July 2, 2008

Can You Really Eat Your Eco-Cake And Have It Too?

'Green' Hillsborough House (Image Source: SFGate.com)

From a reader yesterday (in response to an interesting comment from a car-less couple happily inhabiting a 470 square foot studio in the city):

i'm sick of people flaunting their eco credentials when they have two Prius's (or would that be Prii?) sitting in the driveway of their 2000+ sq ft house while they eat steak and foie gras at the latest hot restaurant living in a small studio space is not for everyone, but doing so, without a car, is the definition of sustainability.
i happen to drive a car to work that is not a hybrid, and i have too many sq ft for my family size, but I have not nor will i ever present myself as living an ecologically friendly lifestyle.

And ironically, from the Chronicle today:

From the looks of their new, contemporary-on-the-outside, luxe-on-the-inside, 6,000-square-foot Hillsborough home and from the smiles on their faces, the Rubensteins' effort to make the greenest selection at every step of the building process seems to have yielded a harmonious synergy of livability, luxury and environmental responsibility.

A glam, glitzy and green Hillsborough mansion [SFGate]
Mini Meltdown At The Metropolitan? (333 1st Street #N1906) [SocketSite]

First Published: July 2, 2008 12:00 PM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

this is not green. it's just obscenely excessive to a lesser degree.

Posted by: condoshopper at July 2, 2008 12:24 PM

Someone needs to slap the Rubensteins...enough with the self-rightous, eco do-gooding crap.


Posted by: gh at July 2, 2008 12:28 PM

ditto the barf above.

Posted by: frostelicus at July 2, 2008 12:42 PM

The green movement really needs some objective metrics around materials and energy use. Once that is in place large homes and big construction or renovation efforts will appear less green. Even LEED, which is a nice start, is kind of silly and not entirely well founded when one gets down to the details.

Posted by: Mole Man at July 2, 2008 12:43 PM

This brings up that ridiculous Sunset house and the touting of all of its green creds, while having a two car garage and being a suburban style house a couple blocks away from a heavy rail subway line.

Posted by: Brutus at July 2, 2008 12:46 PM

i'm gonna drive my truck to dinner tonight and order two helpings of fois gras.

Posted by: resp at July 2, 2008 12:49 PM

What's wrong with eating foie gras and steak!? Those are two of the best food combinations going.

Posted by: Jimmy (Bitter Renter) at July 2, 2008 12:53 PM

They were going to build a big house no matter what, but they made it as a green as possible. I don't see anything wrong with it. That house is hot!

Posted by: Michael at July 2, 2008 1:00 PM

Oh cmon, this house is interesting!

I'm sure they don't think its eco-conscious in an absolute sense. For all we know, they are writing off its expenses on their business now that they've gotten PR for it (no idea what these folks do, article did not say).

This has to be an inside joke amongst the rich -- the poor folks live like pigs in studio apartments (presumably no kids!), and the rich get all the press (and the tax breaks).


Posted by: dub dub at July 2, 2008 1:02 PM

I guess if you're already hellbent on tearing down one house and building a mansion, building one that uses less energy is the green-ER way to go, but I wouldn't call this house especially noteworthy in the fight against climate change. And the self-congratulation is off-putting. This is the kind of stuff that really turns people off to the "green" movement. It is just easy ammunition to anyone looking to discredit so-called environmentalists as over-privilaged hypocrites.

Posted by: pvc at July 2, 2008 1:02 PM

I applaud the Rubensteins for some of their design decisions - good list at the end of the Chronicle article – as well as for being successful enough to build this house, but it is rather ridiculous to consider this home “green” or a poster child for "environmental responsibility".

