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Green Building: A Mission Uncertain

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 18, 2017

By Robert J. Kobet, AIA


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On Friday, Jan. 20, Donald J. Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. With the exception of Nixon’s 1972 election, I cannot remember a time or an individual that has precipitated such strong emotions on the state of our Union and where it is going.

The White House

“The White House” by Ken Lund / CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

Donald J. Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States on Nov. 8, 2016. The inauguration ceremony will be held Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.

None of Trump’s cabinet appointees, or special advisors bode well for any hope of environmental stewardship, protection of public lands, or further development of extensive renewable energy strategies; quite the opposite.

On a macro level, pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, promoting fossil fuels, limiting the power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), undoing President Obama’s work on the Clean Power Plan, and Trump’s proposed energy policies may gravely impact the environment, including the built environment. See: "What Trump's Victory Means for the Environment (it's not good)."

As an architect and college professor who has dedicated his entire career to sustainable design and development, high performance green buildings and environmental education, I find these leanings depressing and alarming.

An Interview with Trump

Speaking specifically about the green building movement, in a Nov. 10, 2016, Green Building Law Update, Stewart Kaplan wrote, “But make no mistake, the green building industrial complex has its work cut out for it. In a now widely rewatched 2012 Squawk Box interview, Donald Trump did not have positive things to say about a friend’s green office building, including, ‘You won’t have enough light in the winter and you’re going to be extremely cold. In the summer you’re going to be sweating at your desk.’” See: "Trump Election Can Make Green Great Again."

Trump’s comments illustrate abject ignorance about what green buildings are and the emphasis they put on occupancy comfort and performance, effective daylighting, etc. It could be that Trump was taking a swipe at his “friend’s green office building” as a way of elevating his own, non-green portfolio which is largely devoid of sustainable building projects except where green building certification is required. (The Trump International Hotel’s LEED certification of the old DC Post Office Building is pending)

Or, it could also be that Trump simply does not understand the role of green buildings in matters of national interest, from creating jobs to national security.

Department of Defense Work

I am reminded of the green building consulting I have done for the Department of Defense. These sessions ranged from a LEED workshop held in the Pentagon, to several green building and multiple LEED workshops presented to a number of NAVFAC facilities in Norfolk, Virginia, Jacksonville, Florida, and Guam.

The Pentagon workshop is particularly memorable as it was around the time budget discussions involving sequestering DoD funds were taking place. Prior to the workshop we were all briefed by a uniformed program officer who told us the budget discussions were going to be highly politicized, but they had to focus on the task at hand.

The “task at hand” was decreasing the cost of operation and maintenance of American military bases while increasing their security and operational readiness. It was the officer’s opinion that the DoD budget could be reduced by 10 percent without effecting operational readiness, but we would never hear that claim made by anyone associated with the military industrial complex.

The Pentagon

"The Pentagon" by David B. Gleason / CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

Among my consulting projects with the Department of Defense, I participated in a LEED workshop held in the Pentagon.

His assertions included strategies to rethink role of the 800 U.S. military bases outside the of the country, including 170 golf courses, many of which are relics of the Cold War. I was stunned by this admission, but his claims have since been “clarified” in such publications as “The Pornography of Power,” and “The Prize—The Epic Quest for Oil, Power and Money,” both of which cite the connection between big oil, the consumption of fossil fuels and the military.

Green Goals

We were there as part of a DoD strategy to integrate high-performance green buildings into a larger effort to:

  • Reduce reliance on fossil fuels;
     
  • Increase the use of renewable energy sources that cannot be compromised by embargoes;
     
  • Decentralize power distribution and get military bases off the grid;
     
  • Increase water conservation and insure water quality by using protected local sources, including rainwater harvesting, storm water management, etc.; and
     
  • Do as much as possible to increase the health, productivity and morale of service men and women.

My experience is that the various branches of the military have accomplished great progress toward these goals, and others, using green building certifications as a guide.

Their esprit de corps, incredible engineering prowess and sense of patriotism drives these efforts; I have seen it first hand. Throughout the workshop the officer was quick to note how the strategies being developed to make military bases more efficient and secure could be directly applied to cities and towns across the country if we ever embraced a movement to rebuild our infrastructure.

Which is why I see recent events and the Trump presidency as very troubling. George Carlin said, “The United States is an oil company with an army.” The recent images from Standing Rock and the pending appointment of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State underscore that observation. Neither give me hope the United States will be more secure in the coming years.

Trump says he wants to rebuild our infrastructure. It remains to be seen if green building will be a part of it.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER

Robert J. Kobet, AIA

Robert J. Kobet has worked with clients on five continents for more than 35 years to create innovative places to live, work and learn. As an architect, educator, speaker, former chair of LEED for Schools, primary author of LEED for General Contractors and Construction Managers, and president and CEO of The Kobet Collaborative, Bob is working to make his vision for a green building era a reality. Leaning Green explores that reality. Contact Bob.

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Tagged categories: Building design; Carbon footprint; Design; Eco-efficiency; Economy; Environmental Protection; Environmentally friendly; Government; Green building; Green design; Renewable raw materials; Sustainability

Comment from Jesse Melton, (1/19/2017, 8:23 AM)

People worry too much about the government undoing previous legislation; especially when it's something huge where hundreds of billions of dollars have already been spent on compliance.

By rolling back legislation that demanded heavy investment to meet the requirements every single dollar already spent is suddenly a fine lasting 10, 15, 20 years. The money has been spent and the expenses have been amortized to the maximum extent possible. Those expenses are on the books now, there's no way to expunge them without unfairly penalizing company stakeholders, shareholders, banks, employees and retirees. There's no way for politicians to win once big bucks have already been spent by private companies, so anything they do (if anything beyond rhetoric) is fairly toothless. Everyone should relax. It'll all be fine. Or don't relax and spend the next several years worrying about things you have zero impact on. Then everything will still be fine, you'll probably just die a little sooner from a heart attack.


Comment from Robert Kobet, (1/19/2017, 8:54 AM)

Thanks for your comment, Jesse. Any optimism I have is in if and when we see redirecting taxes to renewables and rebuilding the infrastructure as valid ways to increase our national security, create jobs that are not, by nature, simply through puts, and "capitalize" on the connection between environmental stewardship and economic opportunity. I see that as a win / win for the American tax payer, but it comes down to who makes money and who doesn't.


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