We are not going to reach sustainability unless we reconsider some basic ideas. Hair shirts and moral sacrifices are stupid, I’d rather talk about the things that we could do that would give us more real value.
If I’m skeptical of sustainability in practice, it is only because I want it be effective. I am afraid that it has become more a moral quest for acolytes than a new economic model. Maybe the luxury effect will kick in, but only if sustainability is obviously better than the conventional way. Sustainability seems to be something you can afford because its the right thing to do, not because its the great thing to do. Most actors, even in wealth in America, do not care about sustainability.
The majority of buildings built over the last century were built to be sold or leased, bot occupied. That means that builder is more concerned with the sell price of the building than the maintenance or operations price of occupying the building. Even in buildings that are leased, the occupants, not the owner, pay the utility bills. This encourages the occupants to be frugal of course, but not as much as if the builder had put in more expensive energy and water saving appliances in the first place. One way to he;p this would be for the builder to take out an operations bond for the efficiency of operations in the first 5 or 10 years, or the buyers to invest construction capital towards the sustainable completion of the building. Buyers could be incented to put up their cash for point on their mortgage, same as they can under contract, but with a payoff in utility savings, not mortgage payments
In planning, there are two scopes of work: land use, and transportation. While the two talk to each other, they don’t hold each other in very high regard. The land use planners make all these perfect tableau of site plans and the transportation planners come and ruin it with highways that are too wide or too narrow. The transportation planners look at the entire region and then some, try to fit all the trips somewhere, and the regional land use planners take that and overbuild in some places and underbuild in others. The divide often goes to technical and professional levels, as many land use planners are social scientists and architects, while many transportation planners are engineers. Some are very good at math, others at statistics, and others at drawings. And this is how any place is developed. Unsustainabily more often than not
This is of course an over-simplification, but there are two tracks and they assume each other will be there for the other. L:and use and transportation depend on each other too much for them to exist entirely in two sets of heads. If developers don’t pave a lot of their land for parking, they do not have an adequate receptacle for traffic. If transportation planners don’t build enough lanes to a place, they The problem is that people who try to think in both scopes are less good at the things that are rewarded in those fields. Somebody obsessed with population statistics is not going to be as good with the load balancing of regional transportation, traffic flow and intersections along a corridor the optimization of one intersection along a corridor. And that is the bread and butter of what transportation planners do. Land use is an input, not something to work with. Transportation is a given, not something to be recommended.
In organic farming and paint, there is a tradeoff between conservation and labor. Successful organic farms succeed mainly through the sweat and ingenuity of their farmers. It is easy to kill off budworms and aphids with pesticides, much harder to convince birds and ladybugs to do ti for you. I was talking with my friend about his odyssey trying to stain his deck with Low-VOC (Volatile Organic Carbon), water based stain. Wood is made to suck up water, and so it did, for coat after coat until he gave up and stained his deck in one coat of an oil based paint. I’m not saying that low VOC paints have to be water based, but it s a lot easier to be VOC when they are. You just trade your labor for the conservation value. Nice if you have the labor to spare.
I realize I have been slouching over into confusing environmentalism with sustainability. Environmentalism, the purchase of sustainable goods, is a subset of sustainability that is more about personal decisions. If we heal these and other divides, we could have a more sustainable America. The way you heal these divides is by aligning the interests of builder and owner, transportation and land use, and labor and conservation. the interests of one side with another I’d like to expand the bullets at a later date with illustrative links. Let me know if you can think of any other divides that need to be healed, I’ve got a few more to talk about this Sunday.