This January, the world witnessed one of the worst tragedies in modern times. A 7.0 earthquake rocked the already struggling nation of Haiti and caused incredible amounts of death and destruction on a level not many had seen before, including myself. Before the earthquake, Haiti had its fair share of issues, ranging from infrastructure to the economy. And it is even worse off now, with a death toll of at least two hundred thousand and over a million homeless, not to mention the near destruction of the UN mission efforts and parts of the government. With such a grim outcome, it doesn’t seem like anything positive could come from this. However, in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy, Haiti has a unique opportunity to rebuild.

Haiti not only has an opportunity to rebuild their capital city, but they have the chance to restructure their country in a sustainably: economically, socially, and environmentally.  Hundreds of conventional international aid groups have already made their way to the country; however, there are groups such as Global Green who are looking to help rebuild the country in a truly sustainable way. Global Green USA has been instrumental in the reconstruction of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Recently, Treehugger published an interview with Global Green’s CEO and President, Matt Petersen. Global Green has been constantly in contact with all parties including the Haitian government, local businesses, and several NGOs. The interview is a very insightful look at the struggles and opportunities Haiti will face in the coming years including some issues seen in Iraq and New Orleans, such as corporate leaps of power and some long-term investments like job creation. Global Green is looking to end these challenges as well as many others and begin assisting a sustainable future for Haiti.

So, is it possible for Haiti to emerge out of the destruction with a new lease on sustainablity? As Matt Peterson mentions in the interview, there are many challenges; however, there is hope. One can take a look at rebuilding New Orleans as an example. On a recent visit to the city, it still looked as if much of the 9th Ward and parts of downtown had yet to be rebuilt.  But upon researching as I returned home, it became clear that there is a movement to sustaibably rebuild the city, with organizations such as Global Green or Rebuild Green. Perhaps it is too early to tell whether Haiti can be rebuilt completely sustainable, but with organizations such as Global Green on their side, they do have a good chance. In his interview, Peterson mentioned their main focus was “four fold:”

1. To inform the codes and system for enforcing codes for rebuilding.

2. Identifying school(s) and partner groups to help ensure disaster-resistant, energy efficient/sufficient, and healthy construction.

3. Identifying partners to do the same with homes (we’re talking to Habitat about this).

4. Working with others to identify and support re-forestation, ideally via a network that supports women to lead the charge and supports job creation

Even with the massive challenges this country and the organizations involved in its reconstruction face, there is hope for a new Haiti. A Haiti that is self-sustaining in every sense of the word. If this can truly be accomplished it will be the only silver lining to one of the most destructive events of this century. And although we look to the future for hope, let us not forget the thousands that lost their lives.

-Gina Williams


In the past decade or so, partially due to the increase of the public’s awareness of the benefits of a life lived conscientiously, Green Architecture and Building have slowly but surely become increasingly embraced. Unlike bell bottom pants, pump sneakers or mullets, Green Construction proves to be a beneficial trend to the likes of mankind; increasing sustainability, decreasing pollution and keeping people and animals both healthier, and therefore happier.

Well, I guess something could be said for the happiness inspired by the mental image of a person sporting bell bottoms, pump sneakers and a mullet simultaneously… but I digress.

Sustainable living is often said to start at home. For some people, sadly, they do not have a home with which to start. Among one of the most inspiring sections of Green Building is the creation of sustainable housing options for those without homes to call their own.

Homelessness afflicts men, women, and children throughout the world, with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimates on any night, in the U.S alone, there is anywhere between 700,000 and two million people without proper shelter.

Unfortunately there isn’t much being done to help those less fortunate in the Green sector. However, there are some altogether inspirational efforts in the United States to incorporate humanitarian efforts for the homeless with the environmentally beneficial likes of Green Building, such as:

Bridge Homeless Shelter

Bridge Homeless Shelter

* In 2008 Crossroads, a 125 bed shelter, was opened in Oakland, California. Its green amenities include the use of non-toxic paint, hydronic heating, furniture made from pressed wheat, and a solar-paneled roof.

*Bridge, a Dallas area shelter, which boasts helping decrease crime in its surrounding area by as much as 18 percent, also should not feel too shabby about its use of recycling of grey water, utilization of large windows, radiant heating, and uses FSC certifiable wood and some recycled steel in the construction of its grounds.  You go Bridge, get down with your bad self!

*Zo-loft, an architecture and design studio, has invented a sustainable, portable shelter for the homeless. Its creative design allows the user to roll around this shelter on an aluminum wheel, roughly the size of a shopping cart, that contains two expandable tents made completely out of recycled materials that can hold up to 250 lbs of belongings when erected.

Zo-Loft Portable Homeless Shelter

Zo-Loft Portable Homeless Shelter

Green solutions to the dangers that plague the homeless are not just incredibly beneficial to Mother Earth, they also are of immeasurable value to the homeless that they help. Many of the United States homeless population are HIV positive or suffer from respiratory ailments such as asthma, an environment free of toxins keeps illness associated to these illnesses at bay. Depression, another frequent affliction of the homeless, can be helped by exposure to serene spaces with adequate sunlight. Furthermore, the knowledge that the shelter that they frequenting, or the the independence they are offered by having a shelter to carry with them and use on their own terms, can be a source of insurmountable pride to a person without a home.

Green solutions benefit mankind, whether that man or woman has a permanent residence or not. These innovations in shelters and portable homes are inspiration that even those less fortunate can benefit from restructuring our society to be environmentally sound. We are in this together…even those among us who refuse to retire their aging pump sneakers.

For a little over 10 years, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has proposed a new standard for building con struction focused on stronger energy efficiency and environmental standards. Known as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the USGBC’s LEED program has grown to include of 14,000 projects in the United States. The program itself is based on a rating system that allows new and renovated buildings to achieve certain degrees of LEED from ‘certified’ to ‘silver’ to ‘platinum’ depending on the number of criteria that are me t in six standard categories .

As with any new system, LEED has experienced its share of growing pains as it has gone through continual refinement to meet the nuances and challenges that are found throughout the vast array of building projects throughout the world. Recently, the USGBC released its most advanced latest revision, LEED 2009, which incorporates rules for a wide variety of circumstances and attempts to achieve a baseline focus on not just things such as energy efficient appliances, but the overall holistic lifestyle approach to the building design and its operations. Ensuring such things such as shower facilities for bikers and low maintenance landscaping, LEED has always been concerned with and understands that the user experience is also at the heart of an energy efficient building.

However, the strength and credibility of the LEED program has grown with the current economic crisis.  A number of Federal Government American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant applications have now required construction and building upgrades to achieve some level of LEED certification. Local and state governments are continually subsidizing and providing rebates for projects specifically certified by the LEED system.

However, many have been critical of the fact that LEED is not strong enough to meet the impending dangers of climate change. Perhaps in one of the most bold moves in the history of construction law for the state, Massachusetts is currently discussing a requirement that all construction projects, new or renovated, will often require some level of stringent energy efficient certification. Known as the ‘Stretch Energy Code”, all construction over 5,000 sq. ft., would inherently lower its total energy consumption an average of 40% when compared to current state code.

This isn’t good news to all. The Homebuilders Association views the measure as rash, potentially raising the cost of projects an additional $10,000 – money that the current economy can’t handle in the first place. The legitimate concerns call for a more nuanced approach, the respects all levels of sustainability, from environmental to economic.

Regardless of the specific actions taken, the news is promising as government policy, however slow, begins to catch up to the needs of the environment and the needs of the growing public concerned with our role in the world.

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