Authenticity, Accuracy, Transparency

Penny Bonda, FASID, LEED Fellow, HBN Board Member | November 03, 2011 | Policies

Do designers greenwash? Of course they do, both individually and collectively. Every LEED AP who hasn't a clue how to design a green project, every individual, firm, organization and government that's signed on to the 2030 Challenge but hasn't made even cursory attempts to meet its goals, is guilty.

We, the practitioner side of the green building world, are quick to accuse product manufacturers of greenwash - see my August HBN column - but when we use inauthentic credentials in our marketing materials or on our business cards, we are positioning ourselves as phonies and undermining the credibility of the green building movement.

The optimist in me wants to believe that few green pretenders do so intentionally, but rather get caught up in the movement without the actual knowledge, talent or time to meet its considerable demands. But, does designer greenwashing really matter as long as the movement is progressing? Which it is.

To the truly dedicated people and companies who are busting their chops to reach LEED Platinum, achieve the Living Building Challenge credential or make progress toward the 2030 timeline and goals, it must be annoying and frustrating to be grouped alongside the ne'er-do-wells.

Not according to Tony Layne, Co-director of Sustainable Design for Perkins + Will, a firm with impeccable green credentials. Rather what matters, he said, is the progress being made toward market transformation by the development of benchmarks and measurement tools to be used internally and shared with competitive colleagues.

Many agree that getting to LEED certified or silver, or 50-60% energy reductions for the 2030 Challenge is fairly achievable with rule-of-thumb best practices sustainable design. Moving beyond to gold and platinum and certainly to net zero or, even better, regenerative buildings, are higher goals that require a more complex process implemented at the beginning of project work.

Toward that end, P+W developed the 2030e2 Energy Estimating + Evaluation Tool to help project teams - its own and others - set goals and measure results against baseline data, answering a common criticism of the Challenge. "It's called a challenge for a reason," says Layne. "It's not as easy as simply measuring energy use against averages for that building type. What we're finding in our work is that a lot of the projects we do are very complex buildings and don't necessarily have an existing direct correlation or a standard to be measured against. Also, how do you measure an urban planning or interiors project that doesn't necessarily have a mechanical component. The difficulty goes beyond actually doing the work."

P+W also developed the Precautionary List, a database of products and materials harmful to humans, animals, and the environment that should not be used in projects, theirs and others. These initiatives are clearly stated in P+W's strategic plan.

P+W represents the best of who we are as an industry. So do hundreds, no - make that thousands - of other practitioners for whom it is not enough to pass a test, earn a credential or sign up for the Challenge. To practice what we preach we need to know and use best practices, benchmark our projects, measure and share our results. Authenticity, accuracy, transparency. Precisely the opposite of greenwashing.