When It Comes To Net zero Banks in the Burbs, The Internet Is Wrong About My Being Wrong. I Think.
Image credit TD Bank
I thought I was very careful and considered in my discussion of TD's Net Zero Energy bank branch. I described what good environmental corporate citizens they were and how happy I was as a customer. But I did point out that it was plopped in the middle of a sea of asphalt and that the whole exercise was equivalent to taking five cars off the road, far fewer than the suburban sprawl it was serving was adding.
The reaction was virulent, ranging from Julia's "Lloyd has gone off his rocker" to Lisa's "I loathe these types of articles, they simply paint environmentally and sustainable minded people as extremists who can never be pleased."There were more, including bmaz:
Treehugger is way too preachy, its getting really annoying. Should TD not build this branch? Is this not a good alternative to the 'regular' branches. Should TD take it on themselves to fix the issue of urban sprawl?
Preston of Jetson Green, who I admire greatly, wrote:
This article has a harsh underlying message that's really, really depressing. What you're saying is this: there's an environmental problem that cannot be solved by the green building leaders -- folks at the forefront of sustainable design, smart construction, renewable energy, or green technology; this problem can only be solved by planners, lawyers, and regulators.
Preston is right; it is depressing. we have a real problem of designing sustainable cities, and I just don't believe that you can separate the building from its context. I don't believe that designing green buildings is going to make much of a difference if we don't deal with the urban design that they are part of. But I don't know what can be done about it or what I should expect from TD; E55 is right when he/she says:
If they don't go where the customers are, they won't be successful; if they're not successful, they won't be in business. And then, it won't matter what they build. (Moreover, their competitors will step in to the locational void and build a more traditional suburban energy hogging suburban bank branch.)
And that's depressing.
I frankly was uncertain about my position and upset by the response. I asked a few people who write about these issues for their opinion on the post and the comments.
Nate Berg is a freelance journalist, contributing editor for Planetizen, His work has appeared on Planetizen, National Public Radio, Wired, Fast Company, Next American City, Dwell, the Christian Science Monitor, the Guardian, and Planning, among others. Nate studied print journalism and environmental planning at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles.
Buildings can be green, and this one seems to be. But no building is its own universe. We need to start paying more attention to how buildings blend in (or don't) with the urban realm around them, and how that blend plays out in terms of the energy usage and the lifestyle it physically imposes. This bank branch blends in perfectly with its surroundings, but that means being a typical, car-oriented, suburban-style building that is only driven to. One new building isn't going to unwrite the reality of a car-oriented community, but we should probably reconsider it as being totally "green" if it reinforces those bad habits imposed by the built environment. Essentially, this building can only do so much good, as it's a victim of its surroundings. But it could have maybe tried to counteract some of those car-reliant tendencies. How about phasing out those drive-throughs? Small changes like that will eventually snowball, and as they do a different sort of lifestyle will emerge to respond to the subtle impositions of the built environment.
Alex Wilson coined the mouthful "transportation energy efficiency" that I allude to in the last line in the post. He is founder and executive editor of Building Green, author of Your Green Home; the Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings, as co-author; and the Rocky Mountain Institute's comprehensive textbook, Green Development: Integrating Ecology and Real Estate, along with hundreds of articles for publications from Architectural Record, to Popular Science.
"Transportation energy intensity" is a performance property of a building--but it's not about the building itself; it's about where the building is located and how people get to it. It's a tough concept to wrap your mind around--but I think it's just as important as the standard energy intensity of the building (how much energy a building requires for heating, cooling, lighting, appliances, and all the stuff we plug in).
The significance of this metric of building performance first became clear to me when I heard a presentation by Dan Nall, FAIA, P.E. Dan, of Flack and Kurtz, in New York City. Dan is both an architect and engineer, and a leading expert on energy use in buildings. He told us that some back-of-the-envelope calculations he had done suggested that an average office building in this country accounts for more energy use getting people to and from the building (commuting) than the building itself uses for operations. This was a shocker--a real slap-in-the-face wake-up call. In Environmental Building News, I set out to do somewhat more sophisticated calculations--mining statistics on commuting distance, modes of commuting, vehicle miles-per-gallon, and square footage used per employee--to be able to compute the energy use per square foot of office building per year (the same metric used in reporting operating energy use by buildings). This analysis allowed me to compare the operating energy use of a building with this new metric of "transportation energy intensity." And, indeed, based on the statistic I found, Dan was correct. We use more energy getting to and from commercial office buildings than those buildings use for heating, cooling, lighting, and such.
Kaid Benfield is Director, Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth, NRDC; co-founder, LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system; co-founder, Smart Growth America coalition. He was tied up in a meeting all week and did not have time to respond, but did note:
"Wow, those comments are brutal. I didn't think your post was all that harsh, really!"
Regular commenter Lisa wondered why I did not acknowledge my error, as I have before when she pointed them out.
Lloyd, why so quiet? I'd be interested in what you have to say to the basically unanimous vote that you might have made a blunder with this one.
I have to say that I have thought about this for days, and reiterate that TD has done a great job under the circumstances. But I still conclude that, as my one supporter Ruben noted sarcastically,
Oh wait. Lloyd I was wrong, this post is stupid. Please confine all future posts to different geometric patterns for deck-chair arrangement on unsinkable vessels.
We have to look at the issue of context, of how we get around, about how we make streets, about how we encourage walkable communities, how we live in a world after oil.
Otherwise it really is just rearranging deck chairs, or as Ruben notes, since we are a design journal as well as an environmental one, recovering them.