Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Unsustainably Green

A few weeks ago, I connected with author and activist April Langschied. She writes under the pen name of A Brewster Smythe and is the Founder of the Waynedale Green Alliance. The WGA, like the Irvington Green Initiative that I work with, is a grassroots organization that seeks to better our communities by involving our friends and neighbors in efforts to sustain and improve our economy and environment.

Since we share many similar interests and goals, April asked if I'd be willing to answer a few interview questions for the numerous outlets that she writes for. By the time we were done, we'd covered the Green Movement and probed the differences between "green" and "sustainable." She's published a portion of that interview on the WGA website and there will be more to come. An excerpt follows.

"Jeff Echols: "Don't Mistake the Difference Between 'Green' and 'Sustainable Living"

Jeff Echols works with the Irvington Green Initiative, a segment of the Irvington Development Project. He is from Atlanta, GA, but spent most of his life in the Chicago area. Echols graduated from Ball State University's College of Architecture and Planning. He and his wife moved to Irvington in Indianapolis 13 years ago and have been making a difference since. Here is a question and answer session I had with Jeff. Please note his contrasting of 'green' and 'sustainable' terms.

Jeff Echols
I work for HAUS – The Architecture Studio ( and WERK - Construction Managers ( (sister companies). HAUS is a collaborative architectural studio leading the design + construction process to realize unique, creative and significant architecture, interiors and sites. WERK is an Architect-Led construction firm delivering integrated Design + Build services to protect our clients’ investment in design. In short, through HAUS and WERK we provide complete design and construction services to our clients for a diverse list of project types.

I also run Renovation Resources (, an independent consultancy that provides Homeowners with the most important resources necessary to have a successful home renovation. Through Renovation Resources I also blog ( about a variety of renovation related topics in an effort to educate, inspire, inform and motivate homeowners wherever they are in the Renovation process.

I work with the Irvington Green Initiative, in an effort to implement a vision of a sustainable, historic, urban neighborhood in Indianapolis.
I’m on the Builders Association of Greater Indianapolis Green Building Committee (

ABS) What sparked your interest in the ‘green movement’? And do you see it as a movement?

Jeff) Yes, I think that you’d have to say that “green” as we talk about it is a movement. There are a couple of points though that I think a majority of people miss when it comes to the topic of “green.”
The first is the distinction between and relationship between “green” and “sustainable.” Many people, myself included sometimes, use the two terms interchangeably. But, especially the way we talk about it today, there is a difference. I read an article recently that explained it pretty well. The author took the approach of looking at products; what products are “green” and are they also “sustainable?” The example that I liked was the iPod. I love my iPod. Is it a green product? In theory, it reduces the number of CD’s manufactured, packaged, boxed up, shipped, sold in big box stores, etc. I’d say yes, it is a green product. Is it a sustainable product? It is manufactured in a region that is famous for horrific environmental standards, under who knows what kind of labor practices, of materials that are so noxious that many cannot even be recycled. I’d say that the iPod is definitely not a sustainable product.

The second point that I think many people don’t have a good handle on is related to the “green” and “sustainable” discussion. Although many “green products” are very new and many more are coming into the market place every day, “sustainable” architecture and building is not new at all. In fact, sustainable building practices are the oldest, most natural forms of construction. It may seem counter intuitive but in a very real way, the “green movement” is more of a correction, to use a financial market term, or coming back to our senses than some great breakthrough.

But this line of thinking has some major implications. We have to understand that as we design and build our new green homes, offices, schools, churches, etc. that just by using bamboo flooring and tankless water heaters we are not necessarily producing projects which are sustainable.
Most good practitioners of “green” or “sustainable” design and building understand that there is a holistic approach that must be taken. You cannot address energy efficiency and create a completely “tight” building envelope without also addressing indoor air quality. If you do, you’ll end up with a very “sick” building not to mention its occupants. In a similar vein, there are a number of builders in our market and others that are building homes that they are heavily marketing as being “green.” These are, for the most part, well-built projects with many of the latest, most advanced “green” technologies and products available. They are also monstrous, million-dollar estates. If these homes are truly “green” are they also sustainable? I would argue “no.” Ideas such as those presented by Sarah Susanka in her “Not So Big House” series of writings are just as much a part of the equation as spray foam insulation.

The bottom line for me is that sustainability, by its very definition is a necessity. I am intensely interested in designing and building sustainably because the starting point for truly green and sustainable projects is good design and planning.

Jeff Echols full interview will be seen at Associated Content and American Chronicle. For more information about Jeff Echols please contact A Brewster Smythe at Email

There will also be a separate article with stark concentration on the differences between 'green' and 'sustainable' living."

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