Zero Energy: What is a Green Building Anyway?

The concept of a Green Building seems great. I'm all in favor of conserving energy. But not when it means creating an excruciating work environment. Green builders should build green buildings rather than just jumping on the bandwagon.

The Deseret News recently ran an article about saving energy from building "green" office complexes. I think it sounds like a great idea.
"We need to educate CEO's, COO's, brokers and investors about why they should be thinking about green," said Jeppeson, who is president of Salt Lake City-based Green Earth Development. "It's not just about being good for the environment."

The biggest benefits for businesses to consider environmental standards in their developments are economic, because they can pocket the savings from lower operating costs from energy efficiency and reduced maintenance.

"We can save 25 percent of operating costs, and that goes immediately to the bottom line of a developer," he said. "The value of the real estate increases tremendously."
The implication here, I thought, was that money could be saved by the way buildings are architected. I hope this is true. In the case of at least one office tower, this is decidedly not the case.
The new Thomas Mayne designed Federal Building at 7th and Mission Streets in San Francisco is a case in point. Lauded by the New York Times as a building that “may one day be remembered as the crowning achievement of the General Services Administration’s Design Excellence program,” what some believe is the greenest federal building in the nation’s history also likely has the worst work environment. While architectural describe the building’s “sense of airiness” as “magical,” employees view working in this heat and air-conditioning free building with the wavy concrete floors and ceilings as a nightmare.
It sounds like they've pretended to reduce their carbon footprint on the backs of Federal employees. Here are some of the features of the building:
  • No heating or air-conditioning (as mentioned above)
  • Elevators that only stop at every third floor. It remains to be seen how many employees will resort to using the disability elevator, which stops at all floors.
  • People use umbrellas to block out the sun in certain portions of the building.
  • The building was built for millions of dollars over budget, yet still failed to receive the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating.
  • Employees can use the cafeteria--in the building across the street.
. . .

Here's a little something that has gotten me a tad nervous about the green movement, though.
Global Green USA establishes collaborative partnerships with local governments, affordable housing organizations, and other public and private entities to facilitate the development, adoption, and implementation of sustainable policies, programs, and practices. These partnerships inform and direct education, policy development, and advocacy efforts at the local, state, and federal levels. Global Green USA also partners with housing developers and public agencies to 'green' select affordable housing projects.
Rather, I agree with Don Fitz.
Don Fitz is not a fan of green building. At least not the type he perceives the current green building vogue to represent: a movement by green architects, activists and politicians to promote building practices and "eco-techniques" with a narrow focus that do little to address the underlying environmental problems.

He laments the fact that politicians in particular rarely demonstrate any real concern towards global warming, often choosing just to hitch their rides to the green bandwagon in order to bask in the positive glow it brings.
I don't mind Global Green working with private entities to suggest new ways to build more energy-efficient buildings.

It's this collaboration with government, government, and government in order to compel greenness that seems a little creepy.


  1. With the "green" movement it is not about coming up with solutions that add to the quality of life, rather it is about using the force of government to compel us all to live how they think we should.

  2. In the Winter you can freeze and in the summer you can roast, but at least you will have that good feeling in your heart knowing you are doing something for the environment.

    Hey while your freezing your butt off you can have that warm feeling in your heart knowing that Algore is nice and comfy in his private Jet not hurting the environment because your sacrifice is offsetting his lifestyle.

  3. Ken, with all do respect, your comments are getting worse, not better.

    And Frank, playing devil's advocate here again, weren't we just discussing in a recent post that taking action to prevent global warming would have adverse effects on the economy?

    And by extension, isn't the development of green technology, including the construction of green office buildings creating jobs that help to bolster the economy?

    After a while, these arguments begin to seem more like ideological (and irrational) resistance to anything with the word "green," "environment," or "global warming" than they are reasoned assessments.

    Also, anytime you find Ken agreeing with you in the comments, you've got to be a far cry from reasonable thought. Just kidding Ken. Sort of.

  4. Hey Jason

    Over the weekend I had over 7000 hits on my blog and generated over 100 comments on just one post. How many did you have? Hmmm?

  5. "playing devil's advocate here again..."

    So now we're all about big business? We're talking about an office building that by all accounts really sucks to actually work in, but since it's "green" all we care about is that it bolstered the economy?