Posted by: Michael at July 2, 2008 1:03 PM

first off, i love steak (foie gras is probably too highbrow for me, or maybe i haven't had good foie gras yet), and eat it, though infrequently. second, both of my parents drive SUVs, and I happen to like them.

i am not a liberal, but i get the importance of the eco/environmental movement. i'm just not on board with making the correct 'sacrifices' to really make a difference.

when someone lives 'small,' like the studio dweller without a car, that to me is the real thing. you want to be a liberal tree hugger? fine, i'm cool with that, but if i see you sitting in your 6000sq ft mansion with a large pool of water out front and I assume you drive to get home, i don't care how you built it - you just lost your credentials. if you eat meat with your dinner, your credentials are gone too.

what i find so maddening about the SF Bay Area is the knee-jerk ostentatious liberal mind set. as in - i drive a Prius - see how my emissions are better than yours? or - i eat only grass fed local meat - see how my footprint is smaller than yours? or - we built our mansion to be completely environmentally friendly in every way - see how my house pollutes so much less than yours?

when someone lives small, in a studio, and takes public transportation or walks everywhere, and is a vegetarian, well then there is no way to show your credentials. why? because you are under the radar - no one can see your sacrifice. that's what it means to be sustainable, environmentally friendly, or whatever the latest term for it is.

i can't make the necessary sacrifices. i won't make the necessary sacrifices (incentivize me financially and then maybe you might have me interested). but i'm ok with that. but the real vanguards of the supposedly burgeoning environmental movement are not the wealthy builders of this house in Burlingame, or various celebs like the former 007:


the real vanguards are the people you don't see, because you can't see them, because that's the whole point. to them - i give a tip of the cap, to the rest of us, whether we care or not, well maybe we deserve a wag of the finger.

Posted by: enonymous at July 2, 2008 1:17 PM

I'm so glad to hear other people thought the same thing when they read this article - how on earth can you claim to be green when you're living in 6,000 feet of space!!! What a crock . . .

Posted by: kc at July 2, 2008 1:21 PM

i walk to work everyday and drive a bmw suv for enjoyment on the weekends, but the day-to-day prius drivers who see me on the weekends think i'm the bad guy, this green movement is all a crock.

Posted by: mrbogue at July 2, 2008 1:27 PM

I think it's important not to lambast people for taking steps without making a complete and total sacrifice. Does driving a Prius make you a better person? - no. Does it make an infimitesmal reduction in the amount you pollute? - yes. So, yeah, it's a choice to feel good about, but it doesn't mean you're saving the world while everyone else is wrecking it. Full disclosure - I drive a Prius, love red meat and live in 1400 sq ft. I applaud any steps people are willing to take but can do without the self-rightousness of many who consider themselves environmentalists.

Posted by: pvc at July 2, 2008 1:28 PM

bring a book. way too over board if you ask me.

Posted by: Ryan at July 2, 2008 1:33 PM

'so, yeah, it's a choice to feel good about...'

i hope these folks don't feel good about their choice to bulldoze the old house and then build the new eco-friendly one. there is nothing to feel good about in that process. yes they could have done slightly worse with other building methods/materials/energy sources. but they could have done WAY better by not bulldozing the first house and then building their temple to environmentalism.

the do-gooder mindset of the environmentalists is nauseating to me. everyone likes to feel good about making the easy changes (live large but with really sustainable materials, eat meat but at least its grass fed or organic or local or all three, drive a car but at least its a hybrid), but very few are willing to make the hard sacrifices that don't feel good.

Try this instead. Give up meat for a year. Take public transportation/walk/ride your bike everywhere for a month. Make your next dwelling 3/4 as big per person.

Those are real sacrifices. Those don't feel good. That's why it's called a sacrifice.

I'm weak, superficial, a glutton, whatever you want to call it. I can't make the sacrifices necessary to make a dent. I can admit that to myself, you, or whomever it is that might ask it of me. I just wish the so-called environmentalists featured in the above story would admit that too.

Short answer - being eco-friendly, the real deal, does not involve cake. There is no cake to have and no you can't eat it then too.

Posted by: enonymous at July 2, 2008 1:44 PM

The Prius drivers should watch this:


(LOL) I know Jeremy Clarkson is a prat, but he is a FUNNY prat.

Posted by: Brian at July 2, 2008 1:49 PM

loved this quote from the NY Times story:

"LEED — an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the hot designer label"

"Green" has become synonymous with consumerism. It's sad.

My thoughts on the this place were: If you're going to live in a sprawling house on a large lot, at least plant as many trees as possible. I'd imagine there was once a redwood forest on that very spot. Cut your carbon dioxide, great... but also add some oxygen.

