A recent book by Juliet Barker on the medieval battle of Agincourt (October 1415) got me thinking of some analogies between a battlefield that redefined warfare in its time and our own ongoing battles to get green buildings into the mainstream of building design and construction.
In Shakepeare’s Henry V, before the battle begins, King Henry rallies his troops with the famous speech:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
At the battle of Agincourt, the English invading forces were outnumbered at least four to one, and by some observers counts, five to one. They also were forced to compete on a field chosen by the French. By all measures of conventional warfare, primarily combat between mounted knights and foot soldiers, the French would be the sure winners.
What did the English have going for them?
They were well-led; Henry V was a front-line commander, well respected by the average soldier for his courage and skill. All soldiers were volunteers (they were paid salaries even then), and morale was high. Through his political skill, Henry V had sold the English people that he had a legitimate claim to the contested lands.
They were a coherent group, whereas the French forces owed allegiance to many different warlords. As a result, the English had a clear battle plan and solid leadership, while the French expected to win based on superior forces alone.
They had their backs to the wall; it was win or die; there was no way home otherwise. (Actually, captured knights were often held for ransom; if the family couldn’t raise the money, they were often sold into slavery).
They had a strong technological edge: the English were accomplished for more than 50 years in the art of the longbow vs. the French preference for the older, but still predominant continental technology of the cross-bow. The difference? Range and speed; the longbow archers were trained to fire 10 rounds per minute accurately into a distant target (try this sometime at an archery range.) The cross- bow, while deadly, had a much shorter range and was time consuming to reload.
The result: a wholesale slaughter of thousands of France’s finest knights and a complete rout of the superior French forces. The English initiated the battle, which was against the prevailing belief that the army that struck first would lose, because they would expose their weaknesses and be vulnerable to counter attack. The English carried the day and were able to conclude their campaign and return home.
What does all this have to do with green buildings? Read on.
We are in a similar battle, a race with time in this case, against vastly superior forces of conventional building systems, conventional technologies and conventional approaches to building design and construction. Think of how much money the various industries have that want to continue the conventional system. We have to fight on a field of their choosing, building design, construction and operations, with the dollar as the arbiter of right and wrong.
What do we have going for us? We have a strong leader in the U.S. Green Building Council and the various LEED evaluation systems. Never underestimate the power of single-mindedness in a rating system. We have all hitched our wagon to this plow horse, and it shows increasing signs of morphing into a race horse.
We have a superior moral cause. As the 19th century French writer, Emile Zolá, wrote, "an invasion of armies can be successfully resisted, but not an idea whose time has come." The green building revolution is truly an idea whose time has come. Who can be opposed to healthier, more resource-efficient and less impactful buildings? I am finding resistance crumbling, month by month, among "holdouts" at all levels of business and institutional management.
We have better technology: renewable energy systems with zero carbon dioxide emissions, passive solar designs with fewer resource demands, green roofs, rainwater catchment and reuse systems, cool roofs, low or no-VOC materials, sustainably harvested wood, etc.
We have good troops, over 25,000 LEED Accredited Professionals, including perhaps more than 10 percent of the entire membership of the American Institute of Architects, more than 90,000 employees of USGBC member companies, and a large proportion of the most talented and enthusiastic young architects and engineers focused on building design and construction.
And, finally, we have our backs to the wall, as each year the evidence for irreversible climate change from anthropogenic activities becomes more apparent. Green buildings, green developments, green communities offer positive and achievable ways to get us out of this apparently intractable dilemma.
So, we few, we happy few, we band of brothers (and sisters), let’s renew our commitment, buckle up our courage, let fly with our superior weapons and moral position, sally forth onto the field of battle (client and project meetings) and engage the forces of convention! We are sure to carry the day.
Jerry Yudelson is principal of Yudelson Associates, green building marketing consultants in Tucson, Arizona, and author of three books on green building marketing. He can be reached at Jerry@greenbuildconsult.com. His web site is www.greenbuildconsult.com.