Leadership from the Top Down
I must commend Donald Trump on his amazing use of reverse psychology. Who would have thought that the best way to get America to move forward on tackling climate change would be to withdraw from the Paris accord.
I do hope you have all seen two initiatives that have already come out of this action. The first was Michael Bloomberg announcing that the mayors of several large American cities and some states and counties will go ahead and take steps to attain sustainability anyway, both by taking actions at a local level, and by fulfilling the U.S. commitment to help fund others to meet their goals. And then came Bill De Blasio, the mayor of New York announcing that not only will New York meet all the requirements of the accord, but will actually go further, in recognition of the fact that, whilst the accord was a major step forward, it doesnt actually go far enough to prevent global warming from escalating further.
American industry and business already know that the world is moving towards sustainability. Its a given, something that is increasingly expected by consumers and society. As nobody actually knows what Donald Trump thinks about anything, lets use the working assumption that he knows exactly what he is doing, and is leading America so that America can lead the world.
And here in my little patch, I am trying to lead. Sometimes this is by specifying what I want in this project, sometimes it is in the questions I ask suppliers and service providers, and sometimes it is in the choices I make that incur a cost that I am willing to live with.
Of Kitchens and Kings – and Queens (Apologies to Lewis Carroll)
Over recent days, I have been talking to manufacturers and suppliers of kitchens and kitchen appliances. Now this is an area in which I am hoping to use the fact that I am creating a very expensive property, in which less than 0.1% of society can afford to live (and that surely includes myself). There are many innovations, materials, and products that are being developed to be environmentally sustainable, but they are more expensive than existing options, and sometimes very much more expensive. I am seeking to use many of those products, trusting that whoever eventually lives in the house will value their environmental credentials and be willing to pay for them.
I think there are two points to make here:
· Most innovation arrives at the top end of the market and percolates down, as the costs of production fall and the benefits of volume increase.
· Some of the systems I wish to use do not necessarily make economic sense at this point in time. They require development and analysis, which can only be afforded when integrated into a project of this nature. Only later will their value be clear and their economic benefit become obvious. An example is the use of solar collectors to bring daylight down into the building and reduce the use of electric lights. In pure economic terms, this will never pay for itself, but the benefits for the occupants will be very real.
Its in the Materials. The Materials
One of the materials that is standard for the manufacture of kitchen cabinets is MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard). This is cheap and ubiquitous. Go into any DIY chain and all the cabinetry, whether kitchen, bathroom, or bedroom, will be made of MDF. The problem is that MDF is extremely damaging both to the planet, and to the people who handle it. The adhesives that hold it together are toxic, and the fibers are carcinogenic. But it is cheap, and by the time you or others are buying a cabinet, there is no evidence of the damage done. And that ignores the problem of what to do with it once it has outlived its usefulness. Please DO Not burn it.
There are also many particle boards, sometimes called chipboard, often made from waste wood from other manufacturing processes, which might in itself seem like a sustainable process, but the boards use a lot of adhesive to hold them together. They do not release such dangerous fibers when cut, as MDF does, but their adhesives include formaldehyde, - seriously nasty stuff.
So what are the alternatives?
Well there is solid timber. Now this option is only suitable on Viridian Future when we know that the timber was harvested sustainably, processed sustainably, and treated in such a way as to make it possible to reuse/recycle it at the end of its service. There is a wonderful company in Austria, that makes kitchens of solid hardwood, grown in a forest it owns. It only cuts down 5% of the trees per year and replaces them systematically. The company even provides the customer with a certificate to show the source of the wood in their kitchen. Maybe I will raise another mortgage to have this kitchen!
Then there is a company in Italy committed to sustainability, that manufactures kitchens from a compressed board developed in Australia from post-consumer waste wood. Not only is the material sustainable, with the teeny tiniest amount of formaldehyde, but the factory has solar panels all over its roof, workshop practices, waste management, packaging, and water usage are all geared towards being sustainable. Now that is a company to do business with, if you live in Italy.
In the US, there is a particle board that uses ‘ultra-low emitting formaldehyde resin’, so we are gradually getting closer to a sustainable material, but the particles are not themselves recycled, like the boards made in Australia and Italy.
Then there is plywood. This is a stable material, made with fast growing softwood. There are plywoods on the market that use environmentally sustainable adhesives and wood that has FSC certification (Forest Stewardship Council*). By using a local manufacturer and specifying FSC plywood as the material, maybe we can also eliminate the carbon footprint of products imported from Europe. Whilst I feel proud of how Europe leads America in sustainability innovation, and am a passionate globalist when it comes to trade and politics, I recognize how it is necessary to take account of the environmental impact of international trade. Roll on the solar powered container ship!!
All of these options are much more expensive than MDF, and most people dont see that they have a choice. What I hope is that, by using these materials and supporting those who develop them, I am helping us move towards the point when, not only is the environmental option economic sense for most, but regulations have caught up, non-sustainable materials are deemed ‘ non-compliant’, and are phased out.
And who knows, maybe non-compliant lawmakers and executives will be too…
* For those who are interested, the Forest Stewardship Council is the only independent body set up to provide certification of the source, supply chain, and sustainability of wood. It is recognized by all those who are pushing for environmental sustainability. There are other organizations who provide certification, but they are not independent of the logging companies, so FSC is the only certification to base your purchasing decisions on