Posted by: hugh at July 2, 2008 1:49 PM

Folks, please read the first three paragraphs of the article: They state plainly they are trying to have their cake and eat it too, and that (paraphrasing) they don't want to live like swine (they use codewords like "earthy crunchy", "minimalist", and "alfa-alfa").

I bet you dollars to donuts this is a PR stunt to help everyone write off more of the costs than would normally be possible -- here's your clue:

"Lamarre [designer, friend of one of the owners] has a journalism background that includes writing about energy-related issues for a bimonthly electric utility trade magazine, and Grange [the architect, spouse of Lamarre] is LEED accredited by the U.S. Green Building Council. Their firm, TRG [see?], belongs to and has representation on a slew of green organizations and councils."

Get it now? Someone can write off more of the costs of the heat pump and bamboo flooring because of the PR (if their accountant is any good).

Also, the reason we don't hear about the noble folks under the radar who are "really" being green is because it's too depressing.

I would probably cry if I had to find out how a couple in a studio apartment lived with a child in a wheelchair. Not gonna sell papers (or drive pageviews).

Posted by: dub dub at July 2, 2008 2:09 PM

They could teach Al Gore a thing or two:

Posted by: etslee at July 2, 2008 2:14 PM

I agree with the posts above that this doesn't give the owners of this home the right to call themselves green. But would this house have been built 10 years ago? Probably not. Perhaps a new McMansion type place would have popped up instead. That's progress if you ask me.

And the idea that green is being marketed as cool to consumres is ironic but in the end isn't that bad of an idea. After all, we are an economy built on endless consumption. And it's going to take a long time to change that mentality among Americans and it will happen in baby steps the whole way. This house is a baby step in that it gets publicity and starts conversations like this one.

As many pointed out, not everyone is prepared to give up what it takes to be really "green" but at least the products consumed can be more eco-friendly. It's not the solution of course. But it's still a step in the right direction. And if the worst thing that happens is that people get to feel green when they're really not that green, at least they might start voting green and supporting some environmental legislation that could eventually lead to a greener place for us all.

Posted by: Boo at July 2, 2008 2:25 PM

Incidentally, this is why *every* "green thing" was itemized at the end of the article. More support for claimed deductions.

My point is, try not to take this "hypocrisy" so seriously, and don't read into it do-gooder claims which are not there.

Last post on this thread -- thanks for your patience!

Posted by: dub dub at July 2, 2008 2:34 PM

This comment is slightly offline but let's get it straight, please!

The saying goes like this:
"You can't eat your cake and have it too."

It does NOT go like this:
"You can't have your cake and eat it too."

It's a very simple concept and only makes sense if stated correctly.

Posted by: Pet Peeve of Mine at July 2, 2008 2:47 PM

actually, i never got the concept either way

why do you want to have a cake - to eat it right? what else is it good for?

Posted by: enonymous at July 2, 2008 2:57 PM

They could have downscaled their house 50% to a meager 3000SF and used the saved money to build a wind turbine or two in the country. This would have totally offset their "green" house carbon footprint for usage and building.

Posted by: San FronziScheme at July 2, 2008 3:07 PM

What's wrong with having cars?

Has anyone tried to catch a muni to take your 2-yo kid to preschool?

Posted by: John at July 2, 2008 3:08 PM


If you have your cake you can eat it.
If you eat your cake, you can no longer have it. That's because you ate it. Maybe I'm a bear though, as technically, I suppose the you could regurgitate it...
However, that's not cake to cake.

Posted by: Pet Peeve of Mine at July 2, 2008 3:12 PM

While these guys' lifestyle isn't as green compared to someone living w/o cars in a small apt, it's good for the movement in other ways. Their participation in green business paves the way encourages businesses to move in this direction, acts as good advertisement for the trend, and more importantly lowers the price for later adopters in the long run.

Posted by: bill at July 2, 2008 3:21 PM

Green! How?

Look at that picture, the big pool? As I remember, we save single drop of water to drink, and 30% of the population in this planet have no clean water to drink.

Someone correct me if I am dent wrong.

