Is BuildingGreen Getting Too Political?

We believe that social justice issues as they relate to the built environment are relevant to the sustainable design and construction community.

“You are not a political party” was the subject line of a recent email we received at BuildingGreen.

The message was a response to a short news story we did on racism and sexism in built-environment workplaces. The body of the email included the line, “We want relevant content.”

BuildingGreen is a mission-based B Corp. We exist to foster a thriving and equitable world through a regenerative and resilient built environment. To this end, BuildingGreen facilitates collaboration, learning, and trust to accelerate the transformation of the building industry into a force for positive change.

But social issues have always been relevant to green building. Sustainability has three pillars, after all—economic (profit), environmental (planet), and social (people). Yet the third pillar has been largely ignored for decades.

We at BuildingGreen have been just as guilty as anyone else in our movement of overlooking social issues and focusing primarily on environmental ones. We believed that cleaning up our super-polluting act would inherently help those most in need—that taking care of Earth meant taking care of everyone on the planet equally.

We were wrong. We’ve been failing millions of human beings who are so impoverished that they can’t even conceive of sustainable housing, healthy schools, or functional public transit. These fellow humans live in a completely different world from many of us, bearing the burdens of toxic waste, climate-change impacts, and food deserts. Many of us don’t have enough money to heat our homes, let alone insulate them.

Like many of your organizations, BuildingGreen in 2019 and 2020 took a hard look in the mirror and asked whether we were really contributing equally to the lives of everyone. The answer was painful. But that pain pales in comparison with the pain of those bearing the externalized costs of others’ privileged lifestyles.

So yes, our content about social issues has increased over the last two years—and that reflects a radical shift in what you, our readers, have been doing in your own practices and asking for from us. It’s not a political choice: it’s a moral one. It’s also a practical one. If we’re not meeting the needs of everyone, our movement cannot achieve its full potential.

This month’s feature and spotlight report, No More Red Lines: Undoing Our Legacy of Urban Segregation, looks at how inclusive green design can heal longstanding harms by lifting up under-resourced communities and working to bring sustainable affordable housing to affluent communities. The article will disturb you because of its content—but it also will bother some of you just by existing in our pages. Why write about that instead of something “relevant”? Say, solar panels?

Rest assured, we aren’t going to stop writing about solar panels anytime soon. But when we think about them now, we’ll be—at least in part—thinking about people who don’t have access to affordable energy, and about what we in the green building community can do to fix that. Justice knows no party. The politicization of equity issues is a woeful situation that we need to fight with all we’ve got. Let’s turn our collective anger in that direction.

Published December 6, 2021

Melton, P. (2021, December 6). Is BuildingGreen Getting Too Political?. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/op-ed/buildinggreen-getting-too-political

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December 6, 2021 - 5:05 pm

Time's long since up for pretending that it won't take serious political change to deal with any of the enormous problems we face. All the solar panels in the world won't do much good if they're not part of a larger solution. 

December 7, 2021 - 4:17 am

Hello Paula (and I'm sure others who helped, supported and contributed),

Thanks so much for this forthright response to the note you received and for stepping up to the plate.  I really appreciate the quality technical information I find here and I also welcome the new attention to the equally (or probably even more so) important questions that are harder to put a number on but, without which, the numbers aren't particularly helpful.


December 7, 2021 - 9:02 am

I, too, have noticed the shift in BuildingGreen content in the past few years and have been so appreciative of the broader context that you bring to the work and our industry. We need to look beyond technology and wall assemblies and LEED points at the systemic issues that are preventing the change we want to see in the world. Keep up the great work!

December 7, 2021 - 9:09 am

Dan, Josh, and Kate, I really appreciate your comments. Thanks for keeping your minds (and hearts) open.