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Ethics And The Wisom Of Crowds

Ethics and the Wisom of Crowds

Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 113) – All IMHO:  

When will it become unacceptable to design and build an energy inefficient, environmentally unfriendly building? 

Unacceptable can mean illegal but what I mean is socially unacceptable via the wisdom of public opinion. 

There was a time prior to 2008 when it was aspirational and socially acceptable to own a Hummer SUV. Arnold “the govenator” and now environmental activist used to proudly ride around LA in his Hummer. 

Then something happened. Oil went over $100/barrel, the 2008 financial crisis started and through this combination of events plus cultural evolution, somehow Hummer SUV’s became socially unacceptable, sales collapsed and civilian production ceased in May 2010. My children call Hummers “douche bag” SUV’s. Maybe millennials will be better for the environment than baby boomers? 

It should be noted that this “Hummer moment” came via the wisdom of consumers. This is real power. This power defeated General Motors with its vast government bailouts. Change is bought about by the wisdom and power of crowds. 

I believe there is a “Hummer moment” in our future for buildings. 

Glass condos (yes, you Vancouver) are IMHO, future slums due to their generally poor construction and horrible energy performance. Hard to imagine I know, but think of this. In the 1950’s and 1960’s Detroit was a centre of innovation, money and power. the equivalent of todays San Fransisco. It was said, “whats good for General Motors is good for America”. Today San Fransisco is the current epicentre of innovation, money and power. This will change and San Fransisco will go the way of Detroit as innovation, money and power move on. Everything changes!

In a recent “Edifice Complex” podcast interview (more on this in soon) with Dr Roland Clift (, we discussed ethics in engineering and the built environment. Dr Clift noted, it is established in law following WWII war crimes trials that “I was only following orders or doing what everyone else was doing” is not an accepted defence. So ethically, saying “I was following orders” is not acceptable. I am not saying building environmentally harmful buildings is a war crime, although our great grand children may have an opinion on that. I am saying we all have a choice in where we work and what we purchase and accept. I believe that choice should be an informed one.

Actually, I am optimistic on two fronts. 

  1. I believe residential housing tastes will move to smaller foot print, energy efficient, environmentally friendly dwellings. The power of consumers will force a market reaction. 
  2. Young engineers and architects will chose not to work on commodity buildings. I have experienced this first hand. I had an engineer who worked for me that refused to work on commodity condo projects and only wanted to work on our LEED Gold and Platinum projects. It was a career plus ethical stance, he was prepared to resign over. Whilst at the time it was disruptive, I actually respected his choice and stance.

There are three questions I believe we will find the answers to over the next ten years;

  1. Is it ethical to build energy inefficient, environmentally unfriendly buildings?
  2. When will it be considered douche bag behaviour (the Hummer moment) to build a commodity building? 
  3. Will young engineers and architects be able to exercise a choice in what they work on because of skill shortages? 

Ethics aside, performance in itself is a form of beauty. I believe as people become more aware of energy and environmental issues via the power of the internet, performance will be acknowledged for its intrinsic beauty and its currency will rise.

I am looking forwards to seeing how this all plays out!

Twitter: @BLDWhisperer

Related posts & links:

#104 – The Overton Window (

#91 – Misallocation of Value (

#56 – Carbon – Oh Canada! (

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