USA Today looks at Portland's South Waterfront mega-development, and finds in it signs that green building has landed firmly in the mainstream of the development industry:
Call it "eco-friendly." Call it "sustainable." Portland's $2.2 billion South Waterfront project, rising on a decaying industrial site south of downtown, signals a watershed in the green-building boom.
A trend that has taken hold across the USA in the past few years is evolving to a new level. What has been a patchwork of green buildings in many cities is expanding to whole communities, whole neighborhoods. Portland, well known as an urban-design innovator, particularly for its transit-oriented developments, is leading the way again.
The green ethic energy-efficient, water-stingy buildings full of features that stress the natural over the chemical, the recycled over the new and the renewable over the finite is firmly mainstream.
The choices we make while building the structures in which we live and work have gigantic consequences in terms of energy use, greenhouse gasses, waste and pollution (not to mention our health, our safety, our productivity and our wallets). We still need to do much better, but the green building boom is good news.
Yes, those choices have gigantic consequences -- for example energy use in buildings (when you combine residential and commercial) is considerably larger than energy use in transportation, in the US anyway.
However, there's a lot of different levels to green building, and consumers need to be savvy about it. Just hearing "green" isn't good enough. I recently did a magazine story about green houses (coming out in a national magazine in September) and it was eye-opening. The building industry is all excited about being green, but some things touted as green are required by local codes.
More important, all of the increases in efficiency and renewability of materials are countered by the trend for residences to be larger and larger. For example, one green-themed, Energy Star for Homes certified residence I recently visited was so big it needed TWO full size water heaters. Geez!
This particular development is in an area where the soils are certain to liquify in a large Cascadia subduction zone earthquake. So if that earthquake comes in the next few years (were now past the average between events) and these buildings turn into a pile of rubble, how green are they? The materials (and energy) which go into a building to construct it has an environmental impact. So does the removal of debris.
If these buildings were built on better soils and actually stood a chance of surviving the large earthquake which we know is coming, then they might deserve to be called green.