Green Building and the Land We Build On

Kevin Caldwell

The Green Building concept is based on creating (and adding onto) structures with materials that are low-impact to acquire and manufacture, and that are energy efficient over the life of the structure so that we reduce our impacts to the Environment.

But what about the actual lands that we clear off, excavate, and reshape for our green structures?  How ironic is it that we can save energy and resources around the world via Green Building but can be bulldozing 50 year owl roosts, fox dens, and rare species?   If we’re concerned about the impacts of our building materials and energy consumption, we should likewise address our actual, local impacts to the land.

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Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to consider these valuable resources before construction.  Even a rapid study of the “natural communities”, native plants, wildlife, rare species, and water resources – the “natural capital” of the land – gives you powerful options unavailable otherwise.

In the following posts, I’ll cover a few key actions anyone can perform to make green building greener locally on the land itself.  By first studying the land, listing and mapping its living and physical resources, then making a plan to protect, utilize, and restore those features, you can manage the site actively and responsibly. As an ecologist, my primary purpose in this process is not only to avoid thoughtless impacts, but also to identify and protect actual living resources within construction. Secondarily (and fortunately) it often yields high quality lumber, exceptional native plants, topsoil, seed-banks, rock products, and even human relics and history that can be “recycled” directly into our structures and lives.

To recognize and incorporate the unique natural and human history of land within construction, to me, is the under appreciated realm of Green Building.  I strongly encourage you to explore it.