The Green Fork in the Road

Reader Contribution by Nathan Kipnis
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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 ar
e 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 jour
ney 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.

When
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.

Another
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.

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