Earth Day 2014 - Lean is the New Green

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afternoon sunlight glistens off treetops on the North-facing slopes of Manua Kea on Hawaii's big island

   Earth Day began in 1970 with a mission to steer the passions of the day into environmental protection, but things are afoot today that may finally help channel the environmental movement into its real mission: building a better future. American rivers were ablaze in 1970, and industrial cities lived under a perpetual pall belching continuously from its smokestacks. I grew up a hundred miles away from one of them, and one of our playground insults was “you stink like Birmingham.”

   Recovering our skies, our waters, and our lands from the ravages of industry’s degradations was the essential first step… no doubt about it. But just as an alcoholic’s eventual goal shouldn’t just be to get sober but to live a better life, our goal as earth’s residents shouldn’t just be to clean up our messes, but to build better places.

converging Hawaiian gorges pinch meadow down to a single point, with a solitary tree at the center

   Some people have been working on this for a long time. The New Urbanists, for example, started working out ways of building more sustainable places as far back as 1980. More recently, a number of them have taken on the mammoth problem of recovery from the addiction of sprawl.

   The engine of sprawl was fueled by the 20th Century’s energy glut and the mirage of perpetual expansion, making it a bloated target for anyone interested in building more sustainably. But sustainability’s allies have also become part of the problem. The LEED rating system, for example, was created with the very best of intentions, but it has also become so flabby that there are now calls for a lean alternative. And place-making regulation at all levels of government, environmental or otherwise, has become not just a thicket, but a complete unnavigable hairball of regulatory centipedes. Conjures up some disgusting images, right?

   It’s time to come lean. Fortunately, there’s a small crack team already working on that. The Lean Initiative doesn’t advocate for a complete free-for-all, but rather for “pink tape” instead of red tape… in other words, lightening the load so that more of us can get meaningful stuff done. The Lean Initiative is built on seven Foundations. Here’s a quick look at some of the lean things some of us have been building upon them:

farm shed stands solitary sentinel over agricultural field on the northern slopes of Hawaii's Manua Kea


Lean Building

• Condition people first, so they can throw the windows open and “live in season” most of the year. Tweet

• Build outdoor rooms, not lawns, to entice people outdoors where they acclimate to the local environment. Tweet

Outdoor rooms are a fraction the $ of indoor rooms, so save a little indoor living space & outdoor rooms are free. Tweet

• No equipment is so efficient as the machine that is off. Tweet

Small is the new luxury. Bigger is lower quality, smaller is higher quality for the same $. Tweet

• Why waste the space in the walls? Hundreds of square feet are lost in spaces you never see. Tweet

• Build armoires instead of closets for your clothes. They’ll save $, floor space, and look better, too. Tweet

Mauna Kea's northern slopes only slightly interrupted by Hawaiian orchard and nearby farm road

Lean Development

• Building a mature city on Day One is as insane as giving birth to an adult. Build infant villages and let them grow. Tweet

• Development speed is the enemy of value. Any place worth building well is worth building slowly. Apologies to Mae West. Tweet

• When you build, be generous with parks, greens, squares, and plazas and they will pay you back several times over. Tweet

• Build like you have only a wheelbarrow, not a bulldozer. You’ll save lots of trees and character in your place. Tweet

• Build high Walk Appeal in your streets so that your neighborhood businesses flourish. Tweet

• Single-crew workplaces make many business possible in your neighborhood today that would be impossible larger. Tweet

• Build places where you can make a living where you’re living, and walk to the grocery. Tweet

solitary farm trail traces across verdant ground on the northern slopes of Mauna Kea in Hawaii

Lean Business

• Working at home should be a basic human right. If it were harmful, humanity would have perished centuries ago. Tweet

• Welcome the Makers into every struggling neighborhood. They’re morning’s first light to a recovering place. Tweet

Name a place for what you want there. “Printer’s Row” or whatever. Names attract, and also direct. Tweet

• Do business with agreements that don’t require a lawyer to tell you what you agreed to. Tweet

• Jane Jacobs was right: new ideas come from old buildings. Businesses start best in cheaper places with lower burdens. Tweet

• Don’t advertise. Spam has vaccinated us against ads. Be the marketing you want people to see. Apologies to Ghandi. Tweet

• The old business virtues: better, faster, cheaper. The new business virtues: patience, generosity, connectedness. Tweet

northern Hawaiian shoreline battered by Pacific waves under the watchful eye of solitary white lighthouse

Lean Green

Gizmo Green: delusion that we can achieve sustainability with better equipment & materials, both of which cost more $. Tweet

• Encourage green building in ways that are fast, friendly, and free. All of which LEED is notTweet

• To thrive long after fossil fuels, we should learn from before them. Carbon is a temporary & misleading measure. Tweet

• Amperage increases a machine’s power; leverage increases our power, and works even when machine power fails. Tweet

Sustainability begins with the place, not the building. Without sustainable places, “green buildings” are meaningless. Tweet

• Sustainable places: nourishable, accessible, serviceable, securable. Green buildings: lovable, durable, adaptable, frugal. Tweet

