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What Sustainability Sustains

Jonathan Ochshorn



This paper examines how the idealization of sustainability as a moral obligation of individual architects contrasts with the reality of sustainable design practice as a voluntary or government-sanctioned response to specific economic and political conditions. Architectural stewardship, like the related notions of "sustainability" and "green building design," is often discussed as a moral imperative of architects. Yet the historical track record for voluntary compliance with standards or guidelines that increase cost or reduce profitability is poor. It is the objective of this paper to show how property owners, and therefore architects, must be compelled by state power to protect buildings from fire, or provide accessible accommodations, or provide minimum indoor air quality, or reduce the gratuitous consumption of energy. Instead of asking whether and how architects can be "successful stewards," it is my intention to explore both the constraints on individual action as well as the rationale for governmental intervention.

Individual, corporate, and governmental action

It is well known that competition among businesses compels them to find ways to lower their costs of production. Confronted with a workforce that must be paid, and natural materials that must be exploited, it is not surprising that both human and natural "factors" of production are routinely damaged due to the constant need felt by business entities to maintain a competitive position. The word "damage" is meant to be taken literally: workers are damaged by being exposed to unsafe or unhealthy work environments, and by receiving insufficient free time, wages, and benefits to exploit their own human potential; environmental conditions are damaged due to cost-cutting measures, taken by businesses to maintain a competitive position, which impair the ability of the natural world to sustain life. Such damage is often noticed, especially when it threatens the underlying basis of the capitalist system itself by preventing the reproduction of the class of workers or by destroying the natural world to such an extent that its profitable exploitation can no longer be guaranteed. The necessity to maintain at least a minimum level of "health and welfare," and the requirement for some sort of intervention to overcome the destructive tendencies of profit-seeking entities, is the never-ending subject of political debate. Within that debate, the reasons and strategies advocated for individual, not-for-profit, corporate, or governmental intervention take several forms.

First, arguments in support of such intervention typically include appeals for human rights and social-environmental justice, based on a moral standpoint. Morality is invariably misconstrued as an intrinsically human attitude, rather than as an ideological reflection on a particular type of economic and political rule. This can be seen in the way modern, moral citizens misunderstand both the world of competition in which they are actually situated, as well as the application of state power that sustains it. Unwilling to confront the reality of these economic and political conditions, they instead cite "the ideal of that power, adding their own private virtue to the force imposed on them."1

Second, for owners of property and their advocates, the essential counter-argument against any interference with the affairs of business is based on freedom to compete with one's property, and markets to organize social production and consumption, rather than explicit social planning or regulation.2 This notion of freedom already implies a governmental force that regulates competing private entities in such a way that the existence and profitable use of private property is respected.3 Businesses, however, never fail to notice those aspects of governmental power that restrict their ability to dispose of their property as they see fit (taxes, regulations, and so on). State intervention that restricts the freedom of action of individual businesses is thus misconstrued as a violation of the principal of freedom, when in fact it is simply a manifestation of the freedom that the government maintains by restricting individual action. Minimum wage laws, child labor laws, regulations to insure the relative safety of food, and so on, have all been challenged by business interests as affronts to the principal of freedom and championed by moral citizens as "human rights." In fact, the government's interest has nothing to do with either sabotaging the freedom of private property or subjugating it to some free-standing moral standard. Its only interests are to facilitate both the competition of private property and the competition among workers to be economically usable: this is how capitalist wealth is produced. For this reason, the government is compelled to intervene in two distinct ways — first, to provide owners of productive capital with "those necessary conditions for competition which are not reproduced in competition" and, second, to preserve "the class of competitors with no property, so that it can continue being useful as a means for private property."4 It should be emphasized that governmental intervention, whether to create the infrastructural and environmental preconditions for the accumulation of wealth in the form of property or to maintain the class of workers needed in this type of economy, is not driven by concerns about environmental and human well-being per se: it is only when private property is itself threatened by its inability to profitably create the external conditions it requires (or by its own tendencies to damage or destroy these very conditions); or when an opportunity for improving the competitive position of business arises, that state intervention occurs.

Finally, a third variant, combining the idealism of the first with the business mentality of the second, argues that human rights and social-environmental justice are not only morally desirable but are logical consequences of — although at the same time subservient to — private ownership and the competitive drive for profit.

These arguments will be examined in two ways: first, by briefly discussing the history of governmental intervention in two related areas (fire safety and accessibility); and second, by showing how these arguments play out in two representative texts on sustainability and architecture, William McDonough's Hannover Principles: Design for Sustainability, and the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED New Construction Reference Guide.5

Governmental intervention: case studies

Virtually every "health and welfare" issue has, in general terms, the same trajectory. First, a "problem" arises; it becomes noticed and placed on the political agenda to the extent that it threatens or inhibits business productivity.

Next, those negatively affected by the problem begin to agitate for remediation by articulating a moral position (see first argument above). Those opposed to governmental intervention, because their own immediate interests would be negatively affected, typically raise the specter of socialism or wax eloquently about freedom and self-sufficiency (see second argument above). At times, the third argument emerges: moral issues raised by the problem are not only considered legitimate, but at the same time seen as being subservient to market forces which, defying all actual evidence to the contrary, are presumed uniquely capable of determining an ideal course of action.

At this point, programs are implemented. An actual resolution of the problem for its own sake is never on the political agenda; instead, what is debated is the appropriate minimum level of intervention required to optimize the continued accumulation of wealth in the form of private property. While moral arguments continue to be expounded by politicians and other activists, the actual resolution of the problem comes about through a comparison of costs and benefits attributed to competing political proposals, including the default strategy of doing nothing. While such calculations cannot typically be as precise and certain as, say, those predicting the position of a comet in relation to the earth's orbit at a certain time; while special interests or other forms of corruption may sway, to some extent, the final results; and while politicians and newscasters never fail to deliver moral platitudes about serving the common good; the outcome always, nevertheless, has its basis in the government's interest in facilitating the production of privately-owned wealth.6

The history of two representative "problems" will be briefly considered here, both within the purview of architecture, in order to provide a broader context for the discussion of sustainability.

Fire safety. Carbon-based materials, under the right circumstances, may enter into a state of rapid combustion. Fire is not something external to such materials, but rather an alternative state of being triggered by ignition and sustained by heat, in the presence of oxygen. Where carbon-based materials are used (ubiquitously in buildings), and where sources of ignition are plentiful (candles, matches, lightning, gas lamps or stoves, fire places and chimneys, boilers and furnaces, faulty electrical connections, and so on), it is not surprising that rooms, buildings, and entire sections of cities often burn. The history of governmental intervention to limit damage from fire starts with the periodic conflagrations that routinely destroyed entire urban areas, and continues with efforts to find cost-effective means to reduce and control fire damage.

