Michael Reynolds quotes

We’ve put together the best Michael Reynolds quotes about sustainability and sustainable architecture.

Michael Reynolds was the focus of the award-winning film ‘Garbage Warrior‘ – a documentary about his 40 year struggle to build sustainable houses.

The Environment Show interviewed Reynolds as part of our new series on environment leaders. We found so many great Reynolds quotes in our research, we thought we’d compile them for good keeping. (We couldn’t bear to let them get away.)

Mike Reynolds has been described as a radical and a maverick. He was a qualified architect until he was – in his own words – “defrocked”. He now calls himself a ‘biotech’. And instead of houses, he describes his buildings as ‘Earthships‘ – which refers to the fact they’re designed for self-sufficiency.

Here are some classic quotes from one of the world’s most innovative green building designers …

On rules and regulations 

“The way we’ve been living is over. And that means our rules and our regulations are over.”

“Our rules and regulations are about things that aren’t pertinent any more – stick frame houses that you pump heat into, endless of amounts of energy and water – wasteful methods of living. Those days are over due to climate change, population explosion and dwindling resources. If you project them into the future we’ve got a problem.” 

“People can live in carbon zero homes right now. The technology is here. Allowing it to happen is the problem. Our rules and regulations won’t let us do it.” 

“I was twisting the law to get sustainable housing out there folks.”
(His response to getting busted for breaking the rules.) 

How he started designing green buildings 

“It’s not like a light bulb went on and I thought: ‘I’m going to make sustainable housing’. It happened little by little as a result of responding to the news (of environmental issues.) I stumbled into this as a result of responding.”

“When I first started doing it, people thought I was crazy. When I told an engineer I was building a house out of beer cans, he told me I was a disgrace to the architectural profession.”

Why he’s doing what he’s doing 

“If humanity takes the planet down the tubes, I’m dead. I’m trying to save my ass. And that is a powerful force.”

How to bring about behaviour change 

“It’s clear to see that people are in a lot of stress themselves due to the way they live. And they’re imposing that stress on other people and the planet. If we are able to remove the stress from people in terms of how they live and what they have to give of themselves to exist and what they have to take from the planet to exist – if we’re able to eliminate a lot of that stress, the world’s going to be a better place. I think if you simply remove stress then people will be much better.”

Where his work fits in 

“I see my work as an exploration of how to remove stress. That’s not necessarily architecture.”

On architecture 

“Whether it’s beautiful or not, if it doesn’t take care of itself and the people in it, it’s as bad as a sinking ship – which is what most of it is.”

On the need for sustainable housing 

“This is not a moral issue, it’s not a spiritual issue, it’s not a political issue, it is a logical issue.”

On the potential for green building 

“If every building was to consume its own sewerage that’d be huge. Then if every building made its own power, and heated and cooled itself, and caught its own water rather then sucking water out of the aquifers – the ramifications of how people live in their own units could affect things in an unbelievable way. Ultimately it would affect the minds and hearts of people.”

On population 

“You’re here and there’s 6 billion of you here – you’ve got to apply some logic to how much longer this ball can support more people.”

On cities 

“Cities are dangerous places of chaos that can’t support themselves any longer.”

On human potential 

“We have the potential to enhance the planet. Trees enhance the planet. People could go further. We could make the Earth sing.”

“If you took stress out of people’s lives and made them happy in terms of the way they live – if you made it easy for them to be at peace on this planet – they would bloom. And I think humanity could go to a whole different level.”

On creativity:

“Inspiration, imagination and intuition are squashed in our world. But if you can go there, and stay there, you’ll have a lot more energy.”

His approach to work 

“This is all I do – my job, my recreation, my physical, my spiritual, my financial.”

On hard work 

“It is physical (making bricks from tyres.) What would I rather do though? Go lift weights staring at a TV or beat dirt into tyres and make a building.”

On power and water utilities 

“Centralised utilities lock us into a 50-year increment of evolution. That’s not fast enough given the growth in population and change in the planet. Centralised utilities should be a thing of the past.”

On education 

“We should really learn about the Earth (the physics and biology of it) so we can work with it – to make sure we can live here without destroying it.”

On taking action 

“It’s almost like a disaster has to happen to cause the world to start preparing.”

On tyres (why he uses them in his buildings) 

“Talk about indigenous. Everybody all over the world has tyres.”

“There are more automobile tyres than trees on the planet now.”

“That’s a natural resource. If you came here from another planet, you would think this planet produces these things.”

Why he moved from Cincinnati to the New Mexico desert 

“There was so much more of the planet to see without the effects of people.”

On bureaucracies 

“There’s just a ridiculous amount of energy spent to get the tiniest thing done.”

“I learned a long time ago … tell ’em what they want to hear.”

The state of the planet 

“I think it’s in bad shape. From the skies to the waters, to the happiness of people, the haves and the have-nots. There are so many places on the planet that are trashed beyond repair. The oil spills, the junk, the sewerage, the radioactivity. It just keeps growing.”

Why we’re stuck in old ways 

“It’s like the gravity of the Earth. There’s a gravity of human nature that makes it hard to think in any other way than the way that’s here.”

What we need to do in the future 

“We have a tremendous amount to learn and unlearn. Unlearning the dogma that’s part of everybody’s belief system.”

Leading by example 

“I like to demonstrate that it’s easier and more logical, and a more soothing way to live.”

“If you walk the talk, you don’t have to talk that much.”


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Phil Stubbs

Blogger, Podcaster, Producer at The Environment Show

Environmental Podcaster, Blogger and Producer at The Environment Show. I'm based in Sydney, Australia.

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