Mistakes happen

How I learned to stop hating SN&R and love covering sustainability

When I was 16, I vowed never to work for SN&R. The publication made what I considered to be an unforgivable error in ethical judgment by enrolling an undercover reporter to masquerade as a student at my high school and then write a revelatory exposé about how teenagers are cliquish and kinda mean sometimes. When I picked up the paper on the rack outside Freeport Bakery before class one Thursday morning and saw the cover article, I could not believe it, and not only because this reporter had been in my Spanish class. Around this time, I thought about pursuing journalism when I grew up. But here was this publication I trusted and valued, claiming to represent the anti-establishment voice, demonstrating all that was wrong with American media. It lied to us and exploited us. If this was journalism, then maybe it wasn’t for me after all.

Nine years later, I accepted a job with SN&R after my stubbornness gradually wore down. Now I write “Green House,” a weekly column about SN&R’s green renovation of a building on Del Paso Boulevard. With the year’s end, I’ve opted to address an important question: What major developments have emerged in green building in 2007? Well, don’t ask me because the topic didn’t even cross my radar until five months ago. I’ll tell you what I do know. Buildings account for more than 40 percent of global carbon-dioxide emissions and are huge users of electricity, raw materials and potable water, and they produce a massive amount of waste. But I learned something else: Hordes of designers, government officials, architects, business owners and regular citizens see green building as a critical part of the solution.

Let’s back up for a second. In 2006, the U.S. Conference of Mayors endorsed Architecture 2030, committing to reduce the use of fossil fuels in buildings 50 percent by 2010 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. This year, right here in Sacramento, city staff developed ordinances to facilitate green building projects, which fits nicely with the city’s Sustainability Master Plan. Nationwide, the number of cities with green building programs rose from 22 in 2003 to 92 currently, meaning 39 percent of citizens now live in cities with these programs, according to a study commissioned by the American Institute of Architects. In another fabulous values-shift, 91 percent of registered voters reported that they’d be willing to pay $5,000 more for a house that uses less energy and protects the Earth, according to AIA’s 2007 Home Design Trend Survey.

I guess it’s no big surprise how the green building movement’s taken off, considering we’re still in the middle of the Iraq War fighting for oil, Al Gore won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize and the Kyoto Protocol commemorated its 10th anniversary. Fossil-fuel dependency, climate crisis, water scarcity—it’s all on people’s minds. We seem to have reached a point of bend or break under the pressure of global warming, just like how at some unidentifiable point a stubborn teenager grew up and realized mistakes happen, but we forgive and forget and maybe get offered, or give, a second chance. And it’s what we do with that second chance that matters.

This year, SN&R made a commitment to the environment by introducing a sustainability section and deciding to become green building activists, which demonstrates perhaps the defining difference between alternative media and the mainstream variety. Report the impending environmental revolution? Forget it. We want to help pull the trigger. And that is a vow I plan to keep.