Urban conflagrations were hardly limited to those fires famous for their impact on the history of architecture, notably the Great Fires of London in 1666 and Chicago in 1871. Virtually all cities experienced major conflagrations, and the causes were well known: combustible materials used for building walls, floors, and roofs; narrow streets which allowed fires to spread easily from one building to another; flammable material stored near ignition sources; and so on. In London before 1666, "the greater part of the houses were still half timbered with pointed gables facing the street."7 The London fire began as a "strong east wind carried sparks from the burning timbers across the narrow lane on to hay piled in the yard of an inn opposite. The inn caught, and from there the flames quickly spread into Thames Street, then, as now, a street famed for its wharfingers. Stores of combustibles — tallow, oil and spirits — were kept in its cellars, whilst hay, timber, and coal were stacked on the open wharves near by."8 Conditions in Boston, immediately before the Great Fire there in 1760, were similar: wood frame houses with combustible siding and roofing materials were common; large amounts of combustible material could be found inside buildings, including commercial products in residential contexts ("…rented rooms doubled as piecework shops, and leather, petroleum products, and the raw materials for manufacturing textiles covered their floors"); ignition sources including candles and "lard or whale oil lamps with an open wick" were present; narrow streets allowed fires to spread beyond the building of origin; manufacturing technologies commonly relied upon fire, often operating immediately adjacent to combustible materials ("Breweries, glassworks, tanneries, forges, candle-makers, dyers, and potters all had to use ovens or open-pit fires. Next to the flames were fuel sources"); barns contained straw and hay; armories and forts contained gunpowder; combustible materials were stored in shipyards (e.g., rope, tar, sails, etc.); combustible soot was present in chimneys directly adjacent to thatch roofs; and flagrant violations of existing, enacted, fire regulations (e.g., those mandating tile roofs or masonry walls) were common.9

The potential damage from urban conflagrations was well known and well understood; and it was increasingly clear that economic costs of such fires exceeded the costs of remediation.10 What stood in the way of adopting safer building practices was not knowledge, but the unwillingness of individual property owners to transcend their own immediate interests: "Annual fire losses represented a waste of resources for the nation as a whole, but individuals were unwilling to shoulder the burden, in the form of more expensive buildings, to help reduce this loss."11 In the case of the Boston fire described above, the economic motivation of individual owners to continue building with combustible materials was clear: "For all the damage the [earlier] Great Fire of 1711 caused and the handwringing that followed, Boston remained a wooden city because the cost of rebuilding in wood was lower than the cost of fireproofing…"12

Strategies that required large-scale planning and regulation were only possible with government intervention. Yet, as can be seen in the aftermath of the London fire, proposals that require such intervention to correct problems for their own sake, i.e., proposals coming primarily from an aesthetic, idealistic, or moral standpoint, are not generally successful. Christopher Wren's radical vision for central London, one among several plans submitted immediately after the fire, was famously rejected because of "the obstinate Averseness of a great Part of the Citizens to alter their old Properties, and to recede from building their houses again on their old Ground & Foundations…"13 On the other hand, there were instances where private owners implemented voluntary standards for their own buildings, based explicitly on cost-benefit calculations.14 In general, however, competition to reduce costs of production made it unlikely that individual building owners would spend money for technologies that improved fire-safety but were not mandated by building codes.

In the case of fire safety, governmental intervention on behalf of overarching economic interests had to contend with two major obstacles: first, uncertainty about the scope of the problem (fires happen in a probabilistic context that makes precise calculations of costs difficult); and second, the resistance of individual owners who would experience higher initial costs. As a result, laws compelling owners to adopt fire-safety measures originate at points of greatest certainty (i.e., where the recent experience of fire damage is unequivocal) and where the results of inaction are calculated to have unacceptable negative consequences. Thus, an initial proclamation issued only one week after the Great Fire of London established the basic conditions for preventing future conflagrations: "Rebuilding was to be carried out in brick or stone, and all 'eminent and notorious streets' so widened that a fire could not cross from one side to the other."15 In an analogous manner, the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 "proved to be a turning point in the history of fire safety practice."16

As various technologies to promote fire safety are introduced in limited ways, it becomes possible to increase, or decrease, their application over a broader range of building types, depending upon the actual costs and benefits experienced in these trial applications. For example, automatic sprinkler systems in the U.S. were first generally used in Associated Factory Mutual mill buildings in the late nineteenth century — one of several fire-safety measures required for lower insurance rates — but were rarely used in any other context until they were first mandated in building codes. Initial sprinkler requirements were limited to theaters, and only for the proscenium opening and stage.17 As evidence of their effectiveness became known, and experience with their use made costs of installation more predictable, it became possible to more convincingly cite their economic benefits for an increasing range of applications. Other fire-safety measures followed the same pattern: for example, outside fire escapes were required in some contexts, while other measures that provided greater fire-safety (e.g., fireproof stairs and corridors) were considered but rejected as too costly.18 In fact, the costs and benefits of sprinklers versus so-called passive systems (like fireproof stairs and corridors) are still being argued. New building codes have radically reduced the requirements for passive protection in cases where sprinkler systems are used.19 Even after the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings (where both passive and sprinkler systems proved ineffective) recommendations to strengthen building code requirements for fire safety have been largely unimplemented, based on the cold calculation of costs and benefits.20

Accessibility. The idea that people with various disabilities should have access to buildings has a relatively short history, although specific attitudes toward the disabled — ranging from the patronizing to the scornful — can be found over a much larger timeframe. In the U.S., early attitudes were characterized by a kind of moralistic benevolence in which "persons with disabilities were often viewed as part of the 'deserving poor';" but by the nineteenth century, attitudes had changed in response to "industrial and market revolutions and the growth of a liberal individualistic culture" in which "persons with disabilities, increasingly deemed unable to compete in America's industrial economy, were spurned by society."21

While various particular conditions of the disabled provided fertile grounds for both moralizing attitudes as well as misguided fear-mongering, the creation of huge numbers of disabled citizens in the twentieth century as a result of both war and industrial injuries changed the underlying logic of remediation. Early organizations of disabled persons (e.g., the Disabled Veterans of America founded in 1920) and early examples of governmental intervention (e.g., the Veterans' Rehabilitation Act of 1918) specifically addressed the consequences of war injuries. Yet it should be noted that the state's interest in appearing to take care of its wounded soldiers — derived at least in part from the need to attract future enlistees — is matched by a reluctance to actually expend resources on citizens no longer useful in its war efforts.22

The specific history of accessibility legislation in the U.S. begins with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, not because it extended access to disabled persons (it didn't), but because it established the "principle [that] discrimination according to characteristics irrelevant to job performance and the denial of access to public accommodations and public services was, simply, against the law."23 Prior to the passage of this legislation, in 1961, the American National Standards Institute issued its Specifications for Making Buildings and Facilities Accessible to, and Usable by, the Physically Handicapped (ANSI A117.1) as a voluntary consensus standard. Seven years later, the first piece of legislation was passed that actually mandated accessibility in buildings. However, the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 applied only to buildings financed with federal money, leaving business interests unfettered by such requirements. It should also be noted that voluntary compliance with the ANSI Specifications was virtually nonexistent.

The next important piece of disability legislation, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (specifically Section 504 of that Act), framed disability as a civil right rather than as a welfare issue, requiring that: "No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States… shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."24 It is interesting to note that the controversy surrounding passage of this legislation, beginning in the Nixon administration, centered around cost: Nixon, in vetoing the initial legislation in 1972, "claimed that the bill was 'fiscally irresponsible' and represented a 'Congressional spending spree.' He urged: 'We should not dilute the resources of [the Vocational Rehabilitation] program by turning it toward welfare or medical goals.'"25 Regulations to implement the legislation that ultimately passed in 1973 were postponed during the Carter administration, also due to concerns about cost. It should also be noted that the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 included an exemption provision based on the concept of "undue hardship."

