Sustainable Development and “Green Buildings” Aren’t Synonyms

Sustainable development is critical for the future of the planet. So called green buildings are an important part of a comprehensive sustainable development strategy. An important part, but not the whole thing. Far, far too many environmentalists and “green architects” in the US think that green buildings and sustainable development are synonyms and they are not. That is equivalent to thinking that going to the dentist is all there is to health care.

Here is my latest example of myopic idiocy of environmental groups. The Nature Conservancy, allegedly a leader in the environmental world (in spite of the Congressional investigations into their conflict of interest policies) is building a new state headquarters in Indianapolis. Their director even says, “We’re an international conservation organization. If anyone should be walking the walk of sustainability it should be The Nature Conservancy.”

I couldn’t agree more. So what is their version of “walking the walk?” – tearing down a hundred year old industrial warehouse to build a LEED certified suburbanesque green gizmo building. Why? “Oh, it’s deteriorated beyond saving” they say, when in fact engineering reports say that is not the case. “Oh, but it would be too expensive” they say, and yet their budget would permit $175 per square foot to be spent. Is that enough? Well, another non-profit is renovating an older building of about the same size in Indianapolis which will be LEED certified, and their estimated costs? $68 per square foot.

OK, I’m not being exactly fair. The Nature Conservancy is going to be reusing the building – once it’s demolished they are going to grind up the bricks and use them in the walkway of their “conservation” garden.

And when local preservationists began objecting to the plans to demolish an historic structure, how did the Nature Conservancy respond? “You do that and we won’t build here at all.” – the bully tactics one expects from some sleazy corporate site selection guy, not from a non-profit organization which brags about its concern for communities.

So if any of you have connections with the Nature Conservancy you ought to let them know that their Indiana chapter is making a mockery out of the claim to be walking the walk of sustainable development.