The Patterns of a Conservation Economy
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The Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center in Portland houses businesses, non-profits, and a local government office all dedicated to building a conservation economy.
Image by Will Roush.

Green Building

Conventional buildings are wasteful of water, energy, and materials. They make use of toxic substances, and have inferior indoor air quality. They are not oriented for passive solar heating, or sited to improve the surrounding neighborhood fabric. They are not designed for eventual re-use and disassembly.

Green Buildings, both new and retrofitted, are the cornerstone of Human-Scale Neighborhoods. They are designed for passive solar heating and cooling, and therefore require smaller mechanical systems. They offer abundant natural light and a connection to seasonal rhythms. When possible, they produce and store their own Renewable Energy. They use non-toxic materials, paints, and finishes, which greatly enhances indoor air quality. Construction methods are Resource Efficient, and materials are chosen to be low in embodied energy, regional, and contain recycled materials. Wood is sustainably certified.

Green Buildings are designed to be adaptable to new uses, and their materials can easily be reclaimed at the end of their useful life. Construction waste is treated as a resource and completely recycled. Green Buildings are sited and designed to blend with neighboring buildings. They use native landscapes that minimize water use and are designed to filter and retain stormwater. They are designed to elevate the human spirit and create a profound Sense of Place. Given the range of objectives for Green Buildings, The U.S. Green Building Council has developed a certification system for measuring their performance.

Green buildings typically cost at most 10% more than comparable conventional buildings. They tend to be more comfortable, beautiful, and desirable in the marketplace. For instance, houses in Village Homes in Davis, California, a green neighborhood dating to the 1970s, are now worth 30% more than comparable nearby homes. Reduced operating costs associated with resource efficient building design may make ownership possible for some individuals who might not otherwise be able to qualify for a mortgage. Fannie Mae and others are now offering energy-efficient mortgages and location-efficient mortgages, which offer better terms for houses with lower utility bills and households with one or no cars.

The U.S. E.P.A. has ranked "sick buildings" as one of the top five environmental threats to human health. By using non-toxic materials and providing abundant quantities of fresh air, Green Buildings make a substantial contribution to human and environmental Health. Green Buildings also tend to enhance worker productivity.

Create buildings which provide their own energy, purify their own wastes, and participate in sustainable materials cycles. Make buildings flooded with natural light and fresh air, which make people feel fully alive. Design buildings which heal part of the fabric of the world.

Examples of this pattern in action:

City of Portland Green Building Program
The City of Portland's Green Building Initiative is an integrated, conservation-based effort to promote resource-efficient building and sustainable site design practices throughout the City. The effort coordinates the expertise and resources of six City bureaus — Energy, Environmental Services, General Services, Planning and Development Review, Portland Development Commission, and Water — to deliver comprehensive services to the development and building community, home owners, businesses, and the City's own project and facilities managers.

Checklist for Environmentally Responsible Design and Material Selection
Checklist for Environmentally Responsible Design and Material Selection

Sleeping Lady Retreat and Conference Center
Conservation Methods at Sleeping Lady

Natural Capital Center
The development of the Natural Capital Center will respect the integrity and elegance of this century-old structure while striving to advance the arts of ecological design. Passive systems and low-tech solutions will optimize natural energy and light, and reduce long-term operating costs. Interior spaces will be designed with a "loose fit," enabling the center to evolve and adapt as both occupants and times change. The building will be smart-wired to accommodate changing telecommunications.

"Green' building approach starting to put down roots
Environmentally friendly construction, or "green building" as it is often called, aims to achieve sustainability by incorporating principles, techniques and materials that conserve natural resources and improve environmental quality throughout a building's entire life-cycle.

Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:


Northwest EcoBuilding Guild

U.S. Green Building Council - NW Chapter

Northwest Ecobuilding Guild


Alexander, Christopher, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein, et al. A Pattern Language. Oxford University Press. Oxford, UK. 1977.

Barnett, Diana Lopez and William D. Browning. A Primer on Sustainable Building. Rocky Mountain Institute. Old Snowmass, CO. 1995.

Wilson, Alex, Jen Uncapher and Lisa, et al McManigal. Green Development: Integrating Ecology and Real Estate. John Wiley and Sons. New York, NY. 1998.

Zeiher, Laura C. The Ecology of Architecture. Whitney Library of Design. New York, NY. 1996.

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Pattern Index

A Conservation Economy

Social Capital

Fundamental Needs

Subsistence Rights

Shelter For All


Access To Knowledge


Social Equity


Cultural Diversity

Cultural Preservation

Sense Of Place

Beauty And Play

Just Transitions

Civic Society

Natural Capital

Ecological Land-Use

Connected Wildlands

Core Reserves

Wildlife Corridors

Buffer Zones

Productive Rural Areas

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Fisheries


Compact Towns And Cities

Human-Scale Neighborhoods

Green Building

Transit Access

Ecological Infrastructure

Urban Growth Boundaries

Ecosystem Services

Watershed Services

Soil Services

Climate Services


Economic Capital

Household Economies

Green Business

Long-Term Profitability

Community Benefit

Green Procurement

Renewable Energy

Sustainable Materials Cycles

Resource Efficiency

Waste As Resource

Product As Service

Local Economies

Value-Added Production

Rural-Urban Linkages

Local Assets

Bioregional Economies

Fair Trade

True Cost Pricing

Product Labeling