Monday Oct 15, 2007

Blog Action Day - Environment

    Seeings that it is Blog Action Day, an effort devoted to testing the solidarity of bloggers world wide to speak out on a single topic in a single day, and the topic is about the environment, I decided to blog about something going on in my life right now. Very dynamically too. In some of my previous blogs, I have commented on cohousing, and more specifically my current involvement in Mosaic Commons, a cohousing community that is buuilding in Berlin, MA.

    One of the usual values of cohousing is an interest in environmentally friendly design. There are a number of ways that various communities express this, including pedestrian focused access, tight heat envelopes for the homes, wood pellet heating, solar heating, all the way to more devoted efforts like the EcoVillage at Ithaca, NY. We are doing as much as we can, and are currently dealing with the difficult balance of cost cutting with enhanced green design, or more specifically, do we cut the number of windows in our units to help defray the cost of going to triple pane windows.

    I like natural light the best, and feel that personally and for others in my family, the amount of natural light has a real effect on our moods. Can I quantify it, no. Doesn't make it less real, nor any less important to me. So I definitely don't like the idea of cutting the number of windows. And I have trepidation about triple paning as well. I have done just a quick bit of Googling to get a better sense of what I already basically knew, that the more panes of glass, the less light that is getting through. How much of a difference is what I didn't really have a sense for. According to one paper I found, it can be up to as much as a 44% reduction in the amount of light, depending on what coatings, etc are used on the triple pane window. Wow. So to reduce the number of windows on top of that kind of potential light reduction really makes me nervous.

    Another aspect of cohousing that is interesting is the decision making process. I have to admit that, despite it's challenges and occasional failings, the consensus process we use at Mosaic seems to work pretty well. It is based on certain principles, including only blocking a decision when it is for the good of the group. Kinda odd when you think about it. If everyone else (i.e. the group) wants a certain outcome to the decision, a single person can basically block it for the good of 'the group'. I'll have to puzzle on that some more, but suffice it to say that I have accepted and tried to work within this framework.

    Which means that even though I have what I think is good reason to not want to reduce windows and triple pane, I have to consider what is best for the group if I want to block that decision. OK, particularly at this stage of development, we need to be sensitive to costs. But there is value in long term investments like triple panes that will save us money over the long term. but if the group thinks this is best, how do I justify saying it is best for the group not to do this? Is the loss of a sale, should I back out because of this decision, something bad for the group, bad enough? Is my unqantifiable sense that this will be less good for everyone's mood in the community defendable enough? What about the fact that I may be able to restore the windows in my unit to their original design locations and sizes, but that would not help other households who could not afford to do that? Will I even be able to afford to do that myself? When do I stop asking questions and tell my wife to make the decision? :-)

    Not an easy process, but one that I hope shows the true metal of this community, as that is the primary reason my wife and I are doing this. We have a great home, with a nice piece of property, but we want to give that up for the comfort and strength of a community of friends that have similar values and that we will enjoy living with. It's during difficult times that you get to see more of what people are like behind their social faces, and I hope this will be another opportunity for the community of Mosaic Commons to grow and prosper.

A place where Perley Mears sounds off on topics relevant to his work at Oracle.


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