The Original Green: Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability

nbruning June 4th, 2010
So, you think you know what ”green” means.  Energy-saver light bulbs.  Recycled paper. Air conditioner set at 77 degrees, not 57.  Yes, but there’s more to than that—a lot more.  According to Steve Mouzon, these are all good, but they are only a small part of the picture.  It seems we need to think bigger--much bigger.

I recently had the pleasure and honor to serve as Steve’s editor on his latest book, “The Original Green: Unlocking the Mystery of Tru Sustainability.”  Mouzon is an architect and urbanist so his book is about designing and building the places in which we live, work, and play.  But he’s written this book for nonarchitects and explains his ideas in plain language for people like you and me.  He counts the U.K.’s Prince Charles and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (who wrote the book’s foreword) among his fans. “The Original Green” makes you think about how your environment shapes your behavior to be sustainable or not.  Okay, so what is this sustainable way of designing and building and why aren’t we doing it?  

In the book he convincingly argues for a green based on living traditions… the “sustainability all our ancestors knew by heart.”  This sustainability is embodied in our buildings and in the entire communities that they exist in, and the human behaviors they encourage.  Before the “thermostat age,” we had no choice but to build green. Somehow, we lost that ability and knowledge. Today, we must re-learn how to make buildings that sustainable not just because of what they are made of, but because they are designed to be lovable, durable, flexible, and frugal.  While you might think these adjectives are self-explanatory, what about “lovable”—how does that figure in?  Well, Mouzon points out that no matter how many solar panels, triple-pane windows, and recycling bins a building might have, it’s not sustainable if it’s ugly and no one loves it. It will be underused and perhaps torn down way before it’s material lifespan is over. It won’t last, and that’s a waste.

Furthermore, green buildings themselves are not enough. They must exist in sustainable places—places that are designed to be nourishable, accessible, serviceable, and securable.  They are places where most things you need on a daily basis are within walking distance, or accessible by bike or public transportation. They are places that fill us with delight so we care about them and care for them.

Delight = Green. Who else is writing about sustainability from that perspective? This is the kind of original thinking you’ll run across when you read “The Original Green.”  That’s why I love working with Steve. (This is my second book with him; the other was called Traditional Construction Patterns” which sounds a bit dry, but not the way Steve tells it. If you want to find out why so many buildings these days look so screwy and don’t work very well, check out that book as well.)

In each of the book’s four parts, you’ll find surprises.  In Part One: What’s the Problem? he takes a look at the top 10 things humans are doing right now to be greener and explains why they won’t get the job done.  Take for example, Gizmo Green—sorry, better equipment, bamboo, and energy-saving light bulbs alone are not going to save the world. In Part Two: What Can We Do? Mouzon unpacks the top ten things it will really will take to be green. For instance, Want-to always works better than Have-to or Ought-to as a motivating force for humans. In Part Three: What’s the Plan? You’ll read about the ways a community can grow–or stay—sustainable. Hint: building (or saving) long-lasting buildings in lively, compact neighborhoods like Harlem is one of them. Finally, in Part Four:  What Can I Do? we learn the top ten actions we can take as individuals. Yes, this is where choosing those energy-conserving light bulbs and appliances finally comes in.  

The beautiful thing about Steve is that he actually walks the talk. Several years ago, he moved from a car-dependent suburban lifestyle to living in South Beach, Miami, where he and his wife now walk or bike to work and most places; drive less than 6,000 miles a year compared with the 48,000 they were driving, and lost 60 pounds because of all the walking and biking. How’s that for healthy living?

The Original Green: Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability (The Guild Foundation Press), by Stephen A. Mouzon, is available at Amazon.com. For more information about the New Urban Guild, see www.newurbanguild.com. For more about Mouzon Design, see www.mouzon.com.
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