  6. Jason,

    No, that's not what I was saying. I absolutely support private attempts to improve our environment. If government controls those attempts, they will fail, just as the George H W Bush building in San Francisco--referred to in this article. I think that taking care of the environment is very important, but that government usually makes the environment worse. Communism countries have the worst environmental records.


    In many cases this is true (that greens are about coming up with govt compulsion solutions). I don't believe they all are. I think it's important to remember which one's are and aren't and support those who truly have a solution that helps us be better stewards of the environment.

  7. We often hear from the left that "the development of green technology, including the construction of green office buildings [will] creat[e] jobs that help to bolster the economy."

    That's like saying the federal tax code helps the economy by creating jobs for accountants. Money spent doing taxes and building green buildings is money that could be spent on a business' core focus, including hiring people, or returned to investors.

  8. Where in the article did it say that the office building temperature was unbearable. If built right the building would stay at a stable temperature. Oh, and is that God awful to walk up three flights of stairs? Just wondering....why America is obese that is.

  9. If you've ever lived in SF, you know you don't need A/C and office buildings in that city, don't need heat (b/c all the heat thrown off by computers, people, etc). The building might suck and be a bad design but it's not b/c you can't make a livable zero A/C and Heat building in SF. I agree w/ another poster that complaining about walking 3 floors is... well, it's why America is so fat. The needing umbrellas b/c of day-lighting indicates bad design.

    I'd semi-agree w/ the overall point that govt mandates of green technology/techniques is bad, however, mandating performance standards (for earthquakes, fire-safety, or energy efficiency) is just good government and exactly why we need government. You can argue the free-market takes care of such standards but you'd know that history of whole cities burning or falling down in an earthquake refute that argument.

  10. New reader to the site here. Glad to see lots of environmental posts, but I have to respectfully disagree with several points. I don’t think the post actually answers what a green building is, as the title suggests. There are just over 1000 LEED certified buildings out there showing the environmental benefits of green building and successful adoption in key areas, and the building chosen and highlighted failed to meet a LEED rating.

    Buildings account for 65% of electricity consumption, 36% of energy use, 39% of emissions, 30% of raw material use, 30% of waste, and 12% of water consumption. Green building currently works to reduce all of these – the key areas being water use, energy use, and material use.

    And I don’t believe your point agrees with the point Don Fitz is making. The Fitz article has as the #10 reason that ‘voluntary green ain’t green.’ Fitz talks about looking at the big picture of green cities and neighborhood development, which will never be accomplished without government incentives, requirements, and restrictions. There is a reason Portland is the greenest city in America, and it is largely because of government incentives to both business and homeowners.

  11. GMA,

    Thanks for stopping by SUMP.

    I'm definitely not an expert on green buildings, so I appreciate your clarifications.

    I tend to disagree, then, with Fitz's "voluntary green ain't green". We need to find ways that privately (naturally) incentivize people to take care of our environment. I don't support government incentives, because they generally create bigger problems (case in point--ethanol and the food crisis) than the ones they intend to solve.

  12. Confronting the Challenges of Tomorrow
    While Cherishing Today

    Our world today confronts current economic hardship, which represent both a challenge and an opportunity for us to assert our ability to work together for the good of all. Efforts to combat abuse and waste have fallen short. Many countries around the world suffer from the shortage of resources such as water and energy, which threatens their stability and whose capacity and resources disable them from containing the panic, thus necessitating, in such a situation, assistance for those countries in dealing with the crisis. Our world also confronts numerous environmental challenges such as limited and declining natural resources, climate change, drought and desertification, all of which require the redoubling of worldwide efforts to address them in order to safeguard the right of future generations to a secure life. The scarcity of water and energy threatens the eruption of conflicts in different parts of the world, and the nations of the world are therefore called upon to maximize the benefit from, and the proper management of, available water and energy resources while respecting and protecting the acquired rights of nations to utilize and further develop those resources.
    We must work together as a cohesive force to expedite development of natural resources, eliminate the abuse of the environment. Utilize today’s technology to expand the desalinization of water increase the development of Alternative energy with an environmental balance.
    We must learn to appreciate what we have today while protecting and preserving our natural resources for future generations.
    Jay Draiman


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