Kids and young adults are very good at identifying double standards. They can tell right away if you are preaching one thing and not acting accordingly. On the one hand, adults talk about honesty and truth. And then one day they might ask their children to tell the aunt that dad is not home (maybe he cannot talk to her at that moment). How many times does a parent tell his/her child to lower their voice to be respectful, but say it to the child with a strong, demanding tone?
What happens with environmental topics and issues that are related to sustainability as they relate to standards (single and double): one we use to judge the world and the other that we use to judge our behavior.
In my family we have the plan to build a house -a tough decision for a perennially nomadic family that loves to move. Three years ago my husband and I started thinking where we wanted to live and how we were going to build our house. During this journey, we got the chance to talk to a friend (Miguel Samaniego), an engineer and owns a construction company that has built creative and enriching projects in Ecuador. Miguel was willing to explore construction in Galapagos (where my husband and I have lived most of our adult lives).
The first house design was what we later came to call “a big inefficient house”. At that point we identified our first double standard in this process of construction. Living in Galapagos, and having studied environmental sciences and truly believing that we need to live in a different way if we want to have a healthy Earth in the future, I was trying to build this grey monster. Once the problem was identified we erased the drawings and started all over again with the design of an eco-efficient house that can produce the energy needed for its operation and can manage its waste effectively.
This second journey included some research about architects with experience in this kind of design. What we found was that the words eco efficient house/sustainable building/environmentally friendly building/green building have been profoundly prostituted. We found big inefficient houses that were called “environmentally friendly” for the addition of passive solar panels. We found creative, organic looking designs that were more a work of art than a house. We also found lots of bamboo houses whose concept was not practical on our property. Other proposals were good and coherent but with materials and technologies that were not available in this side of the world. We talked again with our good friend and found out that he was willing to explore eco-efficiency applied to design and construction in the Galapagos Islands with us.
Miguel has guided us through great discussions that have ranged from philosophical principles about education of our children -questions that were linked to the spaces and/or outlets needed if TV was a must in every room- to choosing materials according to their ecological footprint and its links with the introduction of invasive species in the Islands.
Here are some of the decisions that we have made: Instead of using air conditioning in the rooms we are taking advantage of the direction of the wind and the sun so it can help us cool the rooms during the hot season. Instead of using dehumidifiers we are putting ventilation chambers around the walls that will help us maintain comfortable moisture levels during the rainy season. Instead of buying metal structures we are using bamboo for roof support. Water comes from roof-based harvesting systems; human wastes are treated in three chambers with microorganisms before clean water is sent again to the garden for irrigation. Sizes of windows will be directly linked with heat loss and gain, depending on the season but at the same time linked with the number of solar panels needed if light was not efficiently used during the day.
Many, many details…… lots of thinking, long evening talks with our architect are showing results……but since it is a pilot that we just started, we won’t know the results until we feel what it’s like to live inside it.