Both the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 applied only to federally-financed buildings. The Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA] of 1990 extended such requirements to much of the private sector. While it is, and was, publicly lauded in idealistic and moralistic terms, the actual "back-room" political debates leading to its passage reveal a close attention to cost-benefit analysis, and the particular details of the legislation ensure that private interests are not damaged.

In fact, politicians' speeches in favor of the ADA often demonstrate a combination of moral fervor and a sensitivity to costs and benefits. Congressman Steny H. Hoyer's comments are typical: "We are sent here by our constituents to change the world for the better. And today we have the opportunity to do that… Many have asked: 'Why are we doing this for the disabled?' My answer is twofold. As Americans, our inherent belief is that there is a place for everyone in our society, and that place is as a full participant, not a bystander. The second answer is less lofty. It is steeped in the reality of the world as we know it today. If, as we all suspect, the next great world competition will be in the marketplace rather than the battlefield, we need the help of every American… We cannot afford to ignore millions of Americans who want to contribute." Congressman Steve Bartlett is even more direct: "ADA will empower people to control their own lives. It will result in a cost savings to the Federal Government. As we empower people to be independent, to control their own lives, to gain their own employment, their own income, their own housing, their own transportation, taxpayers will save substantial sums from the alternatives."26

To spare business the costs of actual remediation of existing structures under the ADA, the "undue burden" clause of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 reappears: "Title III provides that 'no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability…' unless providing such aids would 'fundamentally alter' the nature of the goods and services or result in an 'undue burden.'"27 This "undue burden" clause, together with a compromise agreed to by the bill's primary sponsor, make the ADA's accessibility provisions much less effective than the self-congratulatory speeches by its political supporters might lead one to believe. The so-called "fragile compromise" supported by Senator Tom Harkin altered the enforcement scheme in Title III of the ADA so that only injunctive relief was permitted, thereby providing "little incentive for plaintiffs and their lawyers to seek legal remedies." Moreover, in the years since its passage, "the courts and Congress have actually taken steps that have worsened the problem."28 Such legislative and judicial maneuvering is hardly accidental, but rather reflects an explicit interest in limiting governmental intervention according to its impact on economic growth. As Senator Dale Bumpers explained in 1989: "…we are obligated here to weigh the interest of the rights of the handicapped, which ought to be total, against what is obviously going to be quite a burden for a lot of small business people."29

Case study summary. These two case-studies demonstrate that moral sentiments are often expressed when social or environmental "problems" (i.e., damage to human or natural elements) are noticed. Such sentiments, which tend to frame as ideals the actions required for remediation, always differ from the actual responses to these problems in the following way: actual responses seek, not to solve problems per se, but to manage them in such a way that private accumulation of capital is maximized. For example, in the case of fire safety legislation, recommendations of the Final Report on the Collapse of the World Trade Center Towers have, in general, not been implemented in spite of the undisputed increase in building safety that would result; it is not arguments about safety per se, but rather calculations based on cost and benefit that prevail. The same is true with legislation dealing with accessibility: "Reflecting its concern for the cost to business owners, Congress limited the ADA's mandate on accessibility of existing structures… Owners of existing structures are only obligated to remove structural and communication barriers when 'such removal is readily achievable…' meaning 'easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.'"30

Governmental intervention occurs only when, and to the extent, necessary; that is, only when private interests cannot themselves create the preconditions for continued, or optimal, economic growth. In the case of fire safety, the inability of private interests to provide for the common good, based either on self-interest or on some sort of ethical motivation, is clear: state intervention was required in 1666 London to prevent combustible wood-clad structures from being built in urban areas, to establish minimum street widths, and to both regulate and facilitate the construction of masonry party walls so that obstacles confronting private builders (whose competition with each other would have made the efficient construction of such walls between their properties impossible) were removed; it continues to be necessary so that the costs of modern fire safety measures can be evaluated from the standpoint of overall capital accumulation, and removed from the competitive calculations of individual property owners.31

Accessible building follows the same pattern: private interests, on their own and in competition with each other, are generally unwilling to make their facilities accessible; action is taken only based on government mandates which apply equally to all competitors. The availability of ANSI Specifications as a voluntary standard had virtually no effect on building access until it was effectively incorporated into law, first through individual legislative action in various states (e.g., Michigan, California, and North Carolina in the early 1980s) and then through federal passage of the ADA (1990).

Sustainability and architecture

Current interest in sustainability builds upon prior movements with different names but similar motives: i.e., to live in harmony with the natural world or, putting it more bluntly, to live without destroying the conditions necessary for continued survival. Clearly, two factors have "energized" and validated the current initiatives in this area: high fuel costs and global warming. The list of related "problems" is much longer, including other instances of human and environmental damage (e.g., poor indoor air quality, threats to endangered species, loss of natural areas such as wetlands, pollution of the air, water, and ground, and so on). As with all such problems, the usual arguments are presented: that individuals, corporations, or governments can be convinced to take action through moral exhortation; and that market forces, driven by competition, render state intervention unnecessary. Two "sustainability" books will be examined in this light. Both attitudes are represented in each book, although the emphasis in each book is markedly different. The Hannover Principles provides only a brief summary of practical strategies and only occasional hints about markets and governmental intervention, but contains a large dose of advice from idealist, moral, and even mystical standpoints. The LEED Reference Guide, on the other hand, is mainly a practical manual with specific advice on how to make sustainable buildings in a market-driven context, although there is also some interest in moral principles, particularly in the discussion of "community."

The Hannover Principles. The architect William McDonough and other members of his office wrote and "assembled" The Hannover Principles as a design guide for the 2000 World's Fair in Hannover, Germany, to "encourage the design professions to take sustainability into consideration."32 The book consists of nine principles ("maxims") intended to inspire participants in the Fair, followed by guidelines and other supplementary material (including a more "sustained" discussion of sustainability). The principles are all idealistic; i.e., they deal not with the reality of building constrained by profitability and competition, but rather with a fantasy landscape "based on the enduring elements of Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit."33 Aside from this idealism, the Principles also betray a moralistic, anti-rational, and pro-business standpoint. The nine principles are as follows:

  1. Insist on rights of humanity and nature to coexist: This principle frames coexistence in terms of "rights," not only abstracted from their relationship to governmental power, but also idealized as something potentially "healthy, supportive, diverse and sustainable."34 Health, support, and diversity do, in fact, enter into the government's calculations, but only to the extent that they "sustain" the profitable exploitation of humans and natural things. The text also confuses rights with "needs," and extrapolates from the expansion of civil rights in recent U.S. history to a projected extension of "the concept of right far enough to include animals, plants, and ecosystems in nature…"35 In contrast to this idealization of rights, an objective explanation of rights would consider the relationship of rights to duty, the state's interest in granting rights, and the proliferation of nonsensical classification schemes for "human," "animal," and "plant" rights.36

  2. Recognize interdependence: This adds nothing to Principle No. 1, except perhaps the warning that interdependence is not always self-evident.

