There's a new development going up in Allston, a neighborhood to the west of downtown Boston. It's not just any development though, it's called the Allston Green District, and its being built by the Mount Vernon Company of Boston. The development is comprised of 500 units designed to have a very low environmental impact, from sustainable building materials to the “green lease” that tenants sign before they move in. These apartments were in a desirable location to begin with, but with the three new buildings receiving Silver, Gold, and Platinum LEED certifications respectively and the four other existing building receiving new insulation and more efficient HVAC systems, these apartments have become a very hot commodity. In fact, Bruce Percelay, founder and chairman of the the Mount Vernon Company, said in an interview with WCVB that all of the units in one building were leased five weeks before the building was even open, which is unprecedented, even in a market like Boston's.
The Allston Green District is part of an emerging trend of green features being added to luxury homes. The Green District attracts tenants not only with its green features, but with many luxurious accouterments like a private movie theater and a fitness room that has garage doors that open to the outside. However, this begs the question of whether green luxury is a viable concept. The very definition of luxury includes the idea of the extravagant and unnecessary, which is in many ways opposed to an environmentally friendly lifestyle.
The reason that America and other developed countries have such a disproportionally large environmental impact is the fact that we consume so much. A luxurious lifestyle is almost necessarily consumptive-- how could you live in material excess without consuming in excess? So the concept of green luxury is a bit of a paradox. The more you consume, the greater your environmental impact (as a rule), so from the perspective of the environment it is always better to consume less. It would seem that while green luxury is better than ordinary luxury, green luxury isn't as good as just green.
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Of course that isn't to say that the Allston Green District isn't environmentally friendly. In fact, the green lease signed by tenants encourages them to consume less energy and water, compost, and support public transportation instead of private car use. The fact that it is in a dense urban area ensures that living spaces will be reasonably sized, though certainly comfortable. If truly environmentally friendly luxury is possible, it is developments like the Allston Green District that are defining what it looks like.