Lohasians are on a mission to take over the world. Since the 1990s, they've been popping up in neighborhoods around the country, radically changing the way people live their lives.
'Lohasian' refers to LOHAS consumers-Lifestyles Of Health And Sustainability-who consider themselves passionate about environmental and social issues and focus their buying habits on organic and natural products, energy efficiency and sustainable, 'green' living. According to the Natural Marketing Institute, the U.S. LOHAS market represents $209 billion in consumer sales, and roughly 35 million Americans fit the LOHAS mold.
With the Lohasian population expanding, many businesses are adapting to the LOHAS culture's needs.
'We really need to be changing the whole way that we're living,' says Jean Zagrodnik, one of the two principal architects at Zagrodnik + Thomas Architects (ZTA), a firm based in North Park. 'It's as much a social issue as it is a technological issue; we need to reconnect with Mother Earth, and I think we'll all be healthier.'
Along with co-principal Scott Thomas, Zagrodnik has joined the small group of mavericks who are leading San Diego's architecture community into LOHAS territory, paving the way for green living in Southern California. Using an environmental rating system known as LEED-Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-ZTA has begun work on a number of green projects in the San Diego area, including the Learning Resource Center at Miramar College and the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center.
'The LEED system is a tool for us,' Zagrodnik explains. 'It's a limited tool-it doesn't touch on a lot of social issues or how people use their buildings-but it's at least turning things around for the construction aspect of what we do.'
LEED was established in 2000 by the United States Green Building Council. Using a point system to rank buildings as either Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum, it sets criteria that must be met in order to be considered for LEED assessment and then assigns points across six different categories-site selection, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation and design-to determine a building's ultimate LEED designation. For example, LEED urges avoidance of fossil fuels, instead encouraging the use of solar and wind power and materials such as woods from sustainable forests where re-growth and replenishment are constant.
As of April 2007, there were more than 6,100 projects in the U.S. seeking certification through the LEED system.
A building's location is an important factor in LEED certification. If, for example, a building is located far from public transportation, where people must drive many miles to get there, then it doesn't matter how energy-efficient the building is because the pollution from cars would outweigh any benefits inside the building.
The health and happiness of a building's occupants are also taken into consideration, prioritizing access to natural light, views of the outside and fresh-air ventilation. A green building should, in some way, foster a sense of community for its occupants with activities that promote psychological and physical health to combat what many experts refer to as 'sick-building syndrome.' Several studies have found that green work environments lead to a roughly 15-percent decrease in employee absenteeism, according to the Architectural League of New York, as well as significant reductions in staff turnover.
These factors, along with many others outlined by LEED, are what architects like Zagrodnik and designers like Christina Sarkees, strive for in the development of green structures. Sarkees, a certified interior designer at ZTA, has been working closely with the San Diego Natural History Museum to assist in its move toward certification. The museum's Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit was the catalyst for shifting to LEED certification, she said.
'With the Dead Sea Scrolls,' Sarkees explains, 'the requirements for air quality and temperature inside the exhibit need to be tightly controlled. This meant that [museum officials] had to upgrade a lot of their mechanical equipment. But they wanted to go further than that. Not only did they want to look at the building and how they're operating within it, they also wanted to look at what they could do beyond this exhibit.'
With Sarkees' help, the museum developed a waste-stream audit to determine what kinds of products and materials are being used and discarded and which of those could potentially be recycled. 'We're helping them green their construction practices for future projects,' says Sarkees, '[by] reusing exhibit components, for example.'
Additionally, the museum is planning new exhibits designed to educate the public about sustainability. 'By getting the public involved-educating them-they can earn LEED credits for innovation and design,' Sarkees said.
Educating the public about sustainable living is hugely important to Zagrodnik and Sarkees. Not only do they infuse green education into their projects-like the library and wet laboratory at the LEED Gold-certified San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center, which is scheduled to open next year-they also practice what they preach inside their own offices with 'Green Scene,' an annual event that occurs inside the 5,000-square-foot ZTA building, featuring artwork, furniture, project displays and products related to sustainable design. ZTA also set aside 1,000 square feet of its office as a permanent gallery, open daily to the public. As it happens, the ZTA building is on schedule to become the first LEED Certified building in North Park.
But for Zagrodnik, education must come in other forms, too.
'We need more leadership from the top,' Zagrodnik says, 'more education by examples-maverick companies who are willing to make decisions that could benefit society. Like Nike, with their healthy plant [the Ken Griffey Jr. building in Beaverton, Ore.-recently certified LEED Gold], and the Ford Motor Company [LEED Certified Premier Automotive Group in Irvine, Calif., and LEED Gold-certified Visitor's Center in Dearborn, Mich.]. It's good that big companies are taking that risk, because then consumers will come to expect it, come to demand it.'
Though a large number of corporations have been taking steps to green themselves through LEED, not everyone in LOHAS culture is as keen to buy into the system's point-based certification system.
Charles Crawford, a San Diego architect and professor at NewSchool of Architecture and Design, agrees LEED is important but says the program has significant shortcomings.
'The points program they administer is heavily tilted toward rewarding greener technology over basic ‘passive' principles,' Crawford says. 'So, for example, you get more points for an energy-efficient air conditioner than you do for a naturally ventilated AC-free building.'
Another example Crawford offers is LEED's apparent lack of consideration for the vast amounts of fuel expended in overseas transportation. 'A green product manufactured by a multinational overseas and shipped to the U.S.,' he explains, 'is often worth more points than a product manufactured only a few miles away.'
Considering LEED's weaknesses, Crawford suggests a stronger adherence to the basic principles of sustainable design-not building on vegetated sites, reusing existing structures rather than tearing them down-for the system to become more palatable to a wider LOHAS market. 'The LEED system,' he says, 'while a necessary first step, needs to embrace [these] ideals and grant significantly more points to those projects that incorporate these principles.'
When looking at other potential obstacles standing in the way of a booming LOHAS culture, cost is often mentioned. Not only does LEED certification set developers back thousands of dollars, but technologies that allow buildings to earn more LEED points-photovoltaic (solar) panels, for example-usually cost much more than those for non-green buildings.
Quick to point out that greening doesn't always mean more expenses, 'no one building is ever required to have solar panels,' Zagrodnik says. 'I think our society is so market-driven-too focused on the first cost. That's a big impediment to really moving forward with this. Executives, shareholders-they're less likely to want to take a loss one year, even if what they're doing would save them money in the third, fourth and fifth years. We really need to make a shift from money to health.'
But Zagrodnik is optimistic. 'It's what I refer to as the ‘triple bottom line': people, planet, profit. I'm not saying that we're going to stop the economy-we're not. But we are going to refocus away from profit and more toward people and the planet. It's not an easy task to shift that focus, but we are doing it.'
Visit www.ztarc.com and, for details about LEED, www.usgbc.org.
How San Diego compares to other California cities
As of June 2007
LEED certified buildings
Los Angeles 9 Sacramento 9 San Francisco 9 San Diego 9 Santa Monica 7 San Jose 6 Irvine 5 Claremont 3 Pasadena 3 Santa Barbara 3
LEED registered buildings
Los Angeles 108 San Francisco 89 San Diego 59 Santa Barbara 41 Sacramento 38 San Jose 32 Irvine 24 Santa Monica 22 Oakland 19 Pasadena 19 Truckee (!) 18 Riverside 15 Source: U.S. Green Building Council
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