NAIOP (the Commercial Real Estate Development Association), which previously graced these pages with its dumb study on energy efficiency, proves once again that they really don't get it. We have called the HSBC headquarters Greenwash and accused it of the LEEDwashing sin of being laughingly inappropriate; NAIOP calls it the Green Development of the Year. As with the energy study, they demonstrate that the industry is completely stuck in a time warp of shiny new suburban buildings on greenfield sites. And, their press release gave us more information about the building that makes it appear even more ludicrous.
The building is LEED Gold; from the air, still under construction when Google shot it, it is so obvious why it got points for
"reduced site disturbance during the development phase by maintaining open spaces, existing ponds and undisturbed prairie lands."
It also probably got LEED points for the acres of decked parking. In one of the craziest twists of LEED logic, if you build a new headquarters in the middle of nowhere so all your employees have to drive to work, creating far more greenhouse gas and using far more energy than your super-efficient building will ever save, you will actually get a point for building decked parking because it uses less land than surface parking.
HSBC encourages employees to use alternative public transportation and fuel efficient automobiles by providing shuttle service to metro lines, priority parking for approved efficient cars, and bicycle storage and changing rooms within the facility.
But just look at that aerial view again. considerably more land is taken up by those two parking decks than the building itself. But they get points for:
The landscaping design and combination of green roof and Energy Star white roof work together to reduce heat islands on and around the building.
Yes, green roofs are wonderful for controlling runoff. And the heat island effect from the roof is such a problem when the building covers less than 10% of the site. But there is roughly a quarter of a million square feet of parking deck. What are they doing to ameliorate its heat island effect? Telling their employees to drive white cars? And what about controlling its runoff?
Oh, wait, there are points for water management:
the project reduces wastewater generation by 82 percent and water usage by 68 percent through the use of low flow fixtures, dual flush toilets and a 30,000 gallon rainwater reuse system.
But they couldn't be bothered to spend the money to bury the parking, essentially giving it a green roof. A good Chicago rainstorm dropping an inch of rain on 255,000 square feet of deck creates 157,000 gallons of instant runoff. Tell me that a green roof on the building, low flow fixtures and a 30,000 gallon rainwater reuse system are meaningful in that context.
I am sorry, just looking at the aerial photograph makes it clear as day why this building commits the LEEDwashing sin of being laughably inappropriate. Its location in the middle of nowhere and the scale of its above grade parking decks negate the effect of just about anything they do in the building. It's a fine building with a lot of nice green features. But if you don't solve the commute and bury the parking it is all for nought.
LEED is a wonderful tool that is constantly evolving, and many loopholes are being closed with the 2009 version, which gives more weight to the issues raised in this post. I am not criticizing USGBC and the LEED program here, they know about these issues and are dealing with them. Buildings take a long time to design and build, and everyone is learning as they go.
But for NAIOP to call HSBC the Green Building of the Year is just dumb. The era of the standalone suburban office park is over; it may take decades just to re-fill the see-throughs standing now. The HSBC building is a dinosaur; I suspect that so is NAIOP.
More on NAIOP and the HSBC building
The Four Sins of LEEDwashing: LEED Green Buildings That Perhaps Aren't Really Green : TreeHugger
Greenwash Watch: HSBC Headquarters
That 70s Show: Developers Still Don't Know How To Make a Building Green