“Sustainability is not a new building style.

Instead it represents a revolution in how we

think about, design, construct, and operate


A Primer on Sustainable Building

published by Rocky Mountain Institute

Green Development Services


The image of our built environment is strongly

related to sustainability. Sustainability grows

from principles of conservation and stewardship

that are integral to the identity and mission of

the Forest Service. A sustainable built

environment meets the following goals:

• Minimize the use of resources.

• Conserve ecosystems, the source of all


• Create healthy built environments and

landscapes for present and future generations.


Our forests are the ultimate renewable

resource—one that, if managed with care, will

meet the needs of people and ecosystems

indefinitely. It is our mission to demonstrate to

all Americans how to conserve these resources.

As the construction, maintenance, heating, and

cooling of structures consume an ever-increasing

portion of our country’s natural resources,

sustainable design becomes more important.


We can launch our drive toward sustainability by

examining the Forest Service structures built during

the era of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

The rustic design of these 1930’s structures

harmonized superbly with their natural settings.

The designers accomplished this by including

natural materials such as stone and logs.

Moreover, the craftsmanship and proportions

of CCC structures were often exquisite.


But that is only a start. The rustic style of

design was just that: a look. A rustic structure is

not inherently any more ecological or sustainable

than any other building dressed in the clothing

of the forest.


Figure 1: Roof Pitch Varies With Climate and Verticality of Topography and Vegetation


Flat or Gentle Roof Pitch

• Broad Valleys

Mild winter

• Flat topography

• Short or sparse vegetation


Medium Roof Pitch



Steep Roof Pitch:

• High Mountains

• Heavy snow

• Steep topography

• Tall trees


The future of the Forest Service’s built environment

image lies in drawing from aspects of our rustic

past while using today’s environmentally sensitive

design and construction techniques.


This synthesis of past and present will create

visual harmony with the landscape setting and

functional harmony with the ecological setting.

That means construction must not consume

excessive materials and energy. It should restore

rather than disturb native vegetation, wetlands,

and other wildlife habitat. It should be built to last.


How can we make sustainable design a reality

within national forests? There is more than one

path because, by nature, sustainability varies to

meet the requirements of each individual setting.

In short, sustainability responds directly to its

context. The three most important contexts for

creating sustainable design are:

Ecological: The natural forces that shape

landscape, including climate, geology, soils,

water, elevation, and vegetation.

Cultural: The human forces that shape and

define landscape, including history, development

patterns, agriculture, and social uses.

Economic: The budget realities and

cost-saving considerations that shape the

built environment.


The following figure represents the intersection of

all three contexts to form a sustainable image.


Figure 2: Factors of Context for a Sustainable Image


1. Ecological Context- includes

Landscape character

• Biophysical environment

• Climate


2. Cultural/Social Context- includes

Customer desires

• Architecture & art



3. Economic Context- includes

Life cycle cost

• Energy & resources

• Human health


By exploring these contexts, we find new answers

to the questions that drive our building programs.

How can we improve working conditions? Serve

a growing number of visitors? Present a better

Forest Service image, even while budgets grow

tighter? Include the structures we design and

build as part of our stewardship of the land?

Keeping these contexts in mind, we can create

structures that complement, rather than

overwhelm, the landscape.




Chapter 3 Table of Contents

Reader’s Guide