Green Science

The science of green building is building science. Reluctance to learn green techniques is tantamount to reluctance to learn how to build.
By Paul Deffenbaugh | August 31, 2008

There are immutable truths about different industries, and the most defining and strongest characteristic of the home building industry is that change occurs slowly. Getting new products to catch on can take forever. Plywood, for example, required nearly 50 years before gaining broad acceptance.

There are lots of reasons for this, but our green survey has silhouetted one element of the slow change that is important to discuss. When asked how receptive the staff was to training in green building, barely half of our builder respondents said their staffs were receptive. For production builders, it was below half. If any of us had employees who were so resistant to training in other areas of the business, our ability to improve and deliver quality homes with great customer service would be completely compromised. But in this area, in the green building arena, that affliction does not seem a concern.

Last year, when we undertook this survey, we were interested in what builders believed green is. We found they were confused, and their buyers were, too. In the end, I concluded we needed to move away from this awkward term and speak to the technical side of green. “Sustainability,” I argued, carried a much more specific understanding of the goals of this movement and would reduce the cynicism and confusion in the consumer market.

I think you can make a good argument that the reluctance of builders' employees to learn green techniques is founded on the same confusion and cynicism. The use of the term “green,” while clever, interferes with the green movement's very success. The word is too nebulous.

If we were to ask how receptive to training builders' staffs were on other matters, such as techniques to build better homes, I suspect the response would be significantly different. After all, what person in this industry would say, “Nope, I don't really want to learn how to do it better.”

Guess what? The techniques used to build green homes are a better way to build. This isn't a green thing. Or an environment thing. Or an energy thing. Or a tree-hugger thing. This is an improved technology thing.

I've been in this industry since the mid-1980s, and I can't think of a product introduction that did not deliver some improvement in building performance. It may have been better insulative value or easier installation, but both lead to better performance. And that improvement is almost without exception an improvement related to some aspect of green building.

The upshot: green isn't green. Green is building science.