Tag Archive for sustainable

Abandoned Commercial Office Space should be transformed into Sustainable Farms

Office parks and dinosaurs.

What a great tag line for the article…it is so clear that the suburban office park was, and has, become a dinosaur. The Merck headquarters is now vacant. This huge piece of property has no one to use it.

This type of office park was never sustainable. It was away from transportation and urged us to use cars. It fostered sprawl and farmland destruction. It harmed cities and caused local politicians to encourage subsidized raid building for the land owners.

Now we are paying the price. Hollowed out buildings with no one that wants them.

Maybe, in light of the California drought, and the possible harm to western agriculture, we should take these properties and turn them into sustainable farms. In that way we can remove the vacant buildings, tear up the impermeable parking surfaces and make farm fields that grow local produce.


In other words, take what is not sustainable and work to put what is sustainable in its place…

Read the full article:
How office parks are dragging down N.J.’s recovery


GDP Misses the Boat

I was recently asked to “substitute” for a colleague on a sustainability presentation with regard to the economic measures used to quantify “green” or sustainable programs and buildings. He was kind enough to provide me with some background articles for the class.

The first was an OP-ED from the Times by Eric Zencey, a professor at Empire State College, and can be found at:

…and a paper by Timothy F. Slaper, Ph.D, Director of Economic Analysis, Indiana Business Research Center, Indiana University Kelley School of Business titled “The Triple Bottom Line: What is it and How Does it Work?”

As I interpret the summaries of both documents, I would say that G.D.P. (Gross Domestic Product) is basically a false measurement that should be put out of its misery. At the very least, the Triple Bottom Line as a real measure of economic growth should replace it.

Essentially, the G.D.P. is a false measure because it does not include a differential between costs and benefits. For example, Mayor Bloomberg recently announced a plan for a $20 billion investment plan for flood controls to protect the City from future storms.

Under traditional G.D.P. measures, if this money is spent, the G.D.P. will show this as growth. As Dr. Zencey points out, it ignores the value of associated benefits that would be associated with avoiding this construction by reducing the impact of future floods through proper land planning and avoided risk through environmental destruction of wetlands and coastal areas.

Taking this further, the rebuilding of the shore will bump the G.D.P. because of new construction and the associated purchases. Of course, had the dunes been maintained and areas such as Sea Bright not been developed in obvious flood zones, there would be no damage to rebuild.

Flood Damage

So what does this lead us to? A discussion on the value of the natural world versus the capital world that uses resources in an inefficient and nonsustainable manner. In Dr. Zencey’s Op-Ed, he notes that one market value estimate is that natural capital services are worth as much as $33 trillion per year.

Ok, there are arguments to kill the G.D.P.

What are the arguments for the Triple Bottom Line? First, what is the Triple Bottom Line (TBL)?

“The TBL is a way of measuring the impact of an organization’s activities on the world…including, both its profitability and shareholder values and its social, human and environmental capital.” – Slaper

The measures are noted as economic, environmental and social. As I see it, we would not be giving a great deal of credit to the $20 billion in new flood controls and all of the rebuilding at the shore. Why; because these projects are all questionable in some ways as to their social and environmental impacts.

On the positive side, TBL is a great way to look at change in an organization that is designed to improve the environment as well as improve social conditions of the people that work in that environment. A healthier work environment is generally more productive, and thus more profitable.

A healthier living environment generates fewer ill health effects on those in it and thus lowers the costs to society as a whole.

Yes, it is time that we consider scrapping the G.D.P. and move to a more holistic and inclusive economic measure.


Green Washing; Or Don’t Always Believe the Label

When we go to the store, many of us are looking for that label that says we are doing something good by purchasing something that is sustainable. From shirts to food to lumber, there are green labels available for hire.

Some of these labels are what is referred to as “third party certifications.” This means that some outside group, such as Underwriters Laboratory, has verified the claims made about the product. In the green industry there are many labels that can be secured for green products.

One area of debate that has been heating up was reported in the New York Times on May 31st. It seems that the Federal Trade Commission, in trying to police what “green” means, has been taking on a more aggressive approach.

Forest products, commonly known as lumber, have several green certifications. Two of the most competitive are the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Sustainable LumberI have dealt with the FSC designation for several years in my green building work. The Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), the certifying organization for LEED Certified Buildings, has required the use of FSC lumber for many years.

This has not pleased the SFI, but let’s take a short look at why.

There is a strong contention that SFI does not use an independent, third party verification system while the FSC does. Indeed, as noted, the SFI is primarily funded by the lumber industry. This alone should raise some issues about the veracity of any label given to SFI lumber.

FSC does not rely on such funding. Accordingly, it has generally been viewed as a more verifiable and accurate rating system.

What is the right choice? From my perspective, any labeling or certification system should be a third party, independent system that does not rely on the company making the product for its funding. As is the case with LEED certification, a third party group, in this case the GBCI determines whether or not a building can be certified.

On this debate, I default to the FSC.

Remember to always be sceptical of any green claims.


A Potential Ban on LEED

I have written before on how LEED has grown up because it has been attacked and criticized. In my mind, that means that the program is a success because it has scared some who want to maintain the status quo in building to that of the past or, inefficient design and construction.

Now we see a new attack strategy. As reported by USGBC, “special interest lobbying is pushing for an amendment to the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill that would ban the use of LEED by the federal government, and its introduction is expected on Wednesday, 5/8! That means we have just a few days to do as much outreach as we can, to amplify our voices so that these Senators know that this amendment matters to their constituents and people are watching them.”

Can you believe this? Apparently the thought of building sustainable buildings (the entire premise of the LEED rating systems) has certain interests so frightened that they are trying to use federal legislation to ban its practice.

This is taking place in spite of the fact that the General Services Administration has recently stated that:

“… The Green Building Advisory Committee established by the General Services Administration (GSA), officially recommended to GSA that the LEED green building certification system be used for all GSA buildings as the best measure of building efficiency. The committee also conveyed that LEED should be the primary way to show how agency buildings use energy and water and that LEED standards are the most conducive to meet the Energy Independence and Security Act.

The Green Building Advisory Committee has evaluated more than 160 tools and systems since it began in 2011, and in February, GSA released a request for information (RFI) that publicly lauded the value of green building rating systems like LEED and asked for additional input into important issues that could help GSA accelerate and improve its green building work.”
(As reported in USGBC press release dated May 3, 2013)

Sustainable EarthSo let me see if I can make sense of this effort. We have a building rating system that encourages the design and construction of energy efficient buildings that enhance human health and minimize the depletion of natural resources or the use of unhealthy building materials. This system has been used in federal buildings as required by the Generals Services Administration and has proven to be effective at reducing energy use in buildings, thus saving the taxpayer money over the long term while reducing our dependence on foreign or domestic energy supplies. The system has recently been vetted again by a study group as required by the GSA and found to be the best system to consider for future buildings.

And what does Congress consider? A bill banning its use.

I don’t usually make a call for action but USGBC’s action outline is worth sharing here…modified for the non USGBC member.

Email your Senator a letter from your business. The key Senators are on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Sign or start a petition if you’re in a state of one of these key senators. The states that don’t already have a petition are: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming. (The states that already have a petition are Arizona, Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, and Tennessee).

Tell others to act! And ask them to act by Wednesday, 5/8!!

On a final note of the absurd, the state of Kansas recently introduced a bill that would ban any form of sustainability in any building in that state. Hmm.. Now that’s thinking for you.