Think Sustainability

Think Sustainability


Think Sustainability

This year we will shine a light on sustainability to see what it means for the design-build community.

By Bill Hensley

Think Sustainability

MY FAMILY HAS A NEW YEAR’S DAY TRADITION of watching the first sunrise of the year from a hillside near the top of Mt. Tamalpais, northwest of San Francisco. It’s usually cold, windy, beautiful and almost spiritual. Plus, it motivates us to avoid the New Year’s Eve parties and go to bed at a reasonable time. Surprisingly, we’ve always been lucky with the weather. This would have been the tenth year, but due in part to a slow to heal mid-foot sprain, we opted to watch from San Rafael’s Loch Lamond jetty. As is usually the case, the sunrise was stunning, its beauty more than the iPhone could capture in the above image. I found myself humming a line from a favorite tune I seem to recall every January 1st:

“New Year’s Day, the sun is shining,
This fragile land needs constant minding.”

Later, my wife shared with me data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that indicated sea level rise will cause where we stood that morning to be under water in the not-too-distant future. While not as temporary as the sunrise, the beauty of the area would change. Indeed, much of the San Francisco Bay and coastal areas around the world are in long-term trouble unless something is done.


Generally, the “something” to be done is not one giant thing, but thousands of smaller collectively important actions, initiatives, policies, laws and behavioral adjustments that mitigate or reverse a negative trend. The politics are challenging, but the problem is real.

This year we will shine a light on sustainability and poke around its many layers and nuances to see what it means for the smart connected home and the design-build community. Let’s start with a definition: What is sustainability?

Per the Oxford Dictionary, sustainability is the “ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level” or more to our point of focus: “the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.”

As it relates to “sustainable development” the UN World Commission on Environment and Development says, “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

And at the home design and building level, a sustainable home can be defined as one that minimizes possible negative impacts on the environment. This can mean a combination of energy efficiency, using materials and resources in a responsible manner to minimize construction waste, and avoiding environmental toxins.

The Solar Office desktop

As we move through the year, we’ll focus on what we’re doing as an industry to improve sustainability, including energy-efficient design, renewable energy options, passive heating and cooling systems, smart lighting systems, sustainable building materials (many of which have already been covered in Technology Designer), wastewater treatment and reuse, and other initiatives and technologies that lower the environmental footprint of a home from construction through a lifetime of healthy use.

I’m far from an expert in these topics and hope to learn a lot throughout the year. And I certainly hope that many years from now my family can greet the new year from this jetty in the San Francisco Bay.