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Sustainability and You

Pocantico group photo - courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

Pocantico group photo – courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

This past November the Friends of NCPTT and the National Trust for Historic Preservation convened a small group of experts to discuss historic preservation and environmental sustainability.

The group affirmed preservation’s important role in efforts to improve the sustainability of the built environment and resolved to face head-on the global ecological crises that threaten both built and natural resources. After two days of intense discussions, the group developed the core of the Pocantico Proclamation on Sustainability and Historic Preservation.

This proclamation provides a good starting point to further discussion on sustainability of the built environment. Please review the Pocantico Proclamation and add your comments below. Input from the broader preservation community is critical. We appreciate your participation.

National Trust for Historic Preservation Friends of NCPTT

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18 Responses to Pocantico Proclamation on Sustainability and Historic Preservation

  1. Guy R. Giersch says:

    Should the idea of the manmade economic crisis be included in the first paragraph as well?

    I like the fact you hit upon the economic benefits in the second paragraph and it might be another way to tie together the first and second paragraph.

  2. Andy Ferrell says:

    Guy,
    Thanks for taking the time to read the Proclamation and for your thoughtful input. That is exactly the kind of participation necessary to move this process forward.

  3. Elizabeth Bach says:

    I really appreciate this proclamation. As a student of Restoration Ecology, I would love to see some language supporting the harmony of human settlements with native flora and fauna, which are also members of the broader community.

  4. John McLaughlin says:

    Identify sustainable practices in a more concise explaination of it’s uses, ie: economically, socially, technologically, etc.

    Break down the global warming to a more definate definition of its posibilities and ramifications on the future of the air polution for the next ten years.

    Modern tecnologies are coming faster than a speeding train in architectural designs for more efficient homes in a conservation minded community.

    Mostly-more public input from local communities that have varied definitions of sustainability that might conlict with each other.

    sustainability and historic preservation needs more imput to explain what is the difference between them and various cross connections on the same plain of future thought and continuity.

    these need more imput before any definite quadrants are proposed for finalization of a workable plan for the future of all communities.

  5. Brent Runyon says:

    Very well said. The second point about Reinvesting hit the nail on the head and will hopefully speak to not only planners, but also to those who design the infrastructure improvements for new and older neighborhoods.

  6. Joseph Balachowski says:

    1. Promote research and experimentation in combining rehabilitation and energy conservation to preserve historic buildings’ character while upgrading their envelopes and mechanical systems.

    2. Do some punctuation and grammar [verb agreement] checking on what’s there so far.

    3. I recommend statements with more punch, more action verbs. For example:

    “Reinvestment in our existing built environment must become an indispensible part…” could read “We must reinvest in our existing built environment to transform it into an indespensible….”

  7. Gary Sachau says:

    I am pleased that the Pocantico Principles stress that preserving the built environment is an inherently sustainable practice. After all, historic preservation and sustainability are not (or do not have to be) mutually exclusive. While the principles largely reinforce this point, I am concerned about a couple of things:

    1) Placing “Sustainability” before “Historic Preservation” in the full name of the principles. “The Pocantico Principles on Historic Preservation and Sustainability” would appear to be a more appropriate title, especially coming from the preservation community. And it reflects that historic preservation is a crucial tool in achieving sustainability goals.

    2) The wording of Principle #5, “Realign Historic Preservation Policies with Sustainability.” This wording implies a couple of things: a) that sustainability trumps historic preservation; and b) that historic preservation policies are an impediment to achieving sustainability goals, rather than emphasizing that preservation and green practices can work synergistically to achieve mutually desirable goals.

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

  8. George O. Siekkinen, Jr. says:

    Greetings:

    Several comments:

    1. First of all, historic preservation is one of the basic building blocks in the efforts to develop a sustainable civilization. The other key blocks are the conservation of natural resources from the atmosphere to salt & fresh water to all the flora and fauna.

    2. The reduction in natural resource consumption, the movement away from a fossil fuel based economy, and the reduction in all climate changing gases released into the atmosphere are three critical actions that are paramount.

    3. Any action or decision today has to be evaluated against the touchstone of what does this mean for natural resources conservation and the reducing the release of climate changing gases.

    4. The “Premise” paragraph is not forceful enough in staking out the claim that the historic preservation movement along with the land trusts, the natural resource conservation advocacy groups, and other environmental groups have all been at the forefront in advocating for what is the common and unspoken end goal of creating a sustainable civilization.

