Green Architecture: Creating a Sustainable World

Sustainability is not a new idea. In fact it is one of the oldest of mankind. For 5,000 years of recorded history and before, native peoples have always understood and respected their role as a part (not the owner) of nature. Green architecture—sustainable buildings—does not suggest that we go backward to a simpler lifestyle, but move forward to a smarter paradigm based on the knowledge and technology of today and the yet undiscovered advances we can encourage and anticipate in the future.

The Great Illusion
The underlying cause of all environmental problems is the illusion that we and nature are separate. We need to understand that the nature out there and the nature inside of us are one and the same. The reason for this illusion of separation is that humans think they are the center of everything. This is as short-sighted as when it was thought that the earth was the center of the universe and that the sun traveled around us. But what science says and what indigenous people have always understood is that the world is a web in which human beings are only one strand. If we destroy one strand, we destroy the integrity of the web and thus destroy ourselves. For our very survival we must support all of our people on this planet living in peace and harmony with each other, and we must support this planet that nurtures us.

A tour guide in New Orleans who, when asked about clean water supply, proudly explained that New Orleans draws its water from the Mississippi River above the city and dumps its waste down river. She obviously failed to recognize that all the cities from Minneapolis and Dubuque to St. Louis, Memphis and Natchez were doing the same thing.

Environmental Suicide
Every animal on earth instinctively knows “you don’t shit where you eat.” Yet we continue to pollute the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil that grows our food. The human body is quite adaptable, but has limits for tolerating inadequate or unhealthy supply of air, food and water. For instance, try fasting for two days, withholding water for a day, or even holding your breath for more than three minutes. This gives us an understanding of how vital these resources are to our survival. Unfortunately, our society is like a smoker whose doctor has told him that smoking is killing him, yet is not going to stop until he gets lung cancer.

There has been a lot of controversy about global warming. Although the vast majority of scientists now agree on its reality, including President Bush’s study commission, there are still those who claim it is either not true or not due to man’s activities. So, what if after we cleaned up our planet, we discovered that the threat of global warming was all just a hoax? Would it be a tragedy if the only benefits were breathing cleaner air, having more and cleaner water, and reducing our dependence on foreign oil? Would we honestly be disappointed? The global warming concern is just a wake-up call to the much bigger question: Are we willing to take care of our planet—the only home we have?

Limited Resources
Energy, air, water and building materials are limited resources. This is a critical time for us to assume responsibility for using these resources efficiently and building sustainable projects that are in harmony with the environment. Isn’t it time to look wisely at how we use natural resources in our hotels and casinos? It’s not just about LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design); it’s about LIFE.

Since the industrial revolution, the U.S. has been a glutton for oil. As shown in Exhibit A, the U.S. consumes more oil than the next four countries, China, Japan, India and Russia, combined. But, having gone far beyond our own capacity to produce enough oil, we have become dependent on foreign sources to feed our addiction. As shown in Exhibit B, the largest stores of the foreign oil we depend on is produced by our friends in Saudi, Russia, Iran and China. Wait, they are not necessarily our friends. In fact, some are even using our money to build up arms to be used against us. So at the same time as we pollute ourselves, we make those who threaten us more wealthy and powerful. It’s a lose/lose scenario.

The reality is that our resources for oil will not last forever. In fact, the faster it is drilled, the quicker it is depleted. And as Exhibit C shows, the amount of remaining oil in the world’s known reserves has been falling since 1990. Based on the law of supply and demand, it is more than foolish to think that the long-term price of oil is going anywhere but up!

The idea of sustainability is a very simple one: To live our lives in such a way as to leave the earth capable of supporting our grandchildren and their grandchildren after them.­­­ This is not about survival of our planet. The earth existed long before humans and could exist perfectly well after human extinction. Sustainability is about our survival as a species (Darwin).

There can be new breakthrough technology that we have not yet discovered or even dreamed about that will provide all our energy needs. But if we continue to be intoxicated by our current oil addiction instead of visualizing a better future, we will not go beyond the shrinking box we have built for ourselves.

A New Vision Brings New Hope
We do not have to fall back, as some fear-mongers warn, to a more primitive way of life. We instead need to move forward toward a new vision. Living on this planet sustainably is achievable. It can be done, even with our 6 billion people. And it can be achieved without scarcity, starvation or poverty. Humans have, from the beginning and for thousands of years, lived in harmony with nature. It has only been in the past 100 years (less than 2 percent of recorded history) that we have had the technical ability to threaten the possibility of our own future existence. We have been seduced by the demons of expediency, greed and power. Driven by the politics or fear and arrogance, we have been foolishly consuming our resources with war and waste. This has obviously enriched many individuals who, for selfish reasons, continue to resist change. Just follow the money! But this direction has been at the cost of sacrificing our future on this planet.

Yes, sustainability is possible, but it will take more than a change in energy policy. It will take a change in consciousness. This new consciousness will need to be supported, both financially and philosophically, at all levels—federal, state and local governments plus business and industry. But more importantly, each individual needs to be doing his part, not just to demand change, but also, as Michael Jackson’s song “Man in the Mirror” states, “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.” The responsibility falls on each of us to do the best we can to leave this planet, for future generations, in a better shape than we found it.

The World Moves Forward
Many countries in Europe and Asia are doing a far better job at this than we are in the U.S. In most cases, they actually have an advantage in

that they have never been spoiled by a period of over-abundance as we have had for the past century in the U.S., which has led us to a generation that is very consumptive and wasteful. The idea that we are part of nature has long disappeared from consciousness. There are few people who even know how to plant vegetables in a garden, and our children think the grocery store produces food just like Santa Claus makes toys.