  3. Respect relationships between spirit and matter: This is nothing but mysticism, especially the advice to consider "connections between spiritual and material consciousness."

  4. Accept responsibility for the consequences of design: This serves as a moral admonition that even when competition within a capitalist economy promotes human and environmental damage, the system cannot be blamed: it's your fault.

  5. Create safe objects of long-term value: In other words, safe objects of long-term value are not the default product of conventional architectural design based on codes, regulations, and practices that have evolved within democratic governments based on capitalist economies. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of architects and the property owners who hire them to voluntarily create such things based on a heightened sense of moral values, rather than to work towards the abolition of the conditions which make such objects the exception rather than the rule (or, having chosen to work within the system, to suggest changes in codes, regulations, and so on, so that these things would be routinely achieved).

  6. Eliminate the concept of waste: That is, emulate "natural systems, in which there is no waste."37 There are two problems with this advice. First, waste is inherent in all biological and production processes. If such waste is then transformed into something useful within the human sphere, or subjected within nature to processes of transformation, one still hasn't abolished waste in the first instance. Second, rather than emulating the blind processes characterizing natural systems, human societies must develop purposeful strategies for dealing with waste. Even so, eliminating waste is different from eliminating the concept of waste. The former is a technical and economic problem in which the costs of waste reduction or "recycling" are weighed against the benefits; the latter is pure ideology.

  7. Rely on natural energy flows: "Human designs should, like the natural world, derive their creative forces from perpetual solar income."38 This is misleading on a number of counts: first, many sources of energy used in "human designs" — those based on carbon or hydrocarbon fuels, whether wood, coal, oil, or natural gas — are derived from "perpetual solar income;" second, even if we understand "perpetual solar income" as the direct use of the sun's energy (or the use of renewable, plant-based, fuels), this still excludes from consideration other renewable energy sources such as geothermal and tidal; third, non-human life forms constituting the "natural world" rely on solar-derived energy just as humans do, and are also constantly running into "problems" of fuel (food) supply shortages. Idealizing the natural world as a place of ecological stasis and bliss sheds no light on the human condition.

  8. Understand the limitations of design: Be humble; nothing lasts forever; bow to nature. This is just a repackaging of ancient mythology and postmodern nonsense about human arrogance, the danger of knowledge, and the evils of technology.

  9. Seek constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge: This is an example of the underlying idealism of the text, in that competition between private businesses ensures that knowledge is a resource reserved, to the extent possible, for private gain. Patents and copyrights turn knowledge into property. Trade secrets are protected jealously.

The five mystical elements of the guidelines, cited earlier, are used as ad hoc place holders to organize various strategies and platitudes concerning sustainability. For example, Earth is not only described as "context and material" for buildings but also as the material basis for the development of an appropriate "aesthetic" attitude.39 This is to be accomplished by wrapping buildings in forms of expression that allow them to serve as "a didactic tool to demonstrate that sustainable thinking can be put into practice in the real world."40 Building materials should be "considered for their broadest range of effects, from emotive to practical…,"41 while local traditions and production should be mined to "emphasize the regional, cultural, and historical uniqueness of the place."42 As none of this has anything to do with actually being sustainable, it remains a curious, yet revealing, component of the text. The idea of selling sustainability by appealing to emotions, rather than logical reasoning, is both purely cynical as well as consistent with the anti-rational bias that permeates the text.43

Air and Fire are treated rather literally, so that consideration of the "atmospheric effects" of design is not meant to evoke ethereal modes of expression but rather the building's impact on global warming and ozone depletion. Also mentioned in the context of "air" are air pollution, indoor air quality, noise (presumably since it may travel through air), ventilation, wind, and so on. Fire is pretty much taken to stand for "energy." Once that equation is established, sustainable designers are encouraged to prioritize "on-site renewable energy sources" which avoid "fossil fuels or remote electrical generation" — in other words, to avoid using fire as a source of energy.44

Water is also treated mostly as what it is, with practical suggestions on how to use it efficiently ("sustainably"), although designers are also urged to find ways to "celebrate the profound value of this resource on both material and spiritual levels…"45

Spirit is invoked to once again excuse the chaos and damage corresponding to profit-driven development: "Building on the principle of humility, the design philosophy here should realize its inherent limitations in trying to plan and direct both human and natural processes." Planning and direction are ruled out but, perhaps in compensation, participants are advised that their design "must present an aesthetic statement which sets up human society as a conduit toward the further understanding of nature, not as an affront or an enemy to it."46

Consistent with the anti-rational bias of the text is the manner in which sustainability is reconciled with capitalism: "Sustainability is a loaded and slippery term. It names those activities which can be continued far into the future, defining a way of life that will last. The trouble is that it is nothing new — business and industry have always hoped that whatever course they choose will be the sustainable course, one that will not push them out of business. In a sense, there is no practical need to scold business too much. If environmental considerations are something that can really be addressed, they have to encourage business activity, rather than forbid it."47 In other words: don't try to explain sustainability; actual knowledge is impossible; don't blame business for environmental and human damage; possibly nothing can be done about it anyway, and whatever is attempted must be consistent with the needs of those businesses which, desiring nothing but unending profitability, are sustainability's natural partners.

That the goal of sustainable development is to sustain exploitation is at once denied and proudly demonstrated. Maintaining a sustainable level of poverty in the Brazilian city of Curitiba is held up as an "inspiring example" of a "truly sustainable community." Garbage there is exchanged "for food and bus vouchers in the poorer parts of town" to encourage recycling; such measures result in a city that is "a favored site for new industries of local and foreign origin."48 Glorification of "successful" unfettered development is later contradicted by a moral critique of both production and consumption that not only abstracts from the actual preconditions for sustained capitalist production, i.e., the accumulation (growth) of privately held wealth, but simultaneously misrepresents damage to humans and environments as a consequence of the scale of exploitation, rather than the exploitation itself: "Sustainable development in the end recommends the leveling-off of increases in population and resource consumption. It will finally require a redefinition of values and a commitment from consumers to want and buy less, a pledge from industry to make less, and from builders to build less."49

New Construction Reference Guide. LEED, standing for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design," is the name of the "Green Building Rating System" developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and first released in 1998. There are numerous LEED guides planned for different development needs ("Existing Construction," "Core & Shell," etc.); the discussion that follows refers only to the New Construction Reference Guide covering commercial and institutional buildings, as well as high-rise (more than 3-story) residential or hotel occupancies.50

The Forward to the Guide succinctly frames the dual purposes of LEED as maximizing "both economic and environmental performance." The Introduction reiterates the same points in slightly greater detail: sustainable building practices reduce or eliminate "negative environmental impacts" while at the same time lowering costs of building operation, improving marketability, and limiting air quality liability. The rationale for developing a rating system starts with a summary of resource consumption by buildings in the U.S. (they use 30% of U.S. energy, 60% of the electricity, 5 billion gallons of water daily to flush toilets, and so on) and ends with a list of available opportunities for improvements in efficiency.51

The Guide is divided into five main chapters in order to deal separately with issues of site, water, energy/atmosphere, materials, and indoor quality. Each chapter contains specific guidelines for improving a building's sustainable characteristics; a sixth chapter accounts for innovation. LEED certification is based on accumulating a stipulated number of points derived from meeting criteria for credits enumerated in these chapters, as well as by satisfying minimum standards ("prerequisites") in several categories, for which no points are given. Recognition beyond mere certification, metaphorically linked to the value of precious metals (silver, gold, and platinum) can be obtained by accumulating additional points.

