For more than a decade companies have been highlighting the “environmentally friendly” nature of their new buildings, and for more than a decade the press has been lapping it up, generously doling out coverage that is all but impossible for businesses to secure through the execution of their actual work.
Ponder that for moment: An accounting firm, for example, in a major city that employs 250 people – many in high-paying positions – and has grown slowly but steadily over the past 20 years, will find it difficult to get media coverage until the times comes when it announces it is a constructing a new office, one that is environmentally friendly.
Never mind that stories of these sorts have been in the news for, yes, a decade or more, making them not very “newsy” at all; the media never tires of writing about anything “eco-friendly.”
This is tiresome on several levels:
- One, space and coverage, particularly of business news, have shrunk dramatically in recent years. To devote limited resources to writing about environmentally friendly construction while ignoring the actual accomplishments of the businesses in question, be they accounting firms, banks, advertising agencies, etc., is bad journalism.
- Second, it’s no longer newsworthy when someone builds a structure that meets the standards of the U.S. Green Building Council. That entity was formed in 1993, and more than 7,000 green building projects have been built in the US alone since then.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it appears that the concept behind building environmentally friendly structures may be flawed – very flawed, in fact.
Consider this excerpt from a story in the New Republic:
When the Bank of America Tower opened in 2010, the press praised it as one of the world’s ‘most environmentally responsible high-rise office building[s].’ It wasn’t just the waterless urinals, daylight dimming controls, and rainwater harvesting. And it wasn’t only the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification – the first ever for a skyscraper – and the $947,583 in incentives from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. It also had as a tenant the environmental movement’s biggest celebrity. The Bank of America Tower had Al Gore.
The former vice president wanted an office for his company, Generation Investment Management, that ‘represents the kind of innovation the firm is trying to advance,’ his real-estate agent said at the time. The Bank of America Tower, a billion-dollar, 55-story crystal skyscraper on the northwest corner of Manhattan’s Bryant Park, seemed to fit the bill. It would be ‘the most sustainable in the country,’ according to its developer Douglas Durst. At the Tower’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, Gore powwowed with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and praised the building as a model for fighting climate change. ‘I applaud the leadership of the mayor and all of those who helped make this possible,’ he said.
Gore’s applause, however, was premature. According to data released by New York City last fall, the Bank of America Tower produces more greenhouse gases and uses more energy per square foot than any comparably sized office building in Manhattan. It uses more than twice as much energy per square foot as the 80-year-old Empire State Building. It also performs worse than the Goldman Sachs headquarters, maybe the most similar building in New York – and one with a lower LEED rating. It’s not just an embarrassment; it symbolizes a flaw at the heart of the effort to combat climate change…
‘What LEED designers deliver is what most LEED building owners want – namely, green publicity, not energy savings,’ John Scofield, a professor of physics at Oberlin, testified before the House last year.
Surprising? Only in that for what corporations spend to get the LEED designation they’re being ripped off.
However, since the media don’t seem interested in questioning press releases exclaiming the virtues of new environmentally friendly buildings and almost never check the veracity of such claims after the structures are in operation, one supposes most corporations don’t care.
Companies get their PR bump when the story runs about the new LEED-certified structure, everyone pats themselves on the back for being “green” and then it’s back to business as usual, which seems to entail, at least in the media’s case, waiting for next press release to come their way about another environmentally friendly structure being erected.
Neither group seems to mind their being sold a bill of goods.
(HT: Coyote Blog)