Let’s start with the bad news: our approach to creating our cities, neighborhoods, buildings, and transportation systems is literally killing us. It is the source of vast, though largely unperceived, negative effects on the natural environment, our economy, our communities, our health, and the quality of our lives.

  • We’re building structures and communities that alienate us from each other and from the natural environment.
  • The materials used in the construction of buildings normally contain enough toxins to make some of us very sick and many of us chronically uncomfortable.
  • Many popular building materials are extracted at enormous cost to fragile ecosystems in various parts of the planet.
  • Land-use patterns in many areas make life without an automobile nearly impossible, contributing to our wasteful use of finite fossil fuels and to the automobile’s dubious distinction as the world’s largest single source of pollution.

Meanwhile, we ignore or waste resources freely provided to us in the form of indigenous materials, rain, sunshine, fresh air, and landscaping.

The scope of the problem is vast. For example:

  • Buildings account for more than 40 percent of all US energy use, in terms of both energy for materials and construction, and energy for heating, lighting, equipment, etc.
  • Building placement – land use – dictates much of our need for transportation, which accounts for 26 percent of US energy use.

So altogether, about two-thirds of US energy use is determined by the current way we design our buildings and our communities. This energy use in turn has major impacts on global warming, acid rain, the trade deficit, and our foreign policy.

Clearly, there is simply no way we can achieve a sustainable future without major changes in our built environment.

Fortunately, as the articles in this issue demonstrate, there is a lot of good news. Sustainable design has matured to the point where it can deliver a built environment with a much lower environmental impact while enhancing health, community, and quality of life – all while saving money!

Indeed, the news about sustainable design is so good that we are likely on the verge of a revolution in the building industry that will totally reshape our communities over the next few decades.

This issue is a report from the front of that revolution.

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