While it is possible to criticize particular procedures enumerated in these chapters, or to find contradictions in what they separately stipulate, it is the general attitude towards profitability, articulated in virtually every section of the Guide, that is the most striking aspect of the LEED system.52

The notion of measuring the usefulness of any given sustainable practice by checking its "rate of return" appears in virtually every section of the Guide as an "economic issue." The obvious problem is that this benchmark for implementation of sustainable practices — profitability — is precisely the criterion that has resulted in the very damage to natural and human resources that the Guide purports to address.53 Where particular "sustainable" practices, specifically those seeking more efficient utilization of resources, coincide with the drive towards increased productivity characteristic of normal business practice, the Guide becomes, to that extent, irrelevant.

The most important LEED credit, as might be expected, is found within the chapter dealing with "Energy & Atmosphere." In the first credit of this chapter, worth up to 10 points, energy cost savings are computed by comparing baseline energy costs (for a default code-compliant building design) with simulations of projected energy costs (for the proposed design). Here, cost is explicitly made the basis of the design's sustainable value, as if cost and sustainability were somehow inversely proportional. "The intent is to encourage simulations that provide owners value, and help them minimize their energy costs."54 Of course, the idea of making environmental decisions based on cost rather than on actual environmental impact is what contributed to environmental damage in the first place. The history of energy use and consequent environmental damage — whether the fuel of choice was timber, coal or oil — is set in motion by the same calculation of cost and profitability advocated here.

Where profitability might be threatened by implementing sustainable practices listed in the Guide, warnings are posted. For example, in the chapter on "Water Efficiency," building owners are told that reusing graywater might not be a realistic strategy: "local codes requiring filtration, disinfection treatment, overflow protection, etc., add to the cost of construction, operation, and maintenance; all of which should be considered by the owner when making a decision to collect graywater… While graywater collection and storage may not be a water reduction method that many owners and designers have the opportunity to include in their projects [presumably because of high cost and/or local code restrictions], high-efficiency plumbing fixtures are."55

Alternatively, where sustainable practices recommended by the Guide do not necessarily correspond to profitable strategies for businesses, specious arguments are often employed to argue the case anyway. For example, in the chapter called "Sustainable Sites," it is suggested that development in "downtown"-type urban areas improves worker productivity and occupant health: productivity because workers spend less time driving (as if workers somehow automatically live near their places of employment simply because residential areas exist within a specified radius; and as if workers with shorter commute times spend the "extra" minutes thereby obtained by arriving early at work and donating free labor to their employers); and health because of increased physical activity as people walk to the neighborhood grocery store (as if the one-half mile maximum distance specified in the credit seriously engenders physical activity; and as if this small-town model of local grocery stores and daily walks to shop for fresh vegetables corresponds to actual life as we know it).

This LEED section also defends urban development by criticizing "sprawl," using two familiar arguments: first, that suburban commuters spend more time commuting (in cars), and may require additional cars to support their suburban lifestyles; second, that by developing projects in urban areas, cities are restored and invigorated, creating "a more stable and interactive community." Both arguments, however, lack historical perspective. It is precisely the congestion of urban areas that leads to the development of interstate highways and the redefinition of growth centered on the nodes created at the intersections of such highways.56 The ideal of living one-half mile both from one's workplace as well as from "basic services" abstracts from the reality of work under capitalism: the city is useful to particular businesses precisely to the extent that their physical proximity to a range of services and labor pays off; the attraction of such places to those who need to find work has a well-documented trajectory, but one that is entirely contingent upon the presence of businesses whose decisions to locate in a particular place have to do only with calculations concerning profitability. Whether workers move to follow jobs, or businesses move to reduce their costs, has nothing to do with supporting a "more stable… community." "Community" is a historically-bounded and unintended consequence of urbanization, neither its driving force nor its inevitable result.

It should also be noted that while high-density urban development is rewarded, the opposite attitude — maximizing open space (i.e., building at low-density) — is also rewarded within the same chapter. Such contradictions are sometimes noted within the text, but never resolved.

For many of its credits, LEED establishes "baseline" points of comparison so that compliance can be measured. This strategy has several problems (or advantages, depending on one's point of view). First, the value of an improvement compared to a baseline value depends on how the baseline is defined. For example, the baseline standards for indoor air quality are set relatively low, so that an improvement may not constitute a healthy indoor environment (although it could generate a LEED point). In fact, the Guide describes its criterion for "increased ventilation" as being significantly lower than what would be required to achieve optimal air quality, justifying it "as a compromise between indoor air quality and energy efficiency."57

Second, relative improvements over baseline conditions indicate neither the extent of environmental problems, nor the steps actually needed to remediate those problems. For example, increasing the energy-efficiency of individual buildings is completely consistent with an increased overall use of energy in buildings (perhaps because more buildings are being built).58 The point is not whether things would have been even worse were it not for programs such as LEED, but the fundamental lack of interest in actual global environmental outcomes built into the design of the guidelines themselves. LEED has no mechanism for considering or evaluating alternate courses of action. Any building can potentially gain certification, even if a far more rational scheme was never considered, or was considered and rejected.

Third, isolated comparisons (e.g., this building uses 10% less energy; air quality in this building is 10% better) have no bearing on the reasons that businesses choose to implement various "sustainable" practices, nor on the actual ramifications of such practices. In fact, by asking the same question over and over again ("Does this building, in comparison with some arbitrary baseline, perform a bit better?") LEED guarantees that an examination and explanation of ongoing environmental and human damage will not emerge. Buildings that support the long-term destruction of both environmental and human factors can achieve certification, since no questions are asked about what actually takes place either in these buildings, or out in the world as a result of plans hatched in these buildings.

In this regard, it is hardly surprising that Wal-Mart feels quite comfortable in the role of exemplary "green" retailer. Using less energy, urging its workers to take responsibility for their own well-being by sponsoring various self-improvement initiatives (the "personal sustainability project"), or pressuring suppliers to reduce packaging (and packaging costs), all are designed to increase efficiency, productivity, and profits.59 That such efficiency also makes efficient use of resources is not the point: Wal-Mart would be engaging in such efforts whether or not the word "sustainability" even existed.60 As it turns out, the actual impact of such efficiencies on the global environment is negligible: According to Architecture 2030, "There are 151 new conventional coal-fired power plants in various stages of development in the US today… Wal-Mart is investing a half billion dollars to reduce the energy consumption and CO2 emissions of their existing buildings by 20% over the next seven years. If every Wal-Mart Supercenter met this target, the CO2 emissions from only one medium-sized coal-fired power plant, in just one month of operation each year, would negate this entire effort."61

Comparisons are not only used as a basis for measuring sustainability, but also as a general tactic to disarm criticism of corporate or governmental action. For this purpose, it is most often argued that the history of any particular "problem" reveals a trajectory towards improved conditions; so that the idea that such progress is permitted, or even encouraged, only to the extent that it is useful for the accumulation of private wealth is seen as either cynical or irrelevant. One can only note in opposition to this viewpoint that facts can always be marshaled to answer questions that were neither asked, nor germane to the explanation offered.

