The Greening of Historic Preservation

illustration of a gas can that looks like an historic building
I spent this past weekend back at my alma mater, Goucher College in Baltimore, for the conference “A Critical Look at Sustainability and Historic Preservation.” Sustainability is a hot button issue for preservation, especially when it comes to LEED standards for green building and whether they really give historic buildings credit where credit is due. More than just a catchphrase, “The greenest building is one that’s already built” is a sustainability mantra that conveys the massive amount of embodied energy in old buildings. You can even figure out how much energy is lost in the demolition of a building using this handy embodied energy caluculator.

Of all the great presentations, I was most impressed by the “accidental preservationists” — speakers from two Philly-based nonprofit organizations whose missions represented a holy trinity of environmental, social, and preservation goals.

ECA worker applying white coating to roof
The Energy Coordinating Agency‘s (ECA) “Cool Roofs” project is a brilliantly simple idea that reaps multiple benefits. By covering black tar rowhouse roofs with white coatings, ECA aims to  reduce homes’ summertime ambient temperature by 5 degrees, prevent heat-related deaths, reduce energy consumption, keep these 19th- and early 20th-century homes liveable for low-income residents, extend the life of the roof, and eventually mitigate the urban heat island effect. ECA also trains workers for other green collar jobs, like energy auditing and insulating.

Also working to effect change in its low-income neighborhood, the Awbury Arboretum uses its sylvan setting to model sustainable landscaping principles and offer nature programs and job training to local kids.   Originally an elegantly landscaped Quaker multifamily compound, the Awbury Historic District includes 24 homes dating from the 1850s to the 1920s.

Venn diagram showing overlap of Social, Ecological, and Economic values
At Goucher’s Sustainability & Preservation conference, many presenters talked about the true nexus of sustainability lying at the intersection of social, economic and environmental spheres. But ECA and the Awbury Arboretum really brought the Venn diagram to life.

1 thought on “The Greening of Historic Preservation

  1. Great post, Jen. It’s not surprising that the most successful marriages of preservation and sustainability occur naturally, almost “organically,” out of a strong vision and commitment to the greater good. The two Philly projects demonstrated that very well.

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