This post was originally featured on Greener Everyday Consulting.
Do you ever wonder why people continue to make unsustainable choices even when they are educated about the impact of their choices and the benefits of making different ones?I do. There are, of course, many reasons why people (myself included) do not choose green–from the perception or reality of added cost, to the inconvenience, to the difficulty of changing ingrained habits, to the structural impediments.
Structural impediments include things like development patterns that make it impossible to get anywhere without driving; school buildings and workplaces without full kitchens that make it impossible to wash dishes; and policies and regulations that do little to encourage energy efficiency and conservation. Many of these structural impediments need to be tackled on the political level but others literally hit much closer to home.
Consider line drying for example (I recently wrote a post about the “tricks of the trade” to successful line drying). I don’t know about you, but I live in a house that cannot easily accommodate line drying inside. When we remodeled our house in 2004 we created a laundry closet in our mudroom off the kitchen with space for a washer and dryer but not laundry racks. Nor does the mudroom itself have sufficient space: it’s narrow and rather small overall, it has many doors, and is called upon to fulfill many other functions that crowd out–literally– laundry racks. Fortunately there is a door to our backyard off our mudroom, so in the warmer months it is easy for us to hang out clothes outside to dry. But during the cold months and on rainy days we just do not have a good inside option.
This to me is a classic example of a “closer to home” structural impediment. For a passionate (or crazy) greenie like myself there are almost always creative solutions and adaptations to these problems. But for the other 99%–well they most likely won’t bother. Their knowledge that line drying is better for the earth, their clothes & their wallet doesn’t much matter in the face of such obstacles. But these are the people we need to worry about if we want to effect broader social change. We need to make it easy for everyone to make sustainable lifestyle choices.
While better public policy has an important role to play here, I want to touch briefly on how home design decisions can make an impact (when I wear my green home consultant hat I think about this issue a lot).When we build–or better yet, renovate–existing homes we can easily remove many of the obstacles people face to making greener choices. In fact we can renovate in ways that actually facilitate these choices. Looking to reduce water use? Specify low-flow fixtures. Looking to cut down on energy bills? Insulate, insulate, insulate. And, oh yeah, cut down on the size of that proposed family room addition. Want to encourage line drying? recycling? composting? Include provisions for these within the plans.
Residents shouldn’t have to be die hard green champions to reduce their environmental impact. Because the fact is that most of them aren’t. If those of us in residential green building do not design and build our projects so that the environmentally friendly course of action is the easiest course of action, many of our clients will not take it. To be sure, die hards can help illuminate the outer limits of what’s possible and in so doing cajole and inspire the rest of us to swim up stream sometimes. But in the end we need to make green living the new norm. And for that we need to remove the many structural impediments to normalization.
About the Author:
Rachel White Works for Byggmeister Design/Build, a high performance residental remodeling company, based in Newton, MA developing and tracking performance goals and standards. She is also a member of the Newton Eco Project, a community group dedicated to helping Newton Residents make their homes more efficient, comfortable and affordable. You can find more of Rachel's reflection on green building and green living on her website, Greener Every Day.