Sustainable text summary. The two texts analyzed above represent different approaches to the topic of sustainable building, one focusing on moral and aesthetic (didactic) considerations, the other on profitability. In spite of their different orientation, both texts have one thing in common: neither makes any attempt to identify the scope of, or suggest remedies for, the actual state of global environmental (or human) damage.

In the case of the Hannover Principles, the call for architectural expressions of sustainability, along with warnings against actually attempting to understand or remediate environmental damage, seems consistent with its mission statement: to "develop design principles" for an international trade fair whose purpose is to facilitate the global competition of business and promote tourism.62

The LEED Reference Guide, on the other hand, provides actual standards for building design similar in form to what one finds in building codes and zoning ordinances. It is therefore not surprising that the cost-benefit basis of such government-imposed mandates also constrains the Guide, even if the specific economic rational presented in the commentary accompanying each LEED credit is often illogical or implausible. To the extent that the LEED credits make economic sense to business, they are implemented without consideration of their status as "sustainable" design objectives; to the extent that they make sense for overall economic growth, but where competition among businesses prevents their implementation through individual initiative, governmental intervention increasingly makes such practices mandatory.63 Where there is still uncertainty about the economic impact of sustainable practices (whether from the standpoint of an individual business or of economic growth as a whole), one finds large quantities of moral posturing, but only tentative, exploratory steps to test the waters.


Practices harmful to health and welfare are not aberrations in an otherwise idyllic world populated by "responsible" business owners; rather, they are logical outcomes in the actual world where competition for profitability underlies every business decision. In this context, the elaboration of moral principles is either naive, to the extent that it implicitly presumes that business — compelled by the laws of competition to consider nothing other than profitability — might be influenced by such moral niceties; or else cynical, where such moral principles are knowingly used to sugar-coat the practice of "business as usual." In this context, only governmental intervention overcomes the inability of property owners to transcend their competitive drive for profit.

Such intervention is designed to protect the system of private property as a whole, not the humans or environments damaged as a matter of course within the routine processes of capital accumulation. A government interested in "securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity" intervenes reluctantly to constrain the freedom of developers who, together with their architects, search for opportunities to exploit the natural and built environment. Governmental intervention occurs, certainly not on the basis of abstract ideas such as social or environmental justice, but only when an opportunity to foster economic growth is noticed, or when the actual consequences of capitalist competition ("the blessings of liberty") threaten to undermine the system itself.64

When debating how to legislate a sustainable world, politicians' arguments are inevitably couched in concepts such as "fairness," "ethics," and "morality." Such jargon, however, obscures what sustainability is actually permitted to sustain: the productivity of capital within a competitive global marketplace.


1 The various arguments that form the basis of this paper, whether concerning morality, constitutional rights, the purpose of the state, or the circumstances under which state intervention occurs, derive in large part from: Karl Held and Audrey Hill, The Democratic State: Critique of Bourgeois Sovereignty, GegenStandpunkt, 1993, (accessed 12/13/07 21 June 2018). See their explanation of morality: "Citizens want the law for the sake of personal advantage, despite the fact that it also restricts them. To seek their advantage, then, they also have to want those restrictions imposed on themselves, and this is what morality is. Moral citizens justify their submission to a damaging power by citing the ideal of that power, adding their own private virtue to the force imposed on them. Thus, they not only abide by the law, they also have a righteous attitude which allows them to endure their obedience. They measure all their actions against the ideal of righteousness, so that whenever they violate their duties in the pursuit of their advantage, they do so with a bad conscience. If repeated success leads them to forget to judge their actions as good or bad, other people's judgments will invariably remind them. Likewise, they themselves will serve as a bad conscience to other people, engaging in public hypocrisy." Bold text in the original quote has been eliminated. Karl Held and Audrey Hill, "Chapter 4: Justice, Protection of Person and Property, Morality," The Democratic State: Critique of Bourgeois Sovereignty, GegenStandpunkt, 1993, (accessed 12/13/07 21 June 2018).

2 The idea that business interests and their moral counterparts develop different arguments about governmental intervention is hardly controversial: "Business groups generally argue that federal regulations are onerous and needlessly add costs that are passed on to consumers, while their opponents accuse them of trying to whittle down regulations that are vital to safety and quality of life." Robert Pear, "Business Lobby Presses Agenda Before '08 Vote," New York Times, Dec. 2, 2007,

3 Even Rudolph Guiliani, when Mayor of New York, suggested that freedom is about force: "What we don't see is that freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do." See "'Freedom Is About Authority': Excerpts From Guiliani Speech on Crime," New York Times, March 20, 1994, (accessed 12/13/07).

4 "By subjecting its citizens to the rule of law, the state forces them to maintain themselves as private proprietors, in competition with each other on the basis of the private property which they may or may not have. However, competition has adverse effects on competitors which undermine their ability to continue, endangering the whole system of private property. The state therefore takes additional measures to ensure that individuals can indeed maintain themselves in accordance with their own resources. It performs compensatory activities in the interests of maintaining the system of private property, which means taking notice of the differences in property and cementing the differences which property creates, a class society. As the ideal collective capitalist the state provides the real capitalists, the owners of the means of production, with those necessary conditions for competition which are not reproduced in competition. As a social state with social services, it preserves the class of competitors with no property, so that it can continue being useful as a means for private property." Bold text in the original quote has been eliminated. Held and Hill, op.cit., "Chapter 5: The Ideal Collective Capitalist; the Social State," (accessed 12/13/07 21 June 2018).

5 William McDonough Architects, The Hannover Principles: Design for Sustainability, 1992 (Fifth "special" edition printed in 1999); and U.S. Green Building Council, New Construction Reference Guide, Version 2.2, Second Edition, Washington, D.C., September 2006.

6 "Countries and states throughout the world require extensive use of cost-benefit analysis and related tools as a way of informing key regulatory decisions and reforming the regulatory process. In the United States, for example, the regulatory oversight agency uses cost-benefit analysis to both improve regulatory proposals and stimulate new regulatory measures where the benefits exceed the costs." Robert W. Hahn, In Defense of the Economic Analysis of Regulation, AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, Washington, D.C., 2005, 1-2.

For a discussion of various attitudes concerning "wealth maximization," economic "efficiency," and so on as articulated by various left- or right-leaning apologists of capitalism, see Nicholas Mercuro and Steven G. Medema, Economics and the Law: From Posner to Post-Modernism, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1997.

7 Steen Eiler Rasmussen, London: The Unique City, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1937, 99.

8 T.F. Reddaway, The Rebuilding of London After the Great Fire, Jonathan Cape, London, 1940, 22.

9 Peter Charles Hoffer, Seven Fires: The Urban Infernos that Reshaped America, Public Affairs, New York, 2006, 21-31.

10 "The evils of the old [i.e., London before the Great Fire] had been glaring, its critics legion. For many years, from the King downwards, men had striven to provide remedies." Reddaway, op.cit, 31.

11 Sara E. Wermiel, The Fireproof Building: Technology and Public Safety in the Nineteenth-Century American City, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore & London, 2000, 4.