    All of these movement and groups have been working on their agendas for many years now without much coordination. Also, these various movements and groups do not seem to understand they are part of this larger movement for creating the basis for a sustainable civilization. It is as if they are part of a large choral performance, say by Handel, and have their little scores in front of them, but they do not understand the larger piece for which they are singing.

    5. The various “green” building groups have been very adept at focusing public attention on the matter of resource and energy use in building stock. But, these various groups and their standards seem to think that we can find the pathway to a sustainable civilization by tearing down the old and building new. This strikes me as being very myopic because any new construction means brand new carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere whereas an existing building’s carbon impact from construction is now old carbon dioxide and I would think these gases are now sequestered in trees or in the ocean and thus not impacting further climate change. It seems to me that one of the most important decisions to make is how to release the least amount of new carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A direct way to achieve this is to keep the existing building stock we have now and make what additional repairs or improvements to it so as to better the performance of these buildings. Building something brand new would appear to me as one of the least beneficial actions considering all the impact of the new construction and all the new carbon dioxide being released. I just do not understand why the various “green” building groups do not see that existing building stock should be the first focus for attention before anything new is built.

    6. As a template for my decision-making, I have composed the several lines that follow. These can be adjusted and changed in working through a decision tree, but the end goals should remain the same in conserving natural resources and reducing fossil fuel consumption.

    “Every decision and action regarding the existing environment of buildings, infrastructure, and cultural landscapes considers the impacts on climate change and resource consumption.

    Before I consider building something new, I will try to find something existing that would serve the purpose or could be changed or expanded with minimal efforts and resources or consider whether the purpose and needs could be modified to fit what I have found.

    If I can not find something existing that will serve the needs I have, I will look for vacant or brownfield land in an existing community and work with that land in a careful and respective manner for its conditions and its context.

    If there is no vacant land within an existing community, I will look to existing developed land and determine if new activities can be added to that site without over-burdening it or if what exists there now is beyond its useful life and can be recycled.

    If the developed land has building stock of a low density and if it is within an urban context and has new infrastructure nearby that would support a higher density, I will consider whether there is a greater good to be achieved in recycling the low density existing building stock and redeveloping this site for a higher density.

    If there is no such vacant, brownfield, or developed land within an existing community that would serve the need I have, then I will look for land immediately adjacent to the community where such new infrastructure and change would be appropriate and would not degrade valuable natural resources.

    If there is no adjacent land, then I would try to find land currently with or planned for linking infrastructure to an existing community where the existing land is such that change in use would be considered appropriate and important natural resource values would not be lost.

    If I could not find such land and needed a free-standing site for the needs at hand, I would look for a brownfield site that could be developed and consider how to minimize the energy and resources needed to service it.

    Every I decision I make and the actions I do are evaluated against the template of how can I minimize my climate change impact and natural resource consumption.”

  9. This is excellent as far as it goes.

    You have left out an important part about our exiting buildings, especially those built before WWI, and often those built before WWII.
    When we could not depend on central heat nor a/c for comfort, we “built to the weather”. We designed our buildings to work with the climate. Our historic infrastructure is often quite green. We just haven’t noticed.

    I write about this quite extensively on my blog, trying to help us see what we already have. This construction is often called “original green”.

  10. This is a great public step forward for preservationists. That said, I must agree with the comments of Jane Radocchia concerning the need for more emphasis on our preservation of climate oriented design. I also echo Gary Sachau’s suggestions for better semantics and word placement, and share Joseph Balachowski’s concern over the lack of emphatic action words within the document. In building upon Mr. Balachowski’s suggestion, I would reword the second sentence of the “Next Steps” section from “We stand ready to offer an example for sustainability, while further challenging preservationists to more fully accommodate sustainable practices.” to “We will actively provide and fully promote an essential example for sustainability, while further ….”

    I would also place more emphasis in the premise on the credibility we bring with this proclamation to the larger sustainability movement, given the scores of years preservationist have worked in the face of often tremendous opposition to “recycle” the built environment. After all, to paraphrase a saying often quoted in relation to Vermont, “preservation was green before green was cool.”

  11. Jenny Parker says:

    I would like to echo Gary Sachau’s comments. It is important that historic preservation remain our primary focus while encouraging sustainable practices; after all, we are preservationists.

    In addition, the statement that encourages expedited review of tax credit projects that are sustainable should be re-examined. “Sustainable” projects are still very ill defined. A “green” project by one man’s standard may not be environmentally-friendly by another’s. Some review would have to take place to determine if a project meets whatever sustainable criteria is set, which would ultimately slow down the process for all applicants. If a shortcut were proposed (i.e. all LEED registered projects get expedited review) then that necessarily creates a problem by a government agency seemingly endorsing a private, non-profit group. Not to mention, LEED is not the only rating system out there. If review times are causing a major problem, then perhaps looking at the application process holistically and making improvements that benefit all applicants would be the preferred method.

