Economy And Efficiency

Principles for an ecological building industry include the following:

• The technological realm should be moved closer to both the worker and the user, and manufacturing take place in smaller units near to the point of use. Paul Goodman (1968) gives the following definition:

'Decentralizing is increasing the number of centres of decision-making and the number of initiators of policy, increasing the awareness of the whole function in which they are involved, and establishing as much face-to-face association with decision-makers as possible'.

• The use of raw materials should be based on renewable resources or rich reserves, with products that are easily recycled and economical in terms of materials during construction.

• Priority should be given to production methods that use less energy and more sustainable materials, and with transport distances reduced to a minimum.

• Polluting industrial processes and materials should be avoided, and energy based on fossil fuels reduced to a minimum.

This can be summed up by saying that an optimal ecological building industry is a cottage industry, which responds to local needs and resources. However, during the last 100 years, right up to the present moment, development has followed a path of extreme centralization.

Godfrey Boyle, author and researcher at the Open University (Great Britain), has confirmed that an industry can just as easily be too large as too small, and has concluded that for many industries the most efficient level of production lies in the region of having 10 000 users (Boyle, 1978). In Sweden they have discovered that the optimal size of a farm with cattle and pigs is the family-based farm. Shipping companies are changing from very large to medium-sized ships. Bakeries are closing down large bread factories in favour of local bakeries.

At the same time we do not really know the exact relationship between size and efficiency. It generally depends on the actual product. For example, there is perhaps no limit to how large an egg farm can be in order to optimize its efficiency. The Norwegian social scientist Johan Galtung has an interesting view on the problem:

'High productivity does not necessarily mean something positive. We can already see that efficiency is too high; newly completed articles have to be burned, weaknesses are built in so that the product does not last too long. There is an increasingly wound-up cycle of fashion-oriented products, which age quickly and then have to be replaced by the next fashion, leading to the time when articles are obsolete the moment they are released on the market!' (Galtung et al., 1980)

Galtung's solution: 'Reduce productivity. The market cannot absorb all the products it manufactures.'

In most industrialized countries the economy includes large subsidies for energy infrastructure and road building. Taxes pay the costs for inspection and control of pollution and health problems induced by industrial activities. The cost to nature is, however, seldom accounted for. This is difficult to calculate but is, nevertheless, a debt that coming generations will have to pay for. Besides measurable pollution, other factors must be included, such as the lost renewable supply of wood fuel from a well-balanced forest that has to be sacrificed so that iron ore in mountainous areas can be harvested. Such a calculation is very complex and is beyond the scope of this book.

The price tag in the shop is therefore anything but realistic. For example, the price difference between a solid board of timber and a cheap sheet of chipboard coated with a plastic laminate has probably already been paid for by the customer before they even enter the shop. Green taxation can, to some extent, offset this by internalizing some of the resource and environmental costs.

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