There are significant examples of other countries meeting the challenge:

• Brazil’s 35-year program to replace petroleum with ethanol made from sugar cane has led to the country not only providing for its own needs, but also becoming the world’s largest exporter of ethanol. They are now celebrating the opening of the world’s first use of sugar cane-based ethanol to produce electricity on a commercial scale.

• India, the world’s fastest-growing democracy, is converting many of its vehicles to Compressed Natural Gas, which burns cleaner and costs half the price of gasoline. They have also committed to reduce carbon emissions 40 percent by 2020 and have approved a $6.1 billion stimulus program, which they anticipate will create a significant clean energy industry.

Leadership Efforts in the U.S.
The United States has clearly been in the best position to lead the world in this life-saving endeavor. Unfortunately, those holding the power in this country haven’t seemed to be very interested. U.S. private investment in low-carbon energy is lower than in Europe, the Middle East, Africa or Asia. The U.S. has continuously refused to ratify international agreements (like the Kyoto Protocol) with other countries to limit greenhouse gases or to embrace other environmental standards. Fortunately for the world, this has not prevented other countries from proceeding without us. They, however, will be the leaders and the greatest beneficiaries of new ideas and technology. As President Obama stated in his 2010 State of the Union address, “The nation that leads the new energy economy will lead the world economy.”

While many other countries have more effectively moved forward, we in the U.S. do have some admirable examples of supporting sustainable architecture.

• In May 2006, the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously adopted the ambitious “2030 Challenge.” The resolution calls for an immediate 50 percent reduction in fossil fuel energy consumption in new and renovated buildings.

• The U.S. Green Building Council has established guidelines and standards for awarding LEED certification, which has encouraged many to meet a higher standard.

• The City of Chicago has been providing significant tax incentives to developers for building energy efficient new buildings or remodeling.

• The recent U.S. Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides more than $3 billion to states for alternative energy projects.

• In Las Vegas, Clark County in 2006 passed a real estate tax incentive program for LEED-certified development. While it was initially intended to be a residential benefit, the casino industry jumped on the bandwagon and has produced huge LEED-certified developments like CityCenter, the largest private development in the U.S.

• Thalden-Boyd-Emery Architects, whose motto is: “Design with Nature,” has been building active and passive solar buildings since the mid-‘70s that would today qualify as LEED certifiable. This was decades before “green” was a popular idea. More recently, the firm was responsible as architects for Casino Morongo (pictured on page 48) that provides 100 percent of its energy with a cogeneration plant, making the casino resort property totally energy self-sufficient.

• As a demonstration of what is possible, a few creative individuals have converted their diesel cars to run on pure vegetable oil (bio-fuel). They simply stop at restaurants and fill up on used cooking oil that they filter as they put it in their gas tank. It burns cleaner than gasoline, and they are driving for free.

A Sustainable Future Vision
We have the opportunity to build in a new way, with the intention of sustaining our planet for the future. As individual and corporate creativity is refocused, we will see the emergence of a new world.

• Cars will become smaller and lighter, and will run on alternative fuel. Auto companies will finally see the advantage of producing more efficient cars. Tata from India is currently selling excellent small cars for $3,000.

• While our consumption may not become less, the products will be made from recycled materials and will be biodegradable.

• Energy will be clean, and will be produced from renewable sources. The oil companies will begin thinking of themselves as “energy companies” and expand their businesses into distributing energy from a wide variety of energy resources.

• Buildings will become more like living organisms utilizing sustainable materials, and supporting life in a symbiotic relationship with humans.

What About the Cost?
There is a common misconception that sustainability costs more. While in many cases there may be some higher front-end costs, the reality is that in the long term, the efficient building will cost significantly less when considering maintenance and energy savings over the life of the building.

Is the Industry Ready for Change?
The casino industry, in its eagerness to create awesome properties, has seldom been sensitive to the environment or the consumption of natural resources. With large revenues and profitability, we have had the luxury of being extravagant consumers of energy, water, building materials and other resources. But hotels and casinos can adapt to this new paradigm. In fact, instead of resisting change, we can lead the way. The future is exciting. It will not be a straight-line extension of the past. The future will be led by those with a new vision, who can pursue it with enthusiasm and passion. As Henry Ford said, “If I produced what people said they wanted, I would have invented a faster horse.” With a shift in consciousness and a new awareness, we will be ready to capitalize on those breakthroughs and create a new, sustainable world for our children and our children’s children.

Sustainable Guidelines
While we are creating luxury properties, we must create “responsible luxury.” This demands of us “greater responsibility for the world we live in without compromising the essence of luxury.”
All casino and hotel properties should pursue the following basic minimum goals:

Greener Air
– Customized room climate controls
– Air filters
– Smoke controls
– Access to more fresh air
– Co2 Sensors for fresh air
– “Smart” controls for ventilation

Greener Water
– Water efficient and/or dual flush bathroom fixtures
– 50 percent recycled water and 100 percent rain water harvesting for irrigation
– Optional linen and towel change

Greener Light
– Energy efficient indoor and outdoor lights
– Mood lighting with dimmers
– Energy shut-off switch when room is not occupied
– Bigger windows to allow more natural light

Greener Material
– Non-toxic paints, carpeting and other materials
– 100 percent recycled stationary and other paper producer
– 100 percent biodegradable cleaning materials
– Naturally grown bamboo, cotton, wool and silk fabrics
– Reclaimed materials

Greener Energy
– Low-energy heating and cooling systems
– Reduced energy usage
– Utilizing regional and domestic products

Greener Luxury
– No plastics
– Organic cotton bath towels
– Passive solar design
– Recycling by staff and customers
– Composting kitchen food waste

These are only a few of many solutions to help minimize the demands placed on an already hard-pressed environment by a constantly expanding society. Conservation of natural resources needs to be integral part of the development planning, execution and operation of every building project.

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