24. What Does “Green” Really Mean?

The Quechua of Ecuador have a prophesy that one day the Eagle will fly with the Condor. The Eagle is the technological modern civilization of the North, and the Condor is the indigenous way of the South. One day, the Iachak (wise ones) say, the modern world will be in harmony with the ancient ways.


“The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

drives my green age.”

Dylan Thomas

Green is the symbiotic relationship between the photosynthetic bacteria called chloroplasts and the cells which transform that solar energy into blue-green algae, honeysuckle, and white pine.

Green is the cooperative order of nature that placed the bacteria called mitochondria into harmony with each animal cell so that the chemical energy they produce becomes honeybee, swallow, catamount, and human.

Green is that one creature’s waste is another creature’s food, that the dying feed the living, that a flowing homeostasis created by the totality of living things maintains the conditions for living things to flourish.

Green, then is the delicate webwork that ties all things, animate and apparently inanimate, into a matrix of consciousness and empathy that both contains and informs all things.


Green is the cosmic dance of creation and co-creation that is, and has always been, our destiny and our joy.

Green is coherence – wholeness (haol, health).

Green is interdependence (diametrically opposite the American suburban paradigm).

To the degree that the design/build process is one of perceiving, acknowledging and creating coherence or wholeness, it is green.

To the degree that it is an imposition of our own ego, it is not.

To the degree that it is a manifestation of the mechanistic paradigm – it is not.

It requires seeing, understanding, and a translation – through our hands – into the craft of forging an authentic vision of the living earth into a space for human habitation.

If you work with your hands, you’re a laborer.

If you work with your hands and mind, you’re a craftsperson.

If you work with your hands, mind and soul, you’re an artist

– manifesting love (or harmony) in material form.

Green is the direct conversion of solar energy – of the Cosmic OM – into living things.

A green house is a living organism and an extension of our own being.


Our clothing is our second skin, and our home is our third skin – and both must breath (transpire moisture), be flexible and resilient, self-regulating – responding and adapting to its inner and outer environment (including temperature, humidity, pressure, insolation).

Anthony Lawlor calls the house the temple of our souls. Religion literally means to bind together what has been sundered. House-building, ideally, is a religious experience manifesting the sacred from the profane, crafting an integrative whole from a myriad of disparate parts – binding together.

Green or ecological architecture is a process of reconnecting to the web of life: a process, not a product. And this, I believe, is the root of the confusion over what constitutes green design and building.

Green building has more to do with relationships between the designer, builder and home-dweller; among the crew; between material, method & mindset; than it does with a specific structural or physical outcome.

Just as healthy food must be prepared with love and reverence, a healthy (or green) house must be designed and built with a sacred appreciation of the field of consciousness that it manifests.

Ecology is all about relationships. To be ecological – or green – is to shift from parts to whole, from objects to relationships, from structure to pattern.

Wholeness, relationships and pattern – modeled after what Christopher Alexander called the quaternary archetypes of nature and society, the patterns of patterns, the holographic mimicry of the created Universe.

“Every individual act of building is the process in which space gets differentiated. It is not a process of addition, in which parts are combined to create a whole, but a process of unfolding, like the evolution of an embryo, in which the whole precedes the parts, and actually gives birth to them.” – Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building

A green house does not have to be zero net energy or zero waste, but it has to be part of a community which produces the energy it consumes and recycles all its wastes.

To be green, a design must (literally) incorporate the social, political, economic, and ecological relationships it participates in – those interactions with other homes, with places and modalities of employment, with local governance, with schools, markets, transportation routes, forests, fields, farms and recreation.

As long as we’re building single-family homes on privately-owned lots, we’re not building green. As long as we build with materials or methods that are not environmentally benign, non-toxic to humans and other life forms, and fully sustainable and recyclable, we’re not building green.

A green home unfolds from the place it is birthed, from the dreams of the home-dweller, from the creativity of the designer/builder, from the requisites of the community which enfolds it.

Green is holographic, reciprocal, participatory, and embedded in cooperative partnership with the totality of the environment.

If you listen,
not to the pages or preachers
but to the smallest flower
growing from a crack
in your heart,
you will hear a great song
moving across a wide ocean
whose water is the music
connecting all the islands
of the universe together,
and touching all
you will feel it
touching you
around you…
embracing you
with light.
It is in that light
that everything lives
and will always be alive.

John Squadra’s Book of Poems, This Ecstasy

Two vitally important words which have all but gone out of use today are “restraint” and “forbearance”. The living philosophy of the old Yankees was “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.”

Until we learn once again to differentiate between what we want and what we need, we will continue to be but troubled souls passing through the ocean of life, leaving a wake of destruction and destitution behind us like a trail of tears.

When we re-member ourselves as part of the web of life, then we will become once again green and glorious.

“We live in the lap of a great intelligence.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


Sanskrit – atman
Greek – pneuma
Latin – anima
all mean breath


Hebrew – ruah
Greek – psyche
Latin – spiritus
all mean breath

We literally partake of the four winds of the Earth. We are wind and water, earth and fire. We are cells in the body of Gaia. When we not only understand this but feel it in our bones, then we will know what is green.


This site is my gift to you. If you find value here and are moved to reciprocate:

Make a Donation Button

If you need project consultation or design services, contact me directly at

HouseWright (at) Ponds-Edge (dot) net.


by Robert Riversong: may be reproduced only with author attribution for non-commercial purposes and a link to this page