Greenwash Watch: HSBC Headquarters

The new HSBC headquarters is over half a million square feet of green goodness, with rainwater collection, drought resistant landscaping, renewable energy, paper-free cafeteria all topped off with a green roof and going for LEED Gold certification. What could be wrong with that?

For one thing, 3,000 employees formerly working in Chicago are now commuting to " Mettawa, once predominantly a horse farm, chosen in part because of its open space and rural setting. The village, with only 500 people and an area of about five square miles, is so small that it does not have a village hall."

hsbc lions at building photo

Architect Stephen Wright of Wright Heerema Architects, told the New York Times that the HSBC structure raised the bar for green and smart buildings. "This is the most sophisticated environmentally sensitive building we've ever designed," he said.

Kaid Benfield of the Natural Resources Defence Council has another opinion.

"God, where to start. What we really have here is yet another high-tech building calling itself "green" but that warrants the label only if you completely discount the sprawling, totally automobile-dependent location. Research proves that buildings in sprawling locations cause far more carbon emissions from employees and visitors driving to and from them than they save with energy