenever they can while others simply take comfort knowing that wildness is there, protected while they sit safely inside a responsibly made building.
They love other species big and small and see the impacts we are making on habitats the world over—in our forests and swamplands, our oceans and streams. They understand that materials come from somewhere, and toxic releases end up in unintended places. The rich biological heritage of the planet is under direct and sustained assault, as we mine, clear-cut, and pollute. If you are like me, you are deeply and profoundly saddened by the world’s loss of an incredible heritage of animals and plants and other creatures too small to notice.
It is sad to think that my grandchildren will likely never see a polar bear or a rhino or a tiger.
We who practice green building know in our guts that paving over wetlands and forests—even farmland and pasture—is moving us deeply into dangerous ground and diminishing who we are as a people. We feel the dull pain of suburbia eating the country and the endless, insatiable demand for cheap goods and cheap thrills.
Some people express their love of the Earth and all that inhabit it through their faith, and they know that how we are currently living goes against the grain of their beliefs. Can you believe in something greater than what we understand without acknowledging the interconnectedness of everything?
Oh yes, it will take a sustained awakening of the human heart to recognize kinship with all species—to realize that what we do to them we do to ourselves and understand that this is morally wrong.
The good news is that more of us awaken each year. We accept that there are things, people, places, and creatures big and small that we care for passionately and that are worth fighting for.
We join similar movements that have yet to be united, but whose roots are dug equally deep into the soil of caring. Much of what I’m talking about here could apply to sustainable agriculture and organic farming, to social justice movements or environmentalism generally. We have different areas of focus, but we are all acting from a place of love.
It is time we collaborated and came together. We need new tools, new systems, and, most of all, new stories that properly frame our humanity and our civilization within a truly sustainable, regenerative future.
So we practice green building because it’s an actionable way to express our love where the impacts are largest and the effects most evident—in the very places where we live and work.
We work on green buildings because it’s the only responsible thing to do.
I take heart that beautiful people like you give a damn and are trying to make change regardless of how hard it may seem to be.
I appreciate it and love you for it.
A version of this article previously appeared in Transformational Thought II by Jason F. McLennan, published by Ecotone Publishing.