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Mother Earth News Fair

Our FAIRS bring living wisely to life with hands-on workshops in organic gardening, country skills, renewable energy and more.

The Green Fork in the Road

I love coming to the Fair. You get to learn so much. People share their hard earned insights into green living and there are always lots of very interesting new (and old!) products to check out. 

It will likely happen that you meet someone and think “What a cool green home they have.” Or, “How did they get to where they are now?” But mainly, it is probably more like, “I just don’t have the time to do this to the level that I know I should.” Or, “How do I even start this process? It seems overwhelming!” 

Green living is similar to taking yoga. It is a ‘practice’ – the more you get into, the more there is to learn. But this doesn’t have to be a Herculean task.  

It really comes down to three simple things. Are you ready, willing and able to start living green? Understanding these three aspects is important.  

1. Being ‘ready’ means you understand what is required and are prepared to begin the journey.  

2. Being ‘willing’ means you have committed to the notion that living ‘green’ is the correct way to live.  

3. Being ‘able’ means that there aren’t any issues preventing you from starting. This could mean that the timing is correct, you have the finances required to do this, etc.  

Conversely, if you are ready and willing, but not able, you can’t start. If you are willing and able, but not ready, same thing. You get the idea. 

If in fact you are ready, willing and able, it is a simple task to start. By attending the Fair, you are off to a great start. You can now pick and choose how you want to build your knowledge base - by attending seminars, checking out the great bookstore, talking with people at their booth (I hesitate to call them ‘salesmen’... they are usually not pushy at all and instead are loaded with info they are happy to share), and gleaning information with like-minded people who are in the middle of their own path to green living. 

After all of that, the simplest way to traveling along this journey is that at each decision point, at each fork in the road, consciously think about the ways to make a greener choice. It doesn’t mean that every decision needs to be rigidly about going green, and you end up feeling guilty if you don’t do every single thing perfect. Rather, look at each option and decide if it makes sense to select that green route. Sometimes it might potentially cost too much, there are negative aspects that don’t make it a good fit, or you don’t like the current choices available, etc.  

Keep your options and your mind open and think creatively. Instead of contemplating the latest hybrid or electric car, maybe the answer is moving into a walkable community, one where the vast majority of your needs are within walking distance, mass transit or biking are logical choices and a car is not what is required. Maybe you can’t grow your own food, but you can join a community farm cooperative. You might not be able to install renewable energy devices on your home, but perhaps you can select green power from a local power provider to offset your usage and reward renewable power projects in your region. 

Kipnis HouseWhen it comes time to consider your housing arrangement, you should be doing a lot of research. Green buildings are amazing places to live. Ideally, they are more efficient in terms of the energy used to run them and embodied energy – the energy it takes to build the home including to produce and transport the actual building materials. They have healthier interiors because the materials are preferably non toxic, there is good natural ventilation and they have natural daylighting. It takes much less energy to run them, thereby saving you money. The building’s carbon footprint is significantly reduced compared to equivalent homes in the same area. They may also be adaptable for aging in place. Good ones have an overall spiritual feel very different than your run of the mill homes. There isn’t much not to love about these homes. 

I design homes and buildings that integrate great design with green living. High Design/Low Carbon is what I call it. Just because I design a green home doesn’t give me an excuse to not make it a beautiful home. It is that added challenge that my office finds the most fun. As the great Chicago architect Louis Sullivan famously said, “Form follows Function.” I think this is especially true of real green architecture.  

Kipnis House OutsideAnother well-known Chicago architect, Mies Van Der Rohe, was renown for his mantra, “Less is more.” The simplest solutions tend to be the best ones. Homes that are able to learn the lessons from historically classic homes – the best homes are the ones that are tweaked over the course of generations of trial and error to find the perfect design. They are the best answer to their local climate, available local materials and local culture. These are the homes that are most successful, even if the home designs themselves are not ‘classical’ in appearance. Passive solar, natural ventilation, daylighting, and calculated shading are ideal starting points before considering loading a house up with expensive technological solutions. It is also what gives living in well designed green homes such a special sense of place and beauty. 

Nathan Kipnis presented a workshop at the 2012 Pennsylvania MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. 

Please visit the FAIR website for more information about future FAIRs: June 1-2 in Puyallup, Wash., Sept. 20-22 in Seven Springs, Pa., and Oct. 12-13 in Lawrence, Kan. Tickets are on sale now. 

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