I have a tiny, very old iPod that I choose to fill with songs — often very long songs by artists specializing in those — instead of podcasts. I live in New York City and thus never drive anywhere. I listen to music in the morning (shorter songs, generally, if you must know). So there’s really not much time in my life or day to listen to National Public Radio. My parents, on the other hand… well, the only iPods they have are in their minds, but they drive everywhere, live in New Jersey and are — I’m tempted to put “thus” here — some NPR-listening parents. My wife listens. My sister listens. Friends. Just not me. But while I’m not totally immune to the charms of NPR, I’m mostly awed by the power of it. Even if it doesn’t always break stories for those of us who choose to keep up on LEED-certified mega-malls in the Bronx and the latest goings-on in Upper West Side community board heroics, NPR is how a great many right-thinking Americans find out about things. And so it is, I’d submit, a pretty big deal that NPR’s mighty All Things Considered did the first part of a two-part feature today on brand LEED, the USGBC and the ongoing mainstreaming of green building.
So, how was the story? Pretty darn good, I think. Of course it wasn’t super comprehensive — it was a segment on a multi-segment public radio show, if you’re just joining us — and much of the news about the pending surge in green building and LEED’s rise to prominence on college campuses is stuff regular gbNYC readers have already heard about. (In those instances, heard frequently) But, despite the fact that it’s clearly a good idea, much of the world doesn’t read gbNYC daily. Which means that the All Things Considered feature’s tour d’horizon of the green building scene is offering a tour of a horizon (it’s French) that many Americans know little about. And of course anything that dispels the falsely but commonly held notion that building green costs much more than building brown is welcome, especially when it’s beamed into the consciousnesses of a demographic that might still hold that (false, so false) notion.
And in the case of the USGBC’s branding of LEED, the NPR piece actually does some pretty terrific work. My view on LEED, broadly, is that it’s easily criticized but also easily better than the “it’s the best we’ve got so far” faint praise it receives. Yes, the USGBC is making boatloads of money off certifications and accrediting — $107 million last year, NPR reports, with a whopping $43 million of that coming from LEED accreditation — but having a strong brand and a good business model isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Charging fees that put certification beyond the range of all but the best-bankrolled projects and stubbornly sticking to the grade-the-blueprints philosophy sort of are, but the USGBC is at least making the right noises about working on those. And from a journalistic perspective, if a macro-scale story is to be told about green building, the USGBC and LEED are the most natural jumping off points. A bunch of cool stories on iconic retrofit projects and fervid blog posts on terrible mega-developments are interesting, but any overview of the green building scene at present really needs to take a longer view, and thus kind of has to start with LEED. And if you have to start with LEED, this passage — from Franklyn Cater’s accompanying essay at the NPR site — is a pretty economical and correct way of addressing the USGBC’s decade-long rise to mega-prominence in the scene:
LEED is set up like an arbiter of a sort of building Olympics. Projects earn points for various features. Use renewable cork flooring, for instance, get a point in the materials and resources category. Use paint that doesn’t give off toxins — score a point for indoor environmental quality. There are categories for water efficiency and energy. Pay the fees, rack up enough points, and win a basic, silver, gold or platinum rating….
“They’re one of the most savvy non-profits when it comes to how do you reach out to the press, how to do marketing, and how to communicate their message,” says Michele Russo, director of green research for McGraw-Hill Construction in Washington. “The word LEED meant nothing 10 odd years ago. And now that is literally like Kleenex is to tissues. I mean, you think of a LEED building and people think, ‘Oh it’s a green building.’”
Am I looking forward to the calls from my parents saying, “There was something on the radio today about that thing you’re interested in?” Yeah, sure, provided “that thing” isn’t the Mets, because man I really just cannot talk about them right now. But mostly, I’m looking forward to part two. And, you know, the phone calls that will follow that.