  12. Rebecca A. Shiffer says:

    I concur with Mr. Sachau’s comment that the document would be better titled, “Pocantico Proclamation on Historic Preservation and Sustainability,” since it hopes to represent the historic preservation community.

    I also concur with Mr. Breitkreutz’s and Mr. Balachowski’s comments that document could be bolder in affirming the contributions historic preservation already makes to sustainability.

    If the hope is to have widespread support for the Proclamation, the wording of Principle #5 – Realign Historic Preservation Policies with Sustainability, and its first sentence, “Today’s challenges require that historic preservation move beyond maintaining or recovering a frozen view of the past,” is not very inviting of support. The implication is that historic preservation policies do not support sustainability, which is a startling statement for the historic preservation community to make about itself. The “frozen view of the past” attitude is one that preservationists have combated for decades. Most likely this was unintentional, but the proclamation appears to accuse preservationists of what others have accused us of for so long.

    The underlying point could be addressed more positively: “Ensure that Historic Preservation Policies Support Sustainability. Historic preservation contributes to the transformation of communities and the establishment of a sustainable, equitable, and verdant world. Historic preservation practices and policies at all levels should support sustainability.”

    Regarding Actions – Public Policy – Historic Preservation Policies. PP4, Identify the critical conflicts . . . What critical conflicts? If they exist, they should be stated so that they can be evaluated by the preservation community.

    PP5 mentions a fresh look at the Secretary’s Standards. The National Park System Advisory Board did this in 2006. Their conclusion: “The Committee finds that the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation remain appropriate . . ., and therefore recommends that there be no change to them.” (Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program: Recommendations for Making a Good Program Better (September 2006), page 4, available at http://www.nps.gov/history/hps/tps/tax/committee.htm).

    PP5 and PP6 both discuss materials published by the National Park Service and would be more effective if combined and expanded beyond one agency: “Integrate green design practices into preservation guidelines and encourage policymakers at all levels to publish materials illustrating the use of sustainable design practices in historic preservation projects.”

    The Conclusion could be strengthened as a call to action. Phrases like “transitioning historic preservation to the forefront of the sustainability movement” and “transform historic preservation into a leading, relevant, timely exemplar . . .” do not give enough credit to the important work in support of sustainability that historic preservation has done and does every day. Emphasizing what historic preservation has done to date and calling upon the historic preservation community to reaffirm and increase its commitment to a sustainable future would be a stronger conclusion.

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

  13. Eric Dillingham says:

    There are a lot of great reasons to preserve our present and past through preservation of old structures. Greenhouse gas and climate change are way down on the list. It seems like kind of a stretch to say that we’d be making great differences in affecting climate change. Climate change and greenhouse warming ARE important but put the focus where the problems really are, not toss heritage preservation on for fairly transparent political reasons.

    I really enjoyed my trip on three old railways over the past couple of years by the way. Loved that coal-powered steam engine! Sustainable heritage tourism, downtown renewal, education and voyages of discovery for our children and visitors simply make life more enjoyable in these rapidly changing times.

    Here’s an issue: Destruction of old structures – or even their stabilization – can result in enormous amounts of waste: lumber, insulation, glass, lead paint, and creosote. The nation does not have unlimited landfill space.

    The challenge is always to think smart. Keep it real.

  14. Andy Ferrell says:

    Thanks for all of the thoughtful comments.

  15. [...] November of 2008, the Friends of NCPTT and the NTHP convened a small group of experts to discuss historic preservation and environmental sustainability. The group affirmed [...]

  16. Clifford Bryan says:

    I support the Pocantico Principles on Sustainability. Climate change is especially important to this initiative. I am a member of the NIST-SGIP and always stress the importance. http://www.examiner.com/x-43343-Energy-Policy-Examiner

  17. Clintion Ley says:

    The topic of sustainability in environment through historic preservation is such a thing that needs a long and continuous discussion. If this has been taken up as a consideration, its a commendable initiative taken by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Friends of the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. I am in favor of the Pocantico Principles on Sustainability. I support them… And, yes, thanks for this informative article.

  18. [...] (NTHP) to convene experts to address sustainability and preservation. The group created the Pocantico Proclamation on Sustainability and Historic Preservation, which was followed in 2009 by the “Nashville Challenge” focusing on the impact of increased [...]

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