Sustainable Living

E-mail Melanie Martella

Earlier this week, NASA held a ceremonial groundbreaking for its Sustainability Base project; a building that will use the greenest technology around and that is designed to consume no net energy. As I read more about the project (and other, similar efforts) I had two questions: when can I get a house like this and two, how in the heck would I afford it?

The architects on the NASA Ames project, William McDonough + Partners, are devoted to sustainable design, living, and technology. The founding partner, William McDonough, co-authored the book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things that puts forth the idea that, to achieve sustainable living we need to change how we make things, what we make, and how we live. And not in a grim, post-apocalyptic way, either. (I'm in the middle of reading this book and it is fascinating. For a quickie introduction I suggest watching McDonough's TED talk on the subject.)

The aim of NASA's project is to prove that it can be done, show off some of the innovation for which NASA is so renowned, save a bunch of money and resources, and give the workers a great place to work. There's a little more detail in the article "NASA Goes Green With New Sustainability Base" courtesy of LiveScience. Central to the design is implementation of technologies that will give the building the ability to adjust its environmental controls in response to the weather outside and the conditions inside. Energy efficiency monitoring will also be enabled for its occupants. In addition, the building will incorporate new energy-efficient technologies as they become available. It is intended as both a proof-of-concept and as a technology testbed.

The U.S. Green Building Council developed the Leader in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) suite of standards to define and standardize what constitutes "green" construction. As originally conceived, LEED was limited to new construction, but the current six interrelated standards cover all aspects of the green design and construction process. A LEED-certified building will more efficiently use both resources and energy but its construction can entail greater cost and vary from existing building codes.

I do wonder what the solution is for the millions of homes that would require serious retrofits to achieve LEED certification. (Mine, for instance, is a poorly insulated Cape Cod-style house. The only way it's going to become energy efficient is if it's razed to the ground and used as fuel, but I digress.) However, creating such sustainable design standards, implementing sustainable technologies, and continually refining both is critical to our future success.

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