• Sustainability isn’t something we buy, it’s something we become. Changes we make dwarf changes the R&D department makes. Tweet

a few trees scatter across a meadow out of a nearby river gorge on the northern slopes of Hawaii's Manua Kea

Lean Regulation

• Begin every rule “we do this because…” so the people know why, not just what. Consent of the governed arises from why. Tweet

• Whenever possible, set up things that regulate themselves, not requiring lots of external energy to run smoothly. Tweet

• Don’t grow regulatory “scar tissue” the first time something unpredicted goes wrong. (Thanks, Jason Fried!) Tweet 

• A building for 2 people should not be regulated like a building for 2,000. In a lean world, regulation follows risk. Tweet

• Free gardens & small farms from industrial food chain regulation. They feed neighbors, not millions of strangers. Tweet

• Those making regulations should be affected by them. We have no right to burden others with loads we do not bear. Tweet

• Regulations must be regional. Green building standards on Cape Cod look ridiculous on the Gulf Coast, and vice versa. Tweet

rare five-pointed star intersection of dirt farm roads on Hawaii's Manua Kea

Lean Infrastructure

• Generate services as locally as possible. You can borrow from your neighbors if the outage doesn’t affect them. Tweet

• Make beautiful sights and sounds with the rain, then get it back into the ground as soon as possible. Tweet

• Trading lane width for sidewalk width is one of the best infrastructure exchanges, and full of virtues. Tweet

• No sign of a vibrant, lovable place can be seen from further down the street than a line of street trees. Tweet

• Put parking on streets, on alleys, or in garages. Few things are more corrosive to cities than surface parking lots. Tweet

• Nothing reduces infrastructure as broadly and as much as doing business in your own neighborhood. Tweet

• Dispense with the gym. You can get fully fit working out on a park bench, which should be lean infrastructure's icon. Tweet

green-carpeted gorge cuts deep into Hawaii's Big Island as the tropical rain clouds hang low overhead

Lean Education

• Tell the children why, not just what. With what, you only pass or fail. With why, you can figure stuff out. Tweet

• Today’s kids will spend most of their lives on stuff that doesn’t exist yet. They must learn how to figure stuff out. Tweet

• Embed the greatest wisdom within that which can be loved, so that it may spread broadly. Tweet

• Lessons learned from things nearby stick with us easier than those from things we cannot see. Tweet

• Put homework on blogs, so each student’s work is visible to the world, and commenters help them get it right. Tweet

• Build places that put old and young together because the old are those with the most wisdom and the time to teach it. Tweet

• Combine proverbs with hyperlinks so the idea sticks with you and directs you. This might be education’s future. Tweet

   That’s a lot of stuff… what are your thoughts? What parts of this make sense?

   ~Steve Mouzon


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Legacy Comments

Steve Mouzon · Board Member at Sky Institute for the Future

Here are my Earth Day reflections... in my opinion, the Lean Initiative may become really important in taking another step beyond recovery and toward building more sustainable places. Recovery, after all, is just about getting our heads above water again. Sooner or later, it's time to get out of the water and up onto solid ground. And that's a lot easier to do without thickets of regulation that were once well-meaning, but are now a great burden.

 Apr 22, 2014 4:36pm

Sandy Sorlien · Works at Fairmount Water Works

Wonderful tweets, Steve! Lots of food for thought. Happy Earth Day.

Apr 22, 2014 6:11pm

Christian Wagley · Principal at Sustainable Town Concepts

Steve Mouzon is always so eloquent....Follow the traditional, the simple, the human scale, that which nourishes us, and you will find the greenest way of living--the Original Green.

Apr 23, 2014 10:04am

Lisa Welch · Planner at City of Syracuse Office of Zoning Administration

Thanks Steve!

Apr 23, 2014 11:26am

Lisa Welch · Planner at City of Syracuse Office of Zoning Administration

Lean Regulation... I work with regulations everyday and the items below resonate... I will endeavor to keep these in mind as we move forward into the brave new world of not zoning.

• Begin every rule “we do this because…” so the people know why, not just what. Consent of the governed arises from why. (I always try to do this and fellow planners can get a little miffed.)

• Whenever possible, set up things that regulate themselves, not requiring lots of external energy to run smoothly. (We have intelligible complexity in our regs. Keep it simple.)

• Don’t grow regulatory “scar tissue” the first time something unpredicted goes wrong. (Thanks, Jason Fried!) (Our scar tissue is really ugly and makes things hyper complex.)

• A building for 2 people should not be regulated like a building for 2,000. In a lean world, regulation follows risk. (We make the little guys work way too hard.)

Apr 23, 2014 11:49am

Mary Brewster · Rhode Island School of Design

Where are these beautiful pictures from? They really underscore your points!

Apr 24, 2014 9:37pm

Steve Mouzon · Board Member at Sky Institute for the Future

Mary, I just realized I never answered your question... the images in this post are from Hawaii's Big Island, just off the north shore.

January 18, 2017 10:00am


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