Monday, June 23, 2008

Ann Edminster's Green Story

By Ann Edminster

Architect by accident, advocate by design.

When I was about 11 years old, I volunteered at my town’s first, newly opened, recycling center. A couple of years later, I helped clean scores of seabirds that had been fouled with oil from the 1969 spill off the Santa Barbara coast. That summer, I had my first (glorious!) back country experience, in the High Sierra near Lake Tahoe. Many more backpacking trips followed that one, summer after summer. Those early experiences, an innate abhorrence for waste, and parental influence (I was the child of two activist English teachers – my father a far-left radical and my mother a deeply committed social welfare advocate) forged in me a reverence for nature and a powerful drive to protect the natural world that has never been far from the surface.

In college I studied architecture. However, by sometime early in my third year, or maybe sooner, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be an architect. I had no clue what else to do, though, so – knowing that a B.S. in architecture from Cal Poly would be a good meal ticket – I stuck with the program. My salvation was senior year abroad, in Florence, Italy. There I acquired a deep appreciation for development patterns that worked, in marked contrast to most American cities, and started to become aware of the huge negative impact of the automobile on human settlement.

After my Italian year and graduation in 1978, I found I had little interest in practicing architecture (the only architecture firm at which I interviewed designed gas stations!). And so I stumbled into technical editing and then writing, where I stayed for a number of years. I moonlighted, too, doing occasional remodeling projects, getting jobs by word of mouth. I never interned, never earned an architecture license. Over the years, though, I did learn quite a bit about how houses go together. I also became troubled by the amount of waste in my industry.

In the late 80s I began to hear about healthy building and ecological building, and eventually resolved that was where I belonged. Knowing that without external structure I wouldn’t acquire enough knowledge, quickly enough to suit me, I went back to school, enrolling in the Master of Architecture program at UC Berkeley in 1993. Since then, I’ve been completely immersed in green building (which, back then, really didn’t have a name).

My first job in the field was researching and writing for the Wood Reduction Clearinghouse, a project spun out of the Rainforest Action Network. From there I went to the Natural Resources Defense Council, where I wrote a book, Efficient Wood Use in Residential Construction: A Practical Guide to Saving Wood, Money, and Forests. Shortly thereafter I was tapped to be part of the USGBC’s effort to develop a national standard for residential construction – LEED for Homes. After two years chairing the LEED for Homes Materials & Resources Technical Advisory Subcommittee (MR-TASC) I became the co-chair of the LEED for Homes Committee, a seat I held for four years, until the program went into pilot. At that time I stepped down (while continuing to serve on the committee and chair the MR-TASC) in order to devote more time to implementation efforts. In the two-plus years since the launch of the pilot, I have taught hundreds of people about the LEED for Homes program and consulted to the LEED for Homes Provider in CA and to scores of developers, homeowners, production and custom builders, local governments, private investors, product manufacturers, and others who have wanted to better understand how to tackle the complex field of green building. It has been – and continues to be – a wild, exciting, and vastly rewarding ride, above all because of the amazing caliber of individuals with whom I work, and their remarkable unity of purpose.

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