12 Hoffer, op.cit., 32.

13 Wren's grandson is the source of this criticism: Reddaway, op.cit., 33.

14 See discussion of the development of "slow-burning construction" practices promulgated by the Associated Factory Mutual Fire Insurance Companies in the late nineteenth century: Wermiel, op.cit., 105. Note that while insurance costs have some effect on encouraging fire-safe practices, the idea that such a market-driven mechanism is sufficient to promote a rational (from the point of view of business interests) allocation of resources to fire safety is disputed by Wermiel: "But the fire insurance industry did not see things this way. It was not their business to prevent fires. On the contrary, from the perspective of the traditional underwriter, 'Fires were what made business for underwriters.'… Of course, fire insurance companies did set rates according to the risk a building represented, to some extent… Unfortunately, the intense competition in the fire insurance industry made it difficult for companies to stick to a rate schedule, even if they wanted to. They were more likely to charge whatever it took to win or keep a customer." (173-4).

15 The widening of streets was not systematically planned from a fire-safety standpoint, but rather based on the needs of a rapidly expanding system of traffic and commerce (79). The quoted passage is found on p.49: Reddaway, op.cit.

16 Wermiel, op.cit., 10.

17 ibid., 132-133.

18 "In dropping the requirement for fireproof stairs [per 1871 revision of the 1867 NYC building law] and making fire escapes the all-purpose solution for emergency egress, lawmakers most likely accommodated the preferences of landlords for a cheap solution." ibid.,191.

19 See Richard Licht, "The Impact of Building Code Changes on Fire Service Safety," (accessed 6/7/17):

"The National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) promotes sprinkler trade-offs on the basis of cost savings and the economic incentive to install active fire protection. Examples of what it calls 'trade-ups' are listed on the NFSA website and described as construction 'cost savings benefits' for installing sprinkler systems. According to the NFSA, sprinklers:

"In fact, there are literally hundreds of code-approved provisions to eliminate or reduce fire and smoke control features in the IBC when sprinklers are installed. This trend to reduce or eliminate passive features while installing more sprinklers flies in the face of traditional views on fire safety as espoused by generations of fire scientists, fire protection engineers, and published experts."

20 NIST recommendations for improved fire-safety standards, made in the aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse, have been criticized on the basis of an implicit cost-benefit criterion. The following critique of recommended active protection improvements is typical: "From a theoretical standpoint, a requirement for redundant water supplies for a sprinkler installation seems logical in order to reduce the required fire ratings of the structural frame of a building. Again, our real world experience over the past 25 years indicates that providing a redundant water supply is unnecessary. A single tragic event, where providing a redundant water supply wouldn't have made any difference anyway, shouldn't change what our real world experience tells us." Richard G. Shulte, "The Report on the World trade Center Incident: A Critique," Plumbing Engineer, August 2002, 16, PDF at (accessed 6/7/17).

The actual NIST recommendations can be found in the Final Report on the Collapse of the World Trade Center Towers, National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST NCSTAR 1, U.S. Department of Commerce, September 2005, PDF at (accessed 12/13/07). "The eight major groups of recommendations are:

These recommendations are detailed in chapter 9 of the report (201-230).

Chapter 8 of the report is more specific about the types of fire-safety weaknesses in the World Trade Center buildings, based on the use of the 1968, rather than the 1938, NYC Building Code: The report claims that:

"…the tower design:

"Many of these allowances in the 1968 NYC Building Code are contained in current codes."

Additional issues included use of floor-to-ceiling, rather than floor-to-slab, fire-rated partitions for compartmentation; lack of a proper basis for assessing the effectiveness of floor truss fireproofing; lack of a "structural frame" requirement that would have increased the fire-resistive rating on the floor trusses (although such requirements appeared in certain model codes as early as 1953); lack of "risk-consistent" provisions; and so on. (196-199).

21 National Council on Disability, Equality of Opportunity: The Making of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Washington, D.C., 1997,,of%20our%20nation's%20communication%20systems. (accessed 12/13/07).

22 See The Washington Post special report on Walter Reed Army Medical Center: Dana Priest and Anna Hull, "Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration at Army's Top Medical Facility," The Washington Post, February 18, 2007, (accessed 12/13/07).

23 National Council on Disability, op.cit.

24 Section 504 excerpt taken from: National Council on Disability, ibid.

25 National Council on Disability, ibid.

26 For these and additional comments by politicians on the passage of the ADA, see: National Council on Disability, ibid.

27 Susan Gluck Mezey, Disabling Interpretations: The Americans with Disabilities Act in Federal Court, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005, 109-110.

28 Ruth Colker, The Disability Pendulum: The First Decade of the Americans with Disabilities Act, New York University Press, New York and London, 2005, 170.

29 Mezey, op.cit., 110.

30 Mezey, ibid., 111-112.

31 The Rebuilding Act of 1667 "made it obligatory for party walls to be set out equally on each owner's ground and for the first builder of the two to build the complete wall, leaving toothing for the next house to be joined." Reddaway, op.cit., 81. Additional specifications and legal frameworks for the construction of such party walls after the Great Fire of London are also discussed.

32 McDonough, op.cit., 10.

33 These are the same pre-scientific "elements" that appear in Hindu, Japanese, and Greek ancient philosophies; a resistance to actual knowledge is foreshadowed in the use of these elements to frame the discussion of sustainability: McDonough, ibid.

34 McDonough, ibid., 8.

35 On rights as a "moral consideration," see p.87; on rights and needs ("Human rights have been expanded into natural rights in ecological thinking. We need to design for the needs of all species, not just our own needs.") see p.30; on "animals, plants, and ecosystems," see p.87. McDonough, ibid.

36 "The philosopher Hegel already knew that constitutional rights imply duties. He preferred to put it the other way around in order to celebrate the state, as if rights were some positive good different from duties. Rights are equal to duties, they are the same thing. By granting rights, the state is using its power to ensure that every relationship between citizens satisfies the principles of its rule, nothing more. Constitutional rights are also called human rights (to distinguish them from animal or plant rights) since they are thought to correspond to human nature. The 'nature' that demands constitutional rights for humans is the world of competition, in which property does not leave much room for mutual respect. The positive determination of what is human, which the state bestows on everyone, has a purely negative content. The power of the state ensures competition and respect!" Bold text in the original quote has been eliminated. Note that the parenthetical reference to "animal or plant rights" is meant to be taken sarcastically: Held and Hill, op.cit., "Chapter 2: Sovereignty, The People, Constitutional Rights, Representation," (accessed 12/13/07 21 June 2018).

37 McDonough, op.cit., 8-9. In fairness to McDonough, he seems to have backed off a bit from the concept of no waste, at least as a slogan: In answer to a question about his approach to a "zero-waste" universe, he replied, "I wouldn't use that phrase. If I said zero waste, then it makes it sound like I don't like waste. I love waste!" Interview by Deborah Solomon, "Calling Mr. Green," New York Times, May 20, 2007, (accessed 12/13/07).

