January 15th, 2009
President Obama, we humbly beseech you to make your new home, The White House, a model green home. You have an incredible opportunity to make it a home from which all Americans can learn, and of which we can all be proud. What better way to start our country off on a bright new green path to the future than by making The White House the Great American Green House?
We’ve been encouraged by some of the things you’ve said about your intentions to make your home more eco-friendly, and we’d like to offer some thoughts on how you might flesh-out your green home renovation program.
First, let’s ground ourselves in some numbers. The White House is over 55,000 square feet and has 132 rooms. There are over 35 bathrooms and the building has three kitchens. Using our Household Environmental Impact Calculator, (and a few resources like the CBECS data for commercial buildings as your house doubles as an office building) we estimate that that The White House has a carbon footprint in the range of 1.2-1.5 million pounds of CO2 per year, uses somewhere around one million gallons of water, and generates over 50,000 pounds of trash each year. As a point of reference the average 2000 sq. foot American home has a carbon footprint of 65,000 pounds, uses 90,000 gallons or water and generates 3,800 pounds of trash per year. So The White House is no low-impact house! We have our work cut out for us.
Fortunately your predecessors have already taken some steps in a positive direction. President Carter famously installed a solar water system in 1979, which was then unfortunately taken down by President Reagan. However, in 2002 a new solar system was installed to power lighting for the grounds. Apparently the toilets have been changed to low-flow models and many of the water fixtures have also been upgraded. President Clinton commissioned the Rocky Mountain Institute to do a study on the White House and make recommendations for environmental improvements. We’re not sure how many of those got made– you’ll want to kick the tires on that one. (Perhaps someone from RMI could comment here?)
Here are some ideas we’d like you to explore for turning The White House a nice shade of green:
1) Let’s get the entire building off the grid. You could install more solar panels, and/or augment the system with a wind turbine. You could also look at geothermal energy options. We think it would quite feasible to generate enough power for the building using renewable energy sources. This would serve as a great example of clean-power living, and would actually save the government money in the long run.
2) How is the insulation situation? I’m sure you have attic insulation but let’s have a look inside the walls. I read that there are hundreds of year’s worth of copper wiring in many of the walls– let’s clean them out and blow in some soy foam or denim insulation. Full insulation could reduce heating and cooling costs by 5-10%.
3) Let’s turn part of the lawn into an organic vegetable garden. Encouraging Americans to eat fresh, local, organic produce will cut down on carbon emissions and also help us live healthier lives. That green grass is lovely, yes, but it sure sucks a lot of water for a low return on investment. Eleanor Roosevelt started a Victory Garden at your house long ago…let’s bring back that wonderful tradition! Author Michael Pollan has also advocated this idea. It would be a great treat to serve visiting dignitaries “Roasted White House Garden Vegetables” with their meal, would it not?
4) Speaking of organics, let’s make sure there’s a composting system in place. What happens with all of the food trash from the kitchens today? Well a composter could reduce the building’s trash load by 25-25%. It would be easy to set up, and your gardeners could use the compost mulch on your vegetable garden.
5) We hear Michelle has picked her decorator… and we hope that they’ll choose to use plenty of eco-friendly product in your decoration choices. How about some cork floors? They are sustainable and absorb sound. Or some reclaimed American wood flooring could look very nice. For furnishing we recommend antiques (anything used is more sustainable than newly made) or eco-friendly furniture made of sustainably-harvested woods and other recycled materials. For paints, obviously make sure to use no-VOC varieties, so that you and your family don’t breath toxic fumes. We need you to stay healthy for at least eight years!
6) Let’s review the lighting. Is everything running on LED and/or compact fluorescent lighting? The Pentagon has just announced they’re switching to LEDs– so should The White House. And we’d also want to make sure that we had maximized the use of light sensors– no need to light uninhabited areas. Perhaps there is even an option for increased day-lighting? We could install some new solar tube lighting to save energy and money.
7) How about getting all of your vehicles to run on biodiesel? There are a lot of big SUVs rushing around you and your home… it would be wonderful to have them running on American biodiesel fuels. Energy independence starts at The White House! You could have a biodiesel pumping station right there on the White House lot. Maybe one day even Air Force One will run on biodiesel!
Those are just some initial ideas. We here at Low Impact Living can’t wait to see you inaugurated and we hope you settle into your new home very nicely. We’ll look forward to hearing news of your Green House plans!
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