In a full-frontal attack on the “so called journalists” behind a recent USA Today investigative report, which called into question the effectiveness and integrity of the U.S. Green Building Council, along with other “cynics, scoundrels, and detractors,” Rick Fedrizzi, founder and president of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) argued that the green building movement is “right” at the opening of the 2012 Greenbuild conference in San Francisco . Comparing the green building movement to the movement for human rights, women’s pursuit of the right to vote, equal rights for African Americans, and marriage equality for gay Americans, Fedrizzi argued that “LEED [its rating system] is not perfect but evolutionary by design.” He also stated that “no one can deny that the built environment is far more healthy and hospitable than it was 20 years ago.”
Fedrizzi asked, “so you can’t wear a business suit and be an environmentalist at the same time?” USGBC members can “do their core businesses – green buildings — more responsibly while also doing well.” In fact, “in capitalism, growth is essential.” Any movement that “creates new markets and jobs” while improving the health of well being of people living and working within buildings “must be doing something right.” He said detractors argues that “toxins are just a fact of life.” Fedrizzi said USGBC members want “teachers and students to be in schools that keep everyone healthy. Our focus is on the people working within these green buildings, not the emblem on the front of the building.” The U.S. green building movement also aims to “reduce carbon emissions and energy use while creating millions of new jobs.”
The head of the USGBC also took aim at climate change deniers, arguing that Hurricane Sandy clearly demonstrates that rising sea levels can have a significant impact. Unfortunately, the presidential candidates “hardly mentioned climate change at all during the last campaign, and from 2009 to 2011, stories that featured climate change fell by 42 percent.” He applauded Bloomberg BusinessWeek‘s latest cover story, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”
With President Obama elected to a second term, the shift now needs to be on improved environmental governance. “Obama needs to do more to push green buildings forward.” In a political segment featuring images of Rush Limbaugh, Fedrizzi said the administration and USGBC also needs to “attack special interests” who are holding back progress. But perhaps the overall message was bipartisan: “This can’t be about blue or red states, but green states.”
USGBC members can help “break the cycle of denial” about the environment. As an example, he argued that only with a campaign for increased transparency can we understand the impact of unhealthy materials in the built environment. He pointed to asbestos, asking whether building designers and contractors would “use this material given what we know now.” Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), endrocrine disruptors, “all of these things hurt our kids.” Transparency “helps us make better decisions.” So, Fedrizzi announced a new campaign to get building product manufacturers to “prove that their products are the best and healthiest.” This effort also got a major boost with the announcement that Google would be providing USGBC with a $3 million grant to research materials and public health.
In an earlier speech, San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee said San Francisco has become the greenest city in the US in part because of its full embrace of LEED. The city now has 48 million square feet of LEED buildings and recently won an award for its green building policies from an international green building group. Lee wants to further improve the city’s already impressive indicators. San Francisco diverts 80 percent of its waste from landfills and has the highest rates of compost and recycling in the nation. “We also have the best compost. Our compost is sent to Napa Valley to create the nation’s best wines.” The mayor then highlighted efforts to create a LEED platinum city center through retrofitting existing infrastructure and buildings and creating a new multimodal transportation hub.
Image credit: ASLA 2009 General Design Honor Award. California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco / image copyright Tom Fox