38 McDonough, ibid., 9.

39 The primacy of expression is also suggested by Richard Ingersoll in "Second Nature: On the Social Bond of Ecology and Architecture," Reconstructing Architecture: Critical Discourses and Social Practices, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 1996, 146: "The question of what a building looks like, what other buildings or natural things it reminds you of, and what it represents is still of primary importance. This is why the rhetorical function of architecture is so important. A good building must convince one that it is good — it must have appeal as a cultural product as well as a phenomenal, sheltering device."

40 McDonough, op.cit., 10.

41 McDonough, ibid., 11-12.

42 McDonough, ibid., 12.

43 Some examples of anti-rational bias in the text: "No one knows the right answers to the challenge of sustainability as of yet." (24) "The best examples of it [sustainable development] come from simpler societies… But no simple return to vernacular architecture can help us now." (28) "Quality of life needs to be implied [?] in the design itself, not legislated by a list of rules." (29) "The built fabric of our world… encourages us to imagine that we comprehend systems more complex than we can ever know." (30) "We gauge the success of a design by the experience of it through time. It cannot be judged against a pre-existing checklist of criteria." (31: in other words, our "experience" of the design is considered an acceptable means of judging, as long as we have no objective criteria in mind!) "The idea of efficiency, of minimizing this or maximizing that, reinforces the limitations of mechanistic thinking, which imagines everything we do or experience to be part of a quantifiable system." (86; later, the text embraces "the unplanned, the fortuitous, the places evolved without any imposed and directing idea.") "Never has a world exposition chosen to celebrate the fact that humanity does not know very much about the world." (99) "The evidence is clear from the record of our [twentieth] century: claims to plan all aspects of the environment have failed…" (101; as if the capitalist exploitation of natural and human resources is evidence of failed planning!) Alexander's Timeless Way of Building "succeeds because he speaks, Zen-like, circling around the subject rather than holding it up for all to examine…" (102; what is needed is a kind of poetry to find "the truth of an integrative kind of beauty which is so impossible to describe"). McDonough, ibid., page numbers as noted.

44 McDonough, ibid., 15.

45 McDonough, ibid., 17.

46 McDonough, ibid., 19. Emphasis added.

47 McDonough, ibid., 48.

48 McDonough, ibid., 66-67.

49 McDonough, ibid., 107.

50 U.S. Green Building Council, op.cit.

51 The rationale for energy conservation in buildings that appears in the "Introduction" is repeated in the chapter on "Energy & Atmosphere," although the numbers cited differ: buildings use 37% of the energy (30% in the Introduction) and 68% of the electricity (60% in the Introduction) based on U.S. production. U.S. Green Building Council, ibid.

52 A more comprehensive chapter-by-chapter analysis of the LEED New Construction Reference Guide can be found in my "Summary and Critique," here (accessed 12/13/07).

53 That the criteria of profitability results in environmental problems can be seen from commentary within the LEED Guide itself, for example, the idea that environmental degradation caused by dumping wastes in landfill is a natural consequence of business decisions: "In the past, when landfill capacity was readily available and disposal fees were low, recycling or reuse of construction waste was not economically feasible. Construction materials were inexpensive compared to the cost of labor; thus, construction jobsite managers focused on worker productivity rather than on materials conservation." U.S. Green Building Council, op.cit., 253. Emphasis added.

See also Tod Shelton's analysis of President Reagan's dismantling of Carter's White House solar panels in "Greening the White House: Executive Mansion as Symbol of Sustainability," Journal of Architectural Education (JAE), Vol.60, Issue 4, May 2007, 32-33: "After years of sharply rising oil prices beginning with the Arab oil embargo in 1973, spurred by the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and peaking with the Iran Iraq War in 1981, there had been a precipitous decline in [oil] prices coinciding with the removal of price and allocation controls. By 1986, while still roughly double the cost of preembargo prices in constant dollars, oil cost a fraction of what it had at the beginning of the first Reagan term just over five years previous… In this way, Reagan's actions [in dismantling Carter's solar panels] were more of a response to a series of events than a catalytic action meant to trigger them. America had turned its attention away from the promise of solar power simply because it could afford to."

54 U.S. Green Building Council, ibid., 183.

55 U.S. Green Building Council, ibid., 133,139.

56 For a discussion of U.S. growth patterns in the twentieth century, see Joel Garreau, Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, Doubleday, New York, 1991.

57 U.S. Green Building Council, op.cit., 309.

58 For more on the potential discontinuity between sustainable actions and their results, see Ingersoll, op.cit., 145: "For every BTU of energy saved through better insulation and proper solar orientation, the same amount has been squandered in other forms of consumption, mostly related to the Western way of life."

See also these New York Times critiques: "It's as though the millions of people whom environmentalists have successfully prodded to be concerned about climate change are experiencing a SnackWell's moment: confronted with a box of fat-free devil's food chocolate cookies, which seem deliciously guilt-free, they consume the entire box, avoiding any fats but loading up on calories." Alex Williams, "Buying Into the Green Movement," New York Times, July 1, 2007, (accessed 12/13/07); and "As long as the use of fossil fuels keeps climbing — which is happening relentlessly around the world — the emission of greenhouse gases will keep rising. The average American, by several estimates, generates more than 20 tons of carbon dioxide or related gases a year; the average resident of the planet about 4.5 tons. At this rate, environmentalists say, buying someone else's squelched emissions is all but insignificant. 'The worst of the carbon-offset programs resemble the Catholic Church's sale of indulgences back before the Reformation,' said Denis Hayes, the president of the Bullitt Foundation, an environmental grant-making group. 'Instead of reducing their carbon footprints, people take private jets and stretch limos, and then think they can buy an indulgence to forgive their sins.'" Andrew C. Revkin, "Carbon-Neutral is Hip, but Is It Green?" New York Times, April 29, 2007, (accessed 12/13/07).

59 See Wal-Mart's description of their sustainability efforts at (accessed 12/13/07). For a news account of the "personal sustainability project," see Michael Barbaro, "At Wal-Mart, Lessons in Self-Help," New York Times, Section C, Business, p.1, April 5, 2007, (accessed 12/13/07).

60 Evidence of Wal-Mart's inherent interest in energy efficiency can be seen by comparing their "default" Supercenter designs with two experimental stores built in 2005 to find out "how to achieve sustainability improvements," among other things. Recent testing showed that, in many respects, the default stores out-performed the experimental prototypes, proving not that the experimental designs were necessarily flawed, but that the drive for profitability already has led to relatively energy-efficient store designs. Michael MacDonald and Michael Deru, "The Wal-Mart Experience," Part One, ASHRAE Journal, September 2007, 14-25.

61 Architecture 2030 is a "non-profit, non-partisan and independent organization… established in response to the global-warming crisis by architect Edward Mazria in 2002." Wal-Mart quote accessed 12/13/07.

62 see "Author's Note," McDonough, op.cit., no page number.

63 "One of the most significant issues in sustainable design is the rapidly developing and evolving legislation at federal, state, and local levels that is quickly converting ecologically responsible construction from a voluntary decision to a mandatory requirement." According to the USGBC, "there were 25 states and 92 cities, towns, and municipalities across the country that either required green construction or provided incentives…" David A. Blake and Leah A. Rochuarg, "Avoiding the Gray Area When Going Green," Construction Specifier, Vol.60, No.11, November 11, 2007, 22.

64 The quotes are, of course, from the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [sic], promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America," (accessed 12/13/07).