Blog: Mark Nickita

Mark Nickita is the cofounder of the award-winning multi-disciplinary design firm Archive Design Studio. A resident of Birmingham, Mark was selected by Crain's Detroit as one of its 40 under 40 business leaders, is the winner of several architectural & urban design awards and sits on the Birmingham Planning Board. Mark will be writing about Metro Detroit's need for livable, workable, and walkable urban neighborhoods.

Post No. 4

Green is in - green this, green that, sustainable movements, movies on global warming, bottled water bans, paper not plastic, electric cars, increasing
train ridership, SUV attacks – the hot-button topics of the green movement seem endless. Today, it is "cool" to be green in our country and beyond. America is working to be more sustainable and increasingly efficient in its use of energy on
multiple levels. Overall, this is a very good thing with positive results, but where is the line between talk and action, inconsequential versus significant change? 

As the general public in the United States becomes more concerned about the environment and our effect on it, the focus of most actions to curb the
problem of excessive energy waste appears to be mostly with minimal band-aid “fixes” resulting in what can be called micro-sustainability. To achieve a significant impact on our environment, Michigan and the country needs to orient efforts toward macro-sustainability or lifestyle changes in our homes, businesses, municipalities and in Lansing.

We Need Real Change to Become Truly Green

In many ways, we are all getting so engulfed in the issue of conserving that we might be losing sight of the bigger picture. For example, regarding the
movement to buy more energy efficient light bulbs.

There is a lot of discussion and promotion of new "green" lights bulbs, and across the country people are off to the store to buy these more efficient products for their homes and businesses. Of course, this is a good thing and we should all find ways to conserve energy – every little bit helps and I am not suggesting that we ignore these small and easy actions to save energy. 

However, what is the real savings from these bulbs? And, other than the act of buying the bulb and replacing the standard one, we really haven’t done much.

Additionally, if you are driving your SUV 8-miles to and from the closest Wal-Mart to get it, you are cutting into the overall energy gain from your new efficient bulbs. The issue to note in this example is that it is very easy to engage in this
type of green initiative – no change in everyday life, just a simple action, no hardship. But, recall the saying "no pain, no gain." There are numerous stories
about the little energy saving fixes that ultimately use up more fossil fuels in other ways. 

Another example is new hybrid cars that reportedly use much more energy to make than a typical gas-only automobile. Also, people are drinking bottled water
in mass, a supposedly healthy option, but the actual plastic containers that water comes in use a great deal of energy to produce and end up in a land fill when discarded. Even the creation of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings located in the middle of suburban sprawl should be questioned as to their real overall energy savings. The list of these well-intentioned actions with mixed-results goes on.

Many of these “good” deeds intended to be more energy efficient and healthy are often band-aids for the bigger problem – excessive energy use and waste.
These actions ultimately do very little to reduce our individual carbon footprint – the amount of carbon dioxide that each of us contributes to the environment.

This is mainly because we do these things without altering our current lifestyle, which is a way of living that is generally inefficient and wasteful in regards to energy use. These are all actions that are like fingers stuck in the failing dyke of energy waste. They add up to slight changes in our overall system – resulting in “micro-sustainability” or being green in a limited manner. 

This may make us feel better, like we are helping the environment, however, we risk the lack of taking broader actions in our communities and with our lifestyle that can lead to a more established effect on the amount of energy use.

Real change and a significant reduction of our carbon footprint can only be achieved if we alter our daily lifestyle at many levels; this is the basis of macro-sustainability. This is about types of green-minded initiatives that are more global in nature and ultimately have a greater impact. An approach of this kind is the key to making a difference when it comes to being green. 

Instead of an emphasis on changing your light bulbs, change the house you live in, instead of driving the same amount of daily miles in a fuel efficient car, take transit and drive much less – or possible have one less car in your family. Make moves in the municipality that you live in, pressure the city officials to change zoning ordinances that promote more efficient uses of land, less stringent parking requirements and to become more pedestrian-oriented. These types of changes can make a huge impact on the landscape in our Michigan communities, save resources and increase the quality of life.


Macro versus micro changes in our daily lives will save daily car trips, valuable time and money and will result in a lifestyle that correlates to trends that are in high demand – a walkable society. 

Frankly, this means living in more urban and pedestrian-oriented communities, downtowns, traditional neighborhoods and in transit-oriented developments.

Macro-sustainability is a means to establish not only more efficient energy use, but will also create additional alternatives in our daily life. Americans
like options, by partaking in these initiatives the potential to commute by utilizing multiple methods creates a transit choice, which is better than not
having one. 

Changing from an auto-oriented lifestyle to establish a more walkable environment is one of the most complete ways to become green. This lifestyle change can allow you to promote a sustainable environment, while simply living your everyday
existence. Then if you put in a more efficient light bulb – it will be a bonus.

Macro-Sustainable actions that can provide for more substantial energy use changes. Get involved in your community, educate and promote zoning ordinances that make the place that you live a more sustainable environment. 

Municipalities should consider:

• mandating sidewalks throughout the city – on ALL
streets and to all front doors
• encouraging the creation of bike paths
• minimizing parking requirements and promoting shared
• establishing mixed-use zoning and higher land uses
• have a policy to promote adaptive re-use or
renovation of historic structures
• encourage LEED certified buildings- only if they are
integrated with sustainable urban design policies

Meanwhile, you should consider these changes to your personal life"

  • minimize drive trips (lowering our VMT – vehicle miles traveled) and the overall use of the car
  • live in a smaller home on a smaller lot or in multi-unit buildings like lofts, this diminishes the need for "stuff"
  • buy less quantity and more quality goods
  • diminish the amount of "stuff" to store
  • move your home or office into mixed-use areas or into a downtown where less energy is used, less land and have less daily maintenance