Posted by: Homeless guy at July 2, 2008 3:28 PM

As a friend of the family, I can say that the real reason they built a new house was because one of their children is in a wheelchair so staying in their two story house wasn't feasible in the long-term. I can't wait to see it and I'm sure no expense was spared...

Posted by: sfgirl at July 2, 2008 3:36 PM

pet peeve, for all [intensive] purposes, I have and eat cake [irregardless] of whether it is good and enjoy it with the [upmost] pleaure. You cringing yet? :)

Posted by: view lover at July 2, 2008 3:37 PM

Let's talk about the difference between "irregardless" and "regardless."

Posted by: fred at July 2, 2008 3:50 PM

LOL view lover. [Your] funny!

Posted by: Publius at July 2, 2008 3:50 PM

Don't go [Nucular] on me!

Posted by: 94114 at July 2, 2008 4:01 PM

Uncle. Headline changed. And now back to the house, or "eco credentials," or [weather] or not it's at least a few steps in the right direction...

Posted by: SocketSite at July 2, 2008 4:05 PM

I don't quite get the threads talking about deductions. I guess if I was one of the manufacturers of the equipment used in the home, and I donated it, I could claim a deduction. If I were the homeowners and I installed equipment _I purchased_ that met certain energy compliance requirements, I may be able to get a deduction for that. But I don't quite see how if the homeowners received for free energy compliant equipment that was donated, they would still be able to claim a deduction.

And how would they be able to claim any type of deduction simply for having a story written about them and published in the press?

Anybody an accountant out there?

And yes, they seem like poseurs to me as well...

Posted by: Can't think of cool name at July 2, 2008 4:46 PM

At least the folks who read and post on Socketsite recognize the Rube's for the poseurs they are. 3 cheers for the posters- none for the Rube's.

Posted by: SF2OAK at July 2, 2008 4:55 PM

Maybe they mistook the color of their water-sucking lawn for qualifying them as being 'green'?

Posted by: pica1986 at July 2, 2008 5:24 PM

Lawns belong to the East Coast or the North West, but around here they do not make sense. We often have no rain for months and have to use valuable drinking-quality water for these things.

Posted by: San FronziScheme at July 2, 2008 5:38 PM

the only way to be green living on that much land is if you have a fully sustainable farm and garden growing on it.

Posted by: sf at July 2, 2008 6:22 PM

Why is everybody such a hater? If you are going to build a big house then why not try and make it green? Living in a box with no car is not for everybody and you are not going to stop people from building mansions. At least some people building them are trying to make a difference however small that may be.

Posted by: anon at July 2, 2008 7:50 PM

From the posts here, unless you're living in a box on a farm with a wind turbine and walk to work you can't be green and you're a poseur. How lame. It's views like this that will forever impede progress. You can't expect everyone to change instantly and you surely can't expect people to only live in boxes and walk to work.

There will always be mansions. At least this is a start to them being built more responsibly.

Posted by: anon at July 2, 2008 8:04 PM

There will always be mansions. At least this is a start to them being built more responsibly.
Posted by: anon at July 2, 2008 8:04 PM

i agree- and i think these guys did a great job. compared to the typical style of building/remodelling these guys are forward thinking.

Posted by: paco at July 2, 2008 8:42 PM

No foie gras for you. No plastic bags. No lawns. No food high in trans fats. No SUV's. No parking. No TIC's. No excessive pay. No conspicuous consumerism. No pools. Funny, used to be that governments instigated facism on their populations. I guess it's progessive when done in reverse order.

Look, everyone can do their part and the more awareness the better. But's let's recognize that at the rate of China, India and Brazil's growth and consumption of fossil fuels, everyone is the US could throw away their car keys and walk and the impact on greenhouse gases would be minimal.

Posted by: KK at July 2, 2008 9:39 PM

I have to admit to being torn between seeing the ridiculousness of a 6000 square foot anything, and their desire to do it in such a way that they are off the grid.

The reality is a lot of arrogant rich people are NOT going to take public transportation, are never going to give up their SUVs or their large homes, mostly because of an ego thing. Given that they are GOING to live this way one way or the other, at least these homeowners are doing it in such a way that helps.

