Do We Need a Compass or a Map to Find Our Way to Sustainability?

Do We Need a Compass or a Map to Find Our Way to Sustainability?

I'm reading Gavin Menzies' fascinating book "1421" and was thinking about the challenges of early explorers while lulling in an L-tryptophan induced haze: How do you get somewhere without a compass or a map? (More importantly, how do you get back?)

But if you had one of them, which one would you prefer? The obvious answer is "both," but I think in my case, I'd prefer a compass. LEED was designed as a compass. Because we don't really know where we are as we climb what Interface's Ray Anderson calls "Mt. Sustainability" we need to refer to the last place we were, the so-called "better than" approach.

Buildings are as close to us as our skin, yet we probably know more about how outer space works than we know about how our buildings work. And in an old-fashioned sense, all it really takes to know our buildings is to explore them.

Maps are only as good as the data that goes into them and we are only just now getting the data in to begin sketching our way to something that looks like a zero-footprint building. And, as Ron Wilson discusses in his blog piece, the "old-fashioned" art of building commissioning is exactly the kind of exploration that needs to take place.

Many early explorers were out for the thrill of it, while others were more goal-driven, whether for fame or riches. Although I continue to believe that the road up Mt. Sustainability is paved with $20s, I think the ability to claim leadership is among the stronger drivers today. So in the runup to Copenhagen, I think it's appropriate to recognize some leaders in this area. Since we all know that buildings are the largest contributor to climate pollution, these folks must be doing quite a bit there.

EPA's Climate Leader's program is designed to bring out corporate urges for fame (if not fortune) and this week Kohl's stores became the first retailer to commit to reaching zero net greenhouse gas emissions. There are several EPA Climate Leaders that have committed to zero net emissions and they all deserve a shout-out:

Shaklee Corporation, one of America's finest consumer products companies based in Pleasanton, CA, achieved net zero in 2006, so they are at the head of the class. Shaklee Chairman and CEO, Roger Barnett has led the company to several environmental performance awards at the state and national level. We need more folks like Roger in the C-suite.

First Environment, a New Jersey consulting firm, achieved net zero in 2008, so they also get to be at the head of the list. Snaps for First Environment's President, Tod Delaney.

Other net-zero pledges include:

An interesting tool just came out that I'm sure would interest all EPA's Climate Leaders is RSC equipment's construction equipment emissions tracker. Construction phase environmental impacts is definitely terra incognito for LEED and maybe this is something that can help promote innovation there.

{related_content}Wells Fargo is another EPA Climate Leader, which we reported earlier has pledged to reduce their U.S. emissions by 20 percent, is amplifying their reach beyond their real estate footprint to include greater investment in cleantech companies developing renewable energy technologies, energy and resource efficiency solutions and smart grid applications.

It looks like companies are beginning to appoint people to head up their explorations of green building opportunities, such as Arnco, a California company that now has a GEO "green enabling officer" -- has a nice ring to it.

ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability is launching a toolkit today to help cities develop their sustainability programs. ICLEI's new toolkit is based on the best practices model pioneered by city of New York's PlaNYC and local governments will be able to access comprehensive sustainability guidance developed by cities for cities.

I'd love to see some of Sustainable South Bronx's innovative community programs in green roofs and green buildings incorporated into this toolkit. Check out SSB's Executive Director Miquela Craytor's inspirational blog about local empowerment. The Bronx was also home to some really cool urban gardening initiatives and Valcent Company has created a really cool high-density vertical growing system that is perfect for urban environments and maybe some of the green roofs that Sustainable South Bronx is developing. I'm sure it is this vision that inspired Robert Kennedy Jr. to join Valcent's advisory board.

This week's Look-Grandpa-I-picked-up-the-$20-bill-you-said-was-fake-but-it's-real! award goes to AT&T's for hiring new energy chief John Schinter. Let's see if he can marshal the company to commit to being an EPA Climate Leader while scooping up all those twenties!

Next week, in honor of the Copenhagen conference, we will revisit some of the environmental impact figures we developed in the Green Building Market & Impact Report and respond to some questions from sharp-eyed readers. If something in the report has caught your eye & you'd like some answers, please let me know!

Rob Watson is the executive editor of You can reach Rob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @KilrWat.

Images CC licensed by Flickr users Ratko Bozovic, Sundials by Carmichael and Flawka.