Green Me Up, JJ: To LEED or not to LEED

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Dear JJ:

As the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, I want the new green headquarters we're building in lower Manhattan to be as green as it can possibly be. I've heard the LEED guidelines can be problematic, but is there something even better?

New York City

Dear Lloyd:

Well, first of all...Yes, let's make your building as green as possible!!

The LEED system, as not all my readers may know, is the U.S. Green Building Council's certification program: Just use the LEED point system, and you can construct your new building to be green (Certified), greener (Silver), or awesomely green (Gold). Or you can make your headquarters an OMG! building (Platinum)--in which case you'll follow in the footsteps of such leading eco-conscious companies as BP, Exxon, BASF (the world's largest chemical company), McDonald's, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America.

Sure, LEED has its critics--for such measures as preferred parking for hybrid SUVs. Also, it now turns out that some of the buildings are actually consuming a lot more energy than their non-LEED counterparts.

Still, my only real criticism of LEED is that no one can ever remember what LEED stands for.* At the same time, I think it says a lot about the program's contribution to saving the planet that I now hear "What does LEED stand for again?" almost as often as "What state's the size of the garbage patch again?" and "What's a goji berry taste like?"

How to create a truly green HQ? You can look it all up on the USGBC website, but to make your building as green as green can be, you'll need to earn points in the five major LEED categories:

Sustainable Sites (21 points) -- for actions by the people inside your building to make ecosystems and communities more sustainable rather than a whole lot less sustainable, in the U.S. and in countries around the world.

Water Efficiency (11 points) -- for development by the people inside your building of highly efficient strategies to minimize offshore oil spills, fracking, the manufacture or dumping of toxic chemicals, and other egregious sources of water pollution, in the U.S. and in a whole lot of less affluent countries around the world.

Energy & Atmosphere (37 points!) -- for expenditure of significant energy to create an unpolluted atmosphere inside the building that encourages high wages, low parachute packages, and moderate consumption levels, and that minimizes the outsourcing of industry and the shipment of tons of toxic waste to much less affluent countries around the world that have far weaker health, labor, safety, and environmental regulations.

Materials & Resources (14 points) -- for the sale, trade, design, and purchase by all those folks inside your building of foods, materials, resources and a vast range of financial products that won't dramatically increase carbon emissions, and that won't also generally entirely devastate forests, rivers, deltas, deserts, agricultural areas, low-income communities, or towns and cities very broadly, in the U.S. and in a very large number of other countries around the entire world.

Indoor Environmental Quality (17 points) -- for the quality inside your building of the ethical decision-making environment, that can say NO to e.g. massive tax avoidance, incessant litigation against EPA regulations, huge spending on meaningless greenwashing measures,* and massive spending to defeat climate-change accords--all of which the people inside your building can make happen either directly or through direct lobbying or through campaign contributions or through making many, many, many fewer campaign contributions.

So get started, Lloyd, and let us all know when the ribbon-cutting ceremony is!

* LEED (did you remember?) stands for Leadership in Economic and Environmental Do-Right-Already-ism. The USGBC also offers a separate certification program--Green Roof for Economic and Environmental Devastation--that's been more popular for corporate headquarters. The levels are Certifiable, Silver Spoon, Gold Standard, Executive Platinum, and Quadruple-Quintuple Executive Platinum. And this program, too, awards points in five categories, with guidelines on how to e.g. recycle files and memos about how to maximize both your short-term company profits and everyone's shared long-term worldwide environmental costs--all in a sunny solar-heated structure with good air circulation and preferred hybrid-vehicle parking that houses a superb legal team and an excellent PR department and uses water-efficient landscaping and has a herb garden and bike parking and gives back to the grid.

Green Me Up, JJ is an occasional advice column. You can e-mail JJ with your burning questions about how to act and think environmentally smart in our complicated 21st-century world.

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