Saturday, March 14, 2009

Book Review: True Green Home

True Green Home by Kim McKay and Jenny Bonnin
National Geographic, 2008
Paperback, 144 pages

The latest book in National Geographic's True Green series focuses on architecture and the domestic realm. Authored by the director and deputy chair of Clean Up the World and Clean Up Australia, the book promises to be a valuable addition to sustainable literature, especially combined with the reputation of National Geographic. While a decent introduction to the subject, the results unfortunately do not meet up to the potential.

Obviously from the book's title, the reader is presented with 100 ideas for making their house or apartment more environmentally responsible. The ideas run from large-scale (siting and orientation) to the small (selecting cleaning and other household products), with many applicable to those renting and who can't make the large-scale changes. A number of books on residential sustainability neglect the fact that most people can't afford new construction, but this book acknowledges both that situation and the fact that reuse and renovation can be more sustainable anyways. By splitting the book into ten sections of ten ideas (a mathematically symmetrical approach that leads to some unfortunate redundancy and omissions) -- such as green energy, eco-kitchens, bathrooms, and greener gardens -- the authors cover a lot of territory, furthered by ten case studies that allow the reader to see green ideas in action.

So if the ideas are extensive and helpful, what makes the book lacking in potential? Mainly it's the book's layout. Perhaps stemming from the publisher's reputation for well-illustrated volumes, the coffee table-esque paperback doesn't practice what it preaches. The guide could easily have been pared down to a small-format, take-anywhere size (à la the Sustainable White Papers series) with illustrations more suited to the ideas presented. While well illustrated, a photograph of a faucet, for example, does not tell the reader anything about water conservation, except signaling that such page deals with water. We are treated to imagery for imagery's sake; a raiding of a clip art library to make the book more appealing to those flipping through the book for the first time, rather than extending the ideas in visual terms.

Besides my relatively minor quibbles, the book is a decent introduction to those uncertain how to tackle greening their home. For architects and other professionals already immersed in sustainable design, the book does not have much to offer, but this is clearly not the intended audience. Lastly, the book includes online references and a glossary, helping the reader navigate the ideas and explore more beyond the 100 ideas presented here.

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