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Defining the Upper Limit of “Green”


Your new “McMansion ” is 10,000 square feet of triple-pane, low-e, argon gas-filled windows, R-35 walls, R-60 ceilings, a solar thermal hot water system, a solar photovoltaic 10 kilowatt energy system, and a water reclamation system that reuses “greywater” for ornamental plantings around the exterior.

But is it “green”?

Experts argue (effectively on both sides, some say) that reducing the footprint of a huge home is equally as important, in terms of the environment, as buying a smaller home with fewer “green” amenities, since the former will (more or less) equal the latter in terms of resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions production.

In fact, that’s exactly the argument that Gillian Caine, a self-described “green” realtor working in the Los Angeles, California area, makes for the 12,000 square-foot single family home in the Doheny Hills neighborhood listed on her website.

Click on Caine’s green resource page, and you too can find out why being green is the right thing to do. But even Caine can’t deny that her proffered McMansion (still awaiting construction, by the way) is an example of such conspicuous consumption that it makes most of us blush for its future owners.

The mansion, described as “swanky” (which, in my mind at least, somewhat undercuts the laudatory effect of “green”), will be seeking LEED certification for its resource-friendly amenities, which are spectacularly offset by “necessities” like the Infinity Pool and spa, massage room, outdoor kitchen, two elevators (in case the dog wants to use one?), and a hair salon.

Sorry about the overuse of quote marks, but the divide between reality and Never Never Land seems to narrow the closer one comes to Southern California.

Let’s talk about that LEED certification for a moment, since the house itself leaves one speechless. Certification, at one of four levels – platinum, gold, silver (and, more recently, certified) – is a benchmark for building design, construction and operation. Offered by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the program reportedly provides independent, third party verification of a structure’s sustainability quotient. That is, a building that does not unduly consume resources in its construction or operation.

The LEED rating, standing for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, was once the paradigm for building, but like all things in which mankind has a hand, the heady taste of power over local building councils, and the market wallop of its $80 million annual budget, has created a monster whose original intent – sustainable buildings – has been subsumed to feed yet another bureaucracy.

In fact, objections to the program have grown so vociferous that a class action suit against the USGBC charges it with cheating customers and acting as a monopoly.

Given that, it is perhaps too much to expect that LEED certification at any level will redeem the overblown consumerism of a 12,000-square foot home for one family. Especially one that features its own salon.

If any lessons were learned by the worldwide recession that started in late 2008, it was that money – or its lack – was and is the cause of the greatest social division on the planet. And social divides, as we have all learned to our dismay, lead to anger, destructive behavior, and revolt.

How big is the divide today? The top 1 percent of Americans own as much as the bottom 90 percent. The same is true in other countries, even countries once referred to as “developing” (China and India, for example). This disparity may in fact be behind the newest trend in tiny houses (defined as 250 square feet and under).

So back to the question about the Doheny Hills neighborhood house-to-be. If it’s that conspicuously consumptive, can it truly be green? Even achieving some level of LEED certification, does its size restrict it from the true intent of green building, which we typically associate with rammed earth, hay bale, timber-framed, adobe, or at the very least small (with solar, wind and geothermal to keep the footprint light upon the Earth)?

I say it does. Please write and let us know what you think. And why.

Article by Jeanne Roberts, appearing courtesy Celsias.