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Seeming Green

7/19/2005 12:00:00 AM

Tags: greenwashing

I first ran into the Green Building Initiative last March at the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association’s Building Energy conference in Boston. I picked up a slick brochure about this organization, which promised “practical and affordable” green options for builders. As it was late in the day, no one was manning the booth, so I couldn’t ask about the organization and who was behind it.

Over drinks with some green building insiders later that evening, I got the scoop on the GBI. It was chilling. Unbeknownst to me (or anyone else picking up the group’s information at this show), the GBI is funded not by the movement’s friends but by its foes, including the American Forest and Paper Association, the American Plastics Council, and the Vinyl Institute. These trade associations are fighting to weaken the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Rating System; each group wants its products to be included as acceptable “green” choices for buildings meeting LEED standards. If these lobbies have their way (and they have a considerable amount of money and other resources to make that happen), LEED ratings will be rendered meaningless to anyone who cares about the health and sustainability of our built environment.

As more Americans embrace green building, we’ve all known this type of co-option was inevitable. (Dismayed by the corporate atmosphere and number of truly unsustainable exhibitors at the USGBC’s Greenbuild conference in Portland last November, another good, old friend and green building pioneer said to me, “This is what we dreamed of twenty years ago. And now we’re here, and it stinks.”)

I was reminded of all this subterfuge this morning when I opened my email and found an e-newsletter from Bill Walsh, national coordinator of the Healthy Building Network. Bill explains that the GBI is now making inroads into the American Institute of Architects, which is convening an invitation-only Sustainable Building Standards Policy Summit this Monday, July 25. Bill urges everyone to contact members of the task force (he gives addresses and emails), asking them to postpone the summit to publicize a fair and open process for determining the AIA position on sustainable building standards and to investigate whether conflicts of interest exist between AIA executives and industry trade associations. Some powerful, brilliant, and thoughtful professionals are members of this task force. If we speak, I’m certain they’ll pay attention. Let’s make an effort to stop greenwashing before it’s too late.

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