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Approaching Sustainable Building From a Philosophical Position

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By: Kamy Goldfarb

(2009-04-15)... Philosophical perspectives can vary and are unique from person to person. A benefit of approaching sustainable building from a philosophical perspective is that it allows for more creativity, openness, and the ability to be accepted by many, due to the lack of common constraints or guidelines. A sustainable building can be what anyone considers, in their own mind, to have a minimal impact on the environment and positive influence on the population as a whole. This approach allows for people at all levels to become engaged in the movement, without feeling restricted, and allows for more concepts to be explored and developed. In order for this movement to be embraced, it needs to be flexible and understandable to the masses. Approaching it philosophically umbrellas all people, at all levels, to accept the ideas and adopt them to their daily lives. In this manner, it is easier to change perspectives and gain acceptance for defining an acceptable norm.

Approaching sustainable building from a conceptual concept allows variables during construction or ideas of what a good design or building would be constructed... but this can also be a pitfall. In a world that requires construction to meet specific requirements, such as mechanical, plumbing and electrical codes, there isn't the capability of a wide spread acceptance of a building being "green" because we built to what we "thought" would be appropriate. Buildings must meet certain requirements and follow structured requirements.

One is example is LEED. LEED and other programs attempt to apply standards or requirements for buildings to be considered green or environmentally friendly. But one cannot debate these requirements. If they do not agree with what is required, then they cannot just determine they don’t need that point. What if I don’t agree with what is required by LEED?

Unfortunately, the primary pitfall from approaching sustainable building from a philosophical standpoint is that philosophy is considered a medium of thought and discussion. It would be difficult to apply actual benchmarks or specifics of what would be considered sustainable design which could be agreed upon by all people looking at this approach from an intrinsic level.

To quote the book, "Sustainable Design is a design philosophy that seeks to maximize the quality of the built environment, while minimizing or eliminating negative impact to the natural environment." This definition is great if you are approaching sustainable building from a philosophical position because it allows flexibility and a large array of thoughts and ideas. The pitfall is how to quantify or determine in a qualitative manner the maximization or elimination of impacts. This is especially difficult to do when you are applying this concept to the entire cycle of the design process from site selection thru occupancy and management of the building.

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