Your author’s career-long journey of itinerant, grousy keyboard-for-hire disillusionment has given me… well, something. I am an excelloent typist, and the Wall Street Journal belatedly gave me an unflattering stipple portrait of my own. Oh, and also: I have compiled, in my mind, something of a treasury of “isn’t work just the worst” quotations from various writers. There are certainly more resonant ones than Don DeLillo’s characteristically terse (if uncharacteristically straightforward) assertion in Underworld that, “capitalism strips the nuances from places.” But look around you, at the office in which you are likely reading this post. The dim cubicles and hissing flourescents and dense industrial carpeting. Dude’s got a point, right? That plain aesthetic fact makes Sunday’s New York Times article about green office spaces that much more interesting a read. For pure voyeurism, it’s hard not to admire the super-green work spaces at TriBeCa’s Green Spaces and Dumbo’s Green Desk. Considering that the office from which I do my posting doesn’t even recycle, it’s virtually impossible for me.
So, then: envy is a part of how I read Sindya Bahnoo’s piece about the green office spaces, I’ll acknowledge that. But my initial skepticism towards these ventures comes more, I think, from my workday immersion in the world of LEED points and facile greenery. I know it’s kind of what we do here, but reading about some developer tossing a bunch of goofy solar panels on top of a big dumb skyscraper doesn’t necessarily move me — and, as Stephen reported over at GRELJ, it’s increasingly clear that buildings that pile up LEED points don’t necessarily perform terribly greenly. But a look beneath some of the wincier aspects of the New York Times green office space story — “ecopreneurs?” Word? — reveals that both Green Spaces and Green Desk look to be about more than the cheap virtue of “we really care” proclamations and the brand-boost that comes with walking the green-office talk. As with anything else that’s subject to the vagaries of being a commodity (read: just about everything) it can be hard to take something like a green office space at face value. But that’s my problem, really: the fact that there is a brand boost calculation involved, or that the “e-preneur” word is being thrown around, doesn’t mitigate the fact that these seem like pretty cool places to work.
A desk at Green Desk (“a Green Desk?”) starts at $199; at Green Spaces, it’s $550. Both Green Desk and Green Spaces buy wind power, but neither makes a big deal about sustainable aspects on their websites. It’s notably easier to find out how to rent the “eco-event” space at Green Spaces than it is to turn up information on sustainable design elements in the office (for the record: passive heating and cooling systems, a nascent composting program); Green Desk foregrounds its green elements somewhat more, but neither is exactly a green showcase on the order of, say, the Bank of America Building. Which, of course, is totally fine, and to be expected. The Bank of America Building was built as a (very impressive, cost-effective) brand-boost for a company that has some notably less admirable aspects; most working people don’t have that option, and work where we work. With that in mind, wind power or no and occasional over-use of the prefix “eco” notwithstanding, it’s hard not to applaud the growth of green office spaces, or Green Desk owner Jack Guttman’s plan to expand the Green Desk franchise into downtown Brooklyn and Williamsburg. “At both Green Desk and Green Spaces, plants are everywhere, the sunlight streams in, and everyone washes his or her own coffee cups,” Bhanoo writes in the NYT story. Considering this city’s deadening, nuance-stripped offices, you’d have to be pretty skeptical about the legitimacy of green office spaces — or at least more skeptical than I — not to like the sound of that.