Dilbert vs Kermit the Frog

I thought "it's not easy being green” is Kermit's line.


Originally published in the Sept/Oct 2010 edition newsletter of the American Institute of Architects, Westchester Mid-Hudson Chapter.


By Michael Shilale, AIA, LEED
August 22, 2010



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I don't mind being criticized by clients, contractors, building inspectors, and planning board members, but when a cartoonist starts throwing some punches, I have to fight back.

I confess I don't read Dilbert, who looks to me a little like Bart Simpson, and I would not have known who Scott Adams is were it not for his recent assault on green architecture in a Wall Street Journal article yesterday. (click here if you missed it)

As a self proclaimed green architect I feel obliged to respond. While I applaud Scott's efforts to be green and build a green house, his article does little to help others and is filled with inaccuracies and falsehoods.

His challenges with municipal planning approvals are shared and understood by anyone engaged in a construction project. Although if a waste treatment plant was proposed next to his new house those planning board members would soon be his new best friends.

I also understand his naiveté regarding the need to make buildings structurally sound and durable living mostly in a world of poorly rendered two dimensional animation.

The only part of his story I agree with is his concession that being green is hard. Understanding what green means is his biggest mistake- followed by a reliance on sound bites and manufacturer's tag lines.

For the sake of brevity, I shall minimize my retorts and dispel his conclusions one by one.

His first claim that the greener the home the uglier it will be is easily dispelled by viewing the recent AIA COTE top ten green building design winners here. Scott may counter that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, however based upon his own drawings, I think we win this one.

His second inaccurate claim is that the greenest sort of home is the one with the fewest windows. This frustrates me since many reduce green and sustainability to mere energy use. In fact more windows and more natural light can make a building greener. Green, in an architect’s world, means the balancing of environmental and economic issues for the benefit of humanity. More natural light in buildings is linked to reduced hospital stays, increases in student performance, as well as improved worker productivity and reduced absenteeism.

His claim that energy modeling is mere guesswork attacks all science. Our office models the energy use of all the buildings we build or renovate. The energy use and potential savings is not only measurable but also, in thousands of projects saving billions of dollars, is guaranteed by some of the largest and most stable companies such as Honeywell, Johnson Controls and Siemens. I should give Scott some credit for seeming to figure out the difference between an attic fan and a whole house fan.

His fourth transgression is the misinformation on solar power. While it's true that photovoltaic systems have extended payback times, if Scott cares at all about our planet or his progeny, he shouldn't dismiss solar energy. If one believes Dr. Nocera from MIT, it’s all that can truly save us. (Click here for more). My photovoltaic system has a seven year payback that's ahead of schedule. Click here if you don't believe me Dilbert.

While there is a lot of misinformation and greenwashing out there, it's no reason to give up and resort to greenbashing humor. I would prefer if Scott sticks to practicing his rendering skills, it's only been 500 years or so since the advent of perspective.