Making Sustainability Standard

Luxury homes can be logical candidates for the implementation of eco-friendly renewable technologies. Luxury and sustainability, while often referenced independently, are absolutely compatible and can compliment each other.

It would be remiss to say that a new consumer ethic has overtaken much of the nation’s market sectors over the last two decades. Customers buying anything from cars to carrots have developed an unmistakable palette for products that promote a worthy cause, ethic, or lifestyle. Even if the dollar is still king in a capital-driven world, consumers have begun shifting markets through collective, conscientious “dollar voting”. For-profit companies worldwide have tapped into the inherent humanity and goodwill of their consumer constituents.

Arguably the biggest movement has been the massive shift towards eco-friendliness. Companies are scrambling to meet consumer demands for products that not only serve a functional purpose, but also reduce their harmful impacts to the environment and give back in other ways. Green has become, for some time now, the new black. More interestingly, green products, features, and lifestyle choices have become increasingly integrated into American ideals of luxury living, status, and success.

In essence, the American Dream itself is going green, and the American home will go with it. In the housing market this shift in cultural attitudes has manifested in growing demand for greener, energy-efficient homes that are responsibly built and loaded with innovative green technologies.

Sun Tech

Solars panels are an increasingly popular technology. The past several years have seen massive reductions in both module prices and in installation costs. While sour news for U.S.-based solar panel manufacturers, this is great news for average American homeowners worried about the front-end cost of renewable systems.

For owners of more high-end residential dwellings, for which the initial cost of solar has never been a barrier, concerns have primarily revolved around aesthetics. However, the unsightly panels of years gone by are no longer the norm. In fact, high design integrating solar arrays have become a hallmark of tasteful design as more and more architects and designers incorporate renewable systems into the vernacular of our homes. From a luxury point of view, a solar array that will pay for itself in a few years, and which reduces the impact of the home on the environment, is a conscientious investment.

The truth is, the ideal American home has evolved. Thanks to the proliferation of super-sized “McMansions,” almost anyone can have a really big house, but not everyone can have a big house that looks good, and performs even better.

Wind Tech

Homeowners willing to invest a slight green premium can also attempt to harness the power of wind. For most individuals, installing a turbine on their lot will be out of the question for obvious reasons. But that doesn’t mean that a homeowner can’t harness the power of wind. Electricity produced from sustainable wind farms in other regions can often be purchased in the form of renewable energy credits. A renewable energy credit, also known as a green tag, is an environmental commodity that represents the added value of windpower over conventional means which helps make windpower financially viable.

For families for whom land and space is not an issue, onsite windpower is a very real and potentially cost effective renewable energy system depending on local wind conditions. Remember, a turbine that can power a whole house will typically be 20 or more feet in diameter mounted on a tower several stories tall. For most residents, a 900 watt, seven foot turbine will be a more realistic bet and can be used to power small household loads.

Earth Tech

Unlike the previous three renewable systems, geothermal systems, as used most often in a residential context, does not actually produce renewable power for consumption. Rather, what many ecobuilders have termed “geothermal”, is a ground-source heat pump utilizing the thermal mass of either a large body of water or the very earth beneath our feet to help condition air for interior use. As hightech as ground source heat pumps may sound, they have actually been in use for residential applications since the 1940’s. They are a proven and effective technology.

By using the constant temperature of the earth as an exchange medium, as opposed to the air, geothermal systems can reach efficiencies of 300 to 600 percent during periods of extreme temperatures. As an added benefit, geothermal systems are also virtually undetectable from the exterior of a dwelling and have a payback time of as little as 5 years.

Greening Luxury Does Not Mean Greenwashing

Many segments of the luxury market have embraced green ideals as another facet of their luxury appeal, andconsumers have responded by choosing green features over other traditional mainstays. But for every movement, there are detractors. Critics of ethical consumerism point out that actual structural changes to the inherent injustices in the system, such as the degradation of the environment, are actually very limited, and very real issues become mere marketing tools. Furthermore, “green” has become something of a tacit license to simply sell more things regardless of actual or purported environmental impacts. This prevalent practice of green washing threatens to undermine the critical cause of global warming mitigation.

In regards to the housing market, the cognitive dissonance brought on by greenwashing can best be summed up with one all too familiar scenario: the so-called green McMansion replete with a fleet of SUVs, multi-car garages, and just enough solar panels slapped on to give the entire imposing edifice a nice, green patina. In reality, these cardboard palaces are hardly green. They don’t substantially reduce their carbon footprints, and rarely perform at a high level in terms of energy efficiency. Here again the eternal question in regards to sustainability becomes apparent – can green and luxury, the very definition of consumer excess, coexist?


Being green does not necessarily equate to anti-consumerism, although excessive consumerism can oftentimes be environmentally destructive. Rather, true luxury, as an exercise in maximizing quality, will naturally include more and more sustainable features as green becomes less of a luxury and more of a new standard for homes of all shapes and sizes.