Blue vs Green? The need for an Integrated Perspective.

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Monday, March 24th, 2014
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The concept of ‘green’ design should be all inclusive. It is meant to incorporate all the actions and things that it takes to live on this blue planet sustainably.

It is an important concept that has created a massive movement in the green building sector and must continue to grow and prosper. Its vision is good, and it is still needed because there are countless buildings whose developers still need to be turned away from ‘worst practice, lowest price’ practices to greener outcomes.

However the implementation of a model that will sustain ‘one planet living’ and ensure a truly sustainable future where the integrity of natural systems is paramount is still along way off. The agenda have been largely taken over by consultancies that with little depth to their expertise in sustainability, focus on a ‘tick the boxes’ approach to green design and decide the sustainability outcomes for their projects on a dollar per credit point cost analysis basis.

While this type of approach is adequate, it is unlikely to deliver the type of integrated innovation that can ensure that buildings become a part of the solution rather than remaining just a lesser part of the problem. We will not be able to achieve truly sustainable cities until we stop designing buildings that just ‘do less bad’ and design buildings that to take part in a restorative, net positive development future.

When the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star team (and LEED and BREEAM) originally conceived their respective tools, whole systems analysis via integrative design processes (IDP) were perceived to be a critical part of the process and the Accredited Professional was supposed to lead an IDP process, but somehow this aspect of their role seems to have been lost along the way and they are now the compiler of the submission, rather than the driver of the whole-system design process.

To some extent this is understandable, because there have been few courses and little focus on IDP outside the technical manuals. IDP processes are designed to find and drive synergistic design, materials and technology outcomes to achieve higher level efficiencies at lower costs.

Some countries identified the importance of IDP and in fact Abu Dhabi in the UAE mandated IDP submissions at Development Application (DA) stage as part of their ‘Estidama’ (Arabic for Sustainability’) tool and now require reporting of progressive improvements throughout the design process as part of the DA submission. But this is not the rule anywhere else.

There is no doubt that in some cases IDP did and still does occur, especially in the highest rated levels of buildings, but the green sector is now dominated by engineering practice based sustainability consultancies, that together with the tools themselves seem to have settled into a semi-comfortable retinue of technological solutions that don’t seem to be able to deliver the kind of disruptive change that is needed to change building completely, let alone influence the way our economy overall is run.

The drive by leading designers within the profession to seek new tools such as the Living Building Challenge and One Plant Living is an indication there is disquiet about needing to do more. The desire to do more, to look at things again in a different way, to focus on whole system integrated solutions that go way beyond just buildings and can influence whole industries and even economies, is what the ‘Blue Economy’ is about.

Blue Economy proponents are not seeking to denigrate ‘green’ in fact we all depend on the movement continuing and growing, its just that we need to take green to the next level, to fulfil its original intent and to get ‘cut-through’ of the elements needed to achieve this, a re-phrasing is needed, not to ‘greenwash’ but to identify and focus on the things that can lead to high level, net-positive, disruptive change that will create massive innovation and multiple benefit streams while simultaneously dramatically reducing costs, not just in the building sector but economy wide and the first step on the pathway is a strong focus on integrative design.

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