It’s not easy being green | Don Brunell

Reducing mankind’s carbon footprint has become the defining issue of our time and rightly so. Virtually every level of government has policies to reduce greenhouse gases by regulating everything from industrial CO2 emissions to cow flatulence.

Reducing mankind’s carbon footprint has become the defining issue of our time and rightly so. Virtually every level of government has policies to reduce greenhouse gases by regulating everything from industrial CO2 emissions to cow flatulence.

But as Kermit the Frog said, “It’s not easy being green.”

It turns out that some good ideas don’t work well – or not at all.  Still, the government continues to mandate them.

For example, a three-year study funded by the Department of Energy confirmed that producing ethanol from corn and corn stalks creates more greenhouse gases than it prevents.  Despite this, the government still mandates its use in gasoline and diesel.

Wind turbines are costly and still kill thousands of birds a year.  On the best wind energy sites, those towering turbines generate electricity about 40 percent of the time. Nevertheless, the President wants to continue taxpayer subsidies for another 30 years.

The solar energy industry has been plagued by bad loans and bankruptcies, and despite billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies, solar energy produces only 0.2 percent of our nation’s electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

What about energy efficiency?  Is that a foolproof way to reduce greenhouse gases?  Well, that depends.

Analysts have discovered that certified “green” buildings actually can use more energy than standard buildings.

Much of the controversy centers on LEED, the country’s primary green building accreditation program. Operated by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council, LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification has become the gold standard for energy efficient buildings.

But LEED certification doesn’t guarantee energy efficiency.

For example, the Bank of America Tower in New York received a platinum level LEED certification as “the world’s most environmentally responsible high-rise” when it opened in

2010.  But a 2013 study by the city revealed that the billion-dollar building generates more greenhouse gases and uses more energy than any other office tower its size in Manhattan.

LEED officials point out that how tenants use a building has a big impact on actual energy usage.  In an attempt to quantify that, the Building Council is requiring all newly certified buildings to provide their energy and water bills for the first five years.

What’s the situation in Washington?

Since 2005, the state has mandated that new and renovated public buildings meet one of three “green” building standards, including LEED.  A 2011 audit found problems saying it is difficult to evaluate the program because of incomplete reporting by state agencies – a problem that persists today.

Because not all state buildings have individual utility meters and the types of buildings varies greatly (office buildings, prisons, welding shops, etc.) tracking utility usage and comparing “apples to apples” with traditional buildings is difficult.

It has been nine years since the state launched its “green” building program and Washington still lacks a comprehensive system to track performance.  While computer projections suggest significant benefits, they cannot be verified until the actual electricity and water usage are determined.

Architect Sidney Hunt, with the Department of Enterprise Services, is working to develop a metering program that will track energy and water usage for every certified state building.  His mantra is, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

Gov. Inslee wants to expand “green” building certification in the private sector.  But LEED certified buildings cost more. Are we sure the benefits are worth the added cost?  Could the money be better spent on more effective environmental measures?  We need to ask – and answer – those questions.

As we’ve seen with ethanol, wind power and solar energy, actual performance doesn’t always measure up.  We need to make sure our “green” buildings program works as promised.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist.  He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

 

More in Business

Keep the holiday spirit all year long | Don Brunell

During the holidays, our thoughts naturally turn to giving — not just giving gifts, but donating our time and money to charities, disasters and community programs.

Remember 1993

Twenty-five years ago, business took a beating in Olympia. The swing to the left in the 1992 general election was swift and potent. It drove higher costs to employers and more government regulations.

Remembering Ed Carlson, Vietnam POW

Since last Veteran’s Day, Ken Burns’ in-depth documentary on the Vietnam War has aired. It is a powerful reminder of an unpopular war in which many “baby boomers” fought and died.

Rural prosperity essential to Washington

While Seattle is growing rapidly, our rural areas continue to struggle. They don’t have the corporate giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing creating jobs and economic opportunities. Farms are predominantly family-owned.

Amazon’s plan reminiscent Boeing’s Chicago move

Last year, Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates wrote about the similarities and differences between Boeing’s corporate office move to Chicago and Amazon’s plan for a second headquarters.

LiveLocal98022 meeting cancelled

Bob Green, the night’s speaker, notified the organization he couldn’t attend due to an illness.

Expanded Panama Canal among challenges for Washington Ports

The $5.4 billion spent to expand the Panama Canal is paying off for East Coast and Gulf of Mexico seaports; however, it is putting more pressure on the Northwest to remain competitive.

Players taking a knee hurting the NFL | Don Brunell

On a recent Saturday afternoon in Portland, a young woman stepped onto the playing field at the beginning of the University of Montana vs Portland State football game and started singing our national anthem. She immediately drew a blank on the words and briefly stopped, but as she started apologizing, the fans spontaneously took up the singing.

New metal collecting machine may clean up contaminated waters

There is a new machine being tested in Montana which could decontaminate toxic mine tailings while recovering valuable precious minerals for everyday use.

Workshop will focus on business, social media

All are invited to learn how social media can impact business and how it can be used to create a positive experience for customers.

Impact of Hirst decision must be address

In Washington, the legislative stalemate over permitting new household wells and the state’s construction budget has not only delayed needed funding for public projects, but triggered yet another salvo in the wider conflict over future supplies of fresh water for people, fish and farms.

Mitigate massive wildfire danger | Don Brunell

At last count firefighters were battling 82 major wildfires in 10 western states. The fires have already scorched 2,300 square miles of forests and range lands, dislocated thousands of people, and burned hundreds of homes and buildings.