My group of friends is like those people. I am seen as somewhat eccentric whenever I actually suggest to these friends that we take the bus or BART anywhere. They laugh about it to their spouses: "he made me take the bus. The BUS!" For most of my friends, their trip with me on public transportation is their first time ever. They aren't inspired by my lifestyle, they think I am a nut. I jumped on a bus with a friend of mine to go 6 blocks and he was aghast that we didn't take a cab, and talked about it for months. There are a LOT of people who are like that.

So if these homeowners can perhaps inspire that type of person to at least think about these sorts of issues, and actually do something, anything, about it, then it's probably the best anyone will ever do.

For my friends, these homeowners are "one of us". If they can show someone how to fit energy conservation into their lifestyle, then good for them. I'm sure it doesn't help the environment very much, but I'll take baby steps where I can find them.

It's like watching a fat person go for a walk to MacDonalds once a week instead of driving there. Not doing much good, it would be better to change their lifestyle, but they didn't get fat because they think about these issues: at least it's a start.

Posted by: tipster at July 2, 2008 10:38 PM

Not 6000 square feet:

"There also would be a guesthouse that, including a basement with wine cellar, workout room and utility spaces, takes the official square footage to approximately 7,400."

This is the best discussion. Lots of smart, witty and insightful comments. For a mostly unmoderated blog (no registration, deletions of comments rare), that's noteworthy. I always love reading this.

Posted by: hugh at July 3, 2008 12:59 AM

Label everything with "GREEN" to make yourself feel better, less guilty?

We all know that "GREEN" turn to be a merchandise, turn to be a vehicle for the rich to make more money...

Yea right, more the "GREEN" you are, bigger chance you will go to heaven after life.

Big House + Big Pool + Lawn hard to associate with "GREEN" no matter how you label it.

Posted by: Homeless Guy at July 3, 2008 4:50 AM

Wow, the hating here is unbelievable. Taking the environment into account while making choices is never a bad thing, nor is talking about it. Green is the future whether that makes you get defensive or not because thinking about sustainability is the only way to manage impacts for the long term.

Posted by: Mole Man at July 3, 2008 8:52 AM

The "hating" is here because some of us are simply tired of the smugness and the marketing cliche that "green" development has become.

Posted by: Brian at July 3, 2008 9:09 AM

Green is great but let's face it, 6,000 square foot homes are anti-green by nature.

Posted by: 94114 at July 3, 2008 9:14 AM

I think this house looks nice and I would love to go for a swim in that pool.

Posted by: view lover at July 3, 2008 9:44 AM

"Funny, used to be that governments instigated fascism on their populations. I guess it's progressive when done in reverse order."

I'm not surprised. The bay area contains a high population of fascists. They would happily force their righteous views on the world if they could. We'd all be living in shoe boxes made of cow dung with no possessions and have to walk to work if they had their way.

Posted by: anon at July 3, 2008 12:43 PM

Someone told me:

"Green" is for the poor who cannot afford to waste, help to save all the resources for the rich to expand their luxurious life, like 6,000 sq.feet house and continue to waste.

It is very funny to me.

Posted by: Homeless Guy at July 3, 2008 1:52 PM

We are all part of the consumer, large environmental footprint culture to one degree or another. Therefore, we are all part of the problem.

Hyper-individualism and free-market consumer capitalism rules the day and it's very hard to ask people to not indulge in the seduction of materialism and creature comforts.

Having said that, unless we shift to a lifestyle of much smaller scale, it doesn't matter how we phrase this or that as "green." All nature cares about is aggregate damage, not semantics.

We are kidding ourselves if we think we can continue living this way, whether we green the edges or not. It's an insult to call a 6,000 sq foot house "green" no matter how efficient it might be. Why not 1,500 sq feet? When is enough ever enough? Answer - never enough!!!

Posted by: William Barnes at January 27, 2009 11:29 AM

Post a comment

(required - will be published)

(required - will not be published, sold, or shared)

(optional - your "Posted by" name will link to this URL)

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)

Continue Perusing SocketSite:

« Holly Park Hot Or Not: A Reader Seeks The Inside Scoop (As Do We) | HOME | New Designs For Dwellings And Retail At Market And Sanchez »