The New York governor’s mansion is pretty roomy. It’s not quite Fontainebleau, but things don’t get cramped until the 4th story. Plus it has a pool (thanks, FDR), tennis courts, and a memorabilia room. (We come from Indiana, where the state has traditionally seen fit to provide a more modest accomodation for its chief executive. The house heats itself!)
New York’s new Governor, Eliot Spitzer, along with his oddly-named wife, Slider Wazzle (we mighta got that name spelt wrong), are out to green the mansion.
It’s not just a publicity stunt — it’s a really ambitious overhaul. They’ll install solar panels and use hybrid vehicles to reduce emissions. A switch to mulching and composting, as well as to a preference for locally-grown and organic food, will reduce the need for toxic chemicals and reduce greenhouse gases from cross-country transportation of food. Energy-saving appliances and CFL bulbs will help reduce energy demand.
The overall target: in one year, reduce energy use and greenhouse-gas generation by 50% each.
We’re glad to see it. It’s a bellwether for good things to come, but it’s also an unintentional indicator of some hurdles the green-living movement faces.
Pro’s and Con’s, after the jump!
- This is great way to publicize the fact that a lot of states will chip in a big chunk of the cost to make a house more efficient. About 30% of what the Spitzers are doing will be paid for out of state funds available to any resident.
- It also publicizes the state’s ambition to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by 15% between now and 2015. “15 by 15” is a nice slogan, but it needed more publicity than a stack of flyers at the DMV. This kind of publicity is important; lots of good incentive programs go unnoticed, and therefore go unused.
- The First Lady (her name is actually Silda Wall Spitzer — our new intern looked it up) is a new state-level hero. Arnold Schwartzenegger isn’t the stand-alone “Green Governor” anymore.
- The cost. This will be almost as expensive as a Super Sweet 16 party (okay, partly that’s because the Gov’s daughter wanted a big entrance, and insuring a grizzly is not cheap, people).
- No, really, the cost: greening this mansion will cost over $600k. Even though the NY state programs will cover an impressive $200k of that, there’s still $400k+ in payouts to get this done. With those numbers, nobody at all will be inspired to follow this example. Our biggest worry: everyone who isn’t obscenely rich will see green-home renovation as out-of-reach — a hobby for the super-rich, like flying your own 707 or something. Right now, the very wealthy have massive home redesigns, cool electric cars (real smooth, DiCaprio), and a host of other ironically-extravagant ways to “go green.” The middle class has lightbulbs, the Prius, and organic apples that cost $3.50 a pound. After this mansion is done, the next project should be helping a family of four make real changes without cashing out the college fund.
- In the end, the Spitzers run into Al Gore’s problem: how green can you really be in such a huge house? Gore’s house has 20 rooms, and his bills are hefty enough; the NY executive mansion has 39 rooms. Even cutting the electric bill by 50%, the energy use must be extremely high for a single-family home.
- The very size of the house is the biggest barrier to its being green. As long as we hold out the huge house on a huge lot as the predominant image of achieving the American dream, we encourage a consumer expectation of a life that demands huge quantities of energy, exacerbates sprawl, and reduces walkability and independence from cars. As it is now, McMansion square footage has become a bragging point among some buyers, and as they grow, the energy they demand quickly grows as well.
- Distance is another concern; it’s somewhat blind to build a “green” mansion so far out that it takes a gallon of gas to go buy a quart of milk.
Silda Wall’s greening effort is a great effort, and we applaud it. But if we are to truly revolutionize energy use, we need to treat this effort as a starting point, not as a futuristic concept-house. Designing a green living has as much to do with designing communities as designing homes. Is anybody ready to lead by example there?