From Slow Food to Slow Building: Bringing the Principles of the Slow Movement to Our Housing Choices

By Maria Klemperer-Johnson

double-dog-17Are you familiar with Slow Food? As a member of GreenStar, you likely know something about the movement that advocates a food system working at a more traditional pace: from production to distribution to consumption. In contrast to fast food, where industrialized processes deplete our environment, disempower workers, and produce unwholesome food, Slow Food creates a richer culture that nourishes consumers, the environment, and the people within the food production and distribution system.

As a builder and educator, I've been contemplating bringing the principles of Slow Food to residential building: Slow Building. What can we achieve by slowing down the process of design and construction, rooting our buildings in local traditions, and considering the impacts of our building choices on us, our environment, and the people working in the system?

Think of the ways that our building choices impact our community. Do they fulfill us personally? Do they sustain or deplete our physical environment? Do they contribute to a socially just economic system?

When making building choices that are nourishing to us personally, we usually think aesthetically. Most of us have made a self-indulgent choice to spend more for the granite countertop, or the extra dormer, or the flat-screen TV. Other less conspicuous, health-oriented choices are also worth making to promote our well-being in the home. We might consider the toxicity of materials, indoor air quality, and the relationship of our homes to our outdoor environment. Taking time to account for both aesthetics and the healthfulness of our homes is one aspect of Slow Building.

Many of us have already begun to consider the energy performance of buildings — insulation, efficient appliances, and home-scale renewable energy generation — as we work to minimize the effects of our housing on the environment. A less obvious consideration is the "embodied energy" (the amount of energy used to produce and transport building products) of the materials used in construction. Seven inches of foam has the same insulation value as a straw bale, but the foam is produced from petroleum in a factory in a distant location and then shipped to a big box store to be bought by the consumer and delivered by car to their home. By contrast, the straw bale is grown in this county, bought from a local farmer, and driven directly from the farm to the building site.

It's also useful to consider the lifetime of the house being built. A well-constructed house should stand for at least 100 years. While the time invested in good weatherization and moisture management is usually invisible, it reaps huge environmental rewards over the lifetime of the building. These practices minimize repairs or even prevent the need to rebuild or decommission a building, both of which require more in terms of materials use and associated energy impacts.

At the end of a house's useful life, what's to become of it? Since houses often last beyond our lifetimes, we seldom consider their endings. You may have heard the phrase "vinyl is final" thrown about. In truth, vinyl is final, and if a tree falls on a home with vinyl siding, or someone chooses to tear it down in a hundred years, what remains is a pile of synthetic materials.

In Slow Building, end-of-life considerations are thought about up front. Will the non-compostable parts of the house be bulldozed into a landfill? Or may parts of it be recycled and the rest left to gently decompose into the surrounding environment, renourishing the earth it stood on? Building with natural or recyclable materials (wood, straw, cellulose, metal) rather than petroleum-based or composite materials (foam, plastic, asphalt) means that at the end of its life, your house is compostable and recyclable.

Finally, slowing down our building processes gives us time to think about the impacts our building choices have on the people working within the construction system. Are construction workers exposed to toxic materials and hazardous work environments? Are the tradespeople in the system active participants in the on-site construction or are they reduced to low-paid automatons generating identical parts for cookie-cutter developments? Are we committed to paying a living wage with benefits to the people building for us? Are we supporting an economic system that provides equal employment opportunity to a diverse range of people, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation?

All of these considerations have economic impacts. When we choose to build slow, we usually spend more money per square foot, just as when we choose to eat slow, we usually spend more money per calorie. But when the full economic ramifications of the personal, environmental, and social impacts of our choices are taken into account, Slow Building turns out to be a reasonable and wise investment.

Maria Klemperer-Johnson has been building in the Ithaca area for over 12 years. With a background in natural building, she has been working more recently to bring gender diversity to the building trades through her Hammerstone School's Carpentry for Women program. On Tuesday, August 5, she will lead a hands-on micro-workshop and talk at GreenStar about her work teaching women (see page 10 to register). For more information about Maria and her work, visit

  • 04.10.15

    By Dan Hoffman,
Council Member

    2013 Dan Hoffman12th Moon, Kristen Kaplan, Eric Banford, Susan Beckley, Jessica Rossi and Mark Darling finished the counting in just under four hours.

    412 Total valid envelopes

    21 total invalid = 19- no ID, 1- first of two ballots, 1- no ballot in envelope

    Also = 1- name tag, 5- 2 cent slips, 1- Member Labor Request and two wooden nickles.

    Two thirds vote required to pass.

    Q#1 = PASS

    361 YES,

    12 NO

    Q#2 = FAIL

    222 YES,

    147 NO

    Q#3 = PASS

    311 YES,

    61 NO

    Q#4 = PASS

    331 YES,

    22 NO

    Q#5 = PASS

    340 YES,

    30 NO

    Q#6 = PASS

    366 YES,

    7 NO

    GreenStar member-owners are the only ones who have the power to change the Co-op's bylaws, the organization's most basic and important document. There is an opportunity to do so (or not) during this month — at the Fall Member Meeting, at the stores, or by mail.

    GreenStar's Council has established an ad hoc Bylaws Review Committee, which started meeting again earlier this year, after being inactive for at least two years. Council had referred a couple of issues to the committee, which identified several more on its own. In August, Council voted (unanimously, except in the case of #2, below) to send the committee's six recommended bylaws amendments to the membership for a YES or NO vote on each of the following questions:

    1. Should the Co-op be allowed to use a withdrawing member's refundable equity contribution [which could be up to $90] to pay off any outstanding debt the member has to the Co-op (such as for bad checks)?

    2. Should all Council candidates and members be required to satisfy any requirements associated with operational licenses maintained or sought by the Co-op (such as to sell or serve alcohol)?

    3. Should Council be allowed to conduct closed executive sessions for two additional topics — possible litigation or contract negotiations?

    4. Should the composition of Council's Immediacies Committee be changed to match that described in Council policy, and that of the Executive Planning Committee?

    5. Should the use of gender-specific pronouns (such as "he" or "she") be eliminated in the bylaws?

    6. Should three "clerical errors" made when the bylaws were amended in 2010 be officially corrected?

    Much more information on the proposed amendments, including detailed explanations, pro and con statements and voting instructions, are available in the Fall Member Mailing, which all current members should receive in the mail by October 6. Members can vote up until close of business on Oct. 31 at either store, by mailing in the ballot from the Mailing, or in person at the Fall Member Meeting, on Friday, Oct. 16, at the Space.



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  • By Alexis Alexander,
Membership Manager

    I have woken to a new day, a day when GreenStar's annual Member Meetings and pancakes are defined as pure elegance and inspiration. Surprised?

    The morning after our Fall Member Meeting, I'm entranced by the experience of last night. I realize how far GreenStar has come over the years, and how integral and essential a partner we are in the wider regional food movement before us. Our roots as a buying club and grain store have matured into a multimillion-dollar community-ba...



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