“The greenest building is the one that is already built.”
For decades, the historic preservation and environmental movements advanced on parallel tracks. Although some ideas from both efforts overlapped, those similarities did not translate into effective coordination or collaboration. Recently, however, some historic preservation experts have successfully demonstrated that preservationists and environmentalists share a common mission: promoting sustainable living. For preservationists, this fresh approach adds a compelling new counterpoint to our efforts to promote historic preservation. For communities, this concept affords new economic development strategies and, more importantly, delivers an affordable means to redesign themselves as sustainable living environments.
In this entry, we will examine some of the ways in which historic preservation efforts are environmentally friendly and contribute to sustainability.
Embodied Energy? Is That A New Sports Drink?
Recent research on embodied energy suggests that placing embodied energy into the energy efficiency equation means that a new, energy efficient commercial building will not even start saving energy for 40 years. Furthermore, if the new building replaces an older building that is demolished, the break-even period spikes to as long as 65 years. Ironically, most of today’s construction methods and materials are not even designed to last that long. In the big picture, a new “green” building that replaces an existing building operates at an energy deficit for its entire useful life.
1. Curtis, Wayne, A Cautionary Tale, Preservation (Jan/Feb 2008).
2. Lawniczak, Joe, Historic Preservation and Sustainable Development, Wisconsin Main Street News (Fall 2008).
3. Rypkema, Donovan, The Economics of Historic Preservation (1994).
4. Rypkema, Donovan, "Sustainability and Historic Preservation" (Speech delivered to the Heritage Society of Austin, November 9, 2007).