Kaid Benfield Archive


Green building can stop climate change - IF in the right places

Kaid Benfield

Posted March 20, 2008 at 10:26PM

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the Commission's report on green buildingThe blogosphere is awash this week in chatter over a new report from the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (a NAFTA creation).  The report points out that a substantial portion of greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, along with all sorts of other environmental maladies, and that we have the cost-effective technology to address the problems and, in effect, save the world.

Well, sort of.  Technology certainly can contribute a lot to the solution, and the sorts of solutions advocated by the US Green Building Council (full disclosure: I am vice chair of one of their committees) and NRDC are extremely worthy of becoming standard practice.

But technology alone won't help unless we also pay attention to where we build, not just how we build.  Studies show that the carbon savings potentially realized by even a state-of-the-art green building can be completely wiped out by the carbon we emit in our vehicles driving to and from the snazzy building.  In fact, we can make global warming worse if we think we can build anywhere as long as we use good building technology.  As I elaborated in an earlier blog entry, the solution is to couple the right technology with the right locations that are walkable, transit-accessible and well-placed within their regions so that even those who choose to drive don't have to navigate long distances.

NRDC's state-of-the-art green building in Santa MonicaIronically, the building on the cover of the Commission's new report (above) looks to be built far from an urban setting.  There's a good chance that, when its transportation profile is coupled with its technology profile, it is not really green but brown.  Sigh.  Contrast the setting of NRDC's platinum-certified green building on a previously developed site in a highly walkable setting, at left.  That's our Southern California Headquarters in Santa Monica.  I'm really proud of my colleagues on this one.  That's how you go green if you really want to make a difference.