Editorial: Why Go Green?

May 19, 2009

In a magazine that features a special section with the words “Green Guide” in it, you’d probably expect to read instructional articles on how you can make choices that will help save the planet, or find a number of perfectly good reasons why you should consider the impact of your carbon footprint on the Earth.

In this editorial, I won’t be preaching the virtues of saving the planet because of a recent blog I read on the Web site, greenbydesign.com. In his self-proclaimed “rant” titled, “The Big Misunderstanding: Why We Don’t Need to Save the Planet,” blogger Hubert Den Draak argues that “saying the green movement is about saving the planet bothers me for two reasons: one, because it’s not true, and two, because it makes us do these things for all the wrong reasons. Saving the planet is a red herring.”

“Wait a minute,” you might be thinking, “what about global warming, melting polar ice caps, the destruction of rain forests and wildlife, and all of the other environmental catastrophes we keep hearing about that will result if we don’t make sustainability a way of life?”

Den Draak correctly suggests that, while making sustainable choices is a necessary thing, “making all these green choices is not about saving the planet; it’s about saving ourselves.” Quoting the late George Carlin who quipped, “The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas,” Den Draak then asks a very serious question: “What’s the worst that could happen should we decide to not turn those lights off, insulate, recycle, use CFLs, compost, or make any other effort to go green?” And he offers a very grim response: “The worst that could happen is the demise of human civilization.”

He’s right. What good are all the LEED®-rated buildings that designers and architects work so hard to design and build, and what good is all the “green” furniture beautifully arranged in them if there are no people left to occupy these spaces?

This kind of doomsday scenario sounds more like fear mongering, but perhaps if the focus of the messages we are flooded with on a daily basis (especially on Earth Day as I write this) shifted to the sustainability of humankind as opposed to the environment alone, we’d save both. Admittedly, the message of the triple bottom line does take people into account (people, planet, profit), but social responsibility always seems to get less attention than its counterparts.

Nevertheless, as time ticks on, our work must continue, and the choices we make in building our world affect our very way of life. That’s why we’ve included articles in our annual Green Guide to NeoCon® that are devoted to topics such as: green purchasing and how a holistic assessment of products on the market can alleviate the ambiguity of greenwashing (see WhatShade of Green is that?); the unexplored potential of recycling waste materials to spur innovation in new products (see A Wobble in the Recycling Loop); and finally, for a dose of optimism, an investigation into how sustainability will play into the economic stimulus plan put forth by the Obama Administration and how it will help lead us to recovery (see Does Building Green = Economic Relief?).

Another illustration of the sustainable choices and progressive work being done in the A&D community can be found in this issue’s cover story (see 'Rio' of Change). HOK Los Angeles was commissioned to design the new, state-of-the-art Rio Tinto Regional Center in South Jordan, Utah, which was no ordinary consolidation project. The center occupies 130,000 square feet of the 175,000-square-foot Daybreak Corporate Center, the first LEED Platinum commercial building in the state of Utah, reports contributing writer Carol Tisch.

In fact, the new Rio Tinto Regional Center is housed in the first large-scale commercial development within Daybreak, a 4,200-acre sustainable community where 20,000 homes and up to 13 million square feet of commercial space are planned. The live-work-play community (including the new corporate center), was developed by Kennecott Land, a Rio Tinto company established in 2001 to convert surplus mining land to provide homes, schools, shopping, medical, dining—and a host of other amenities—to Rio Tinto employees.

Perhaps this kind of forward-thinking approach to life, work and play will help to transform our choices into more sustainable ones, and give us a better reason to go green: because our lives, our livelihood—and let’s not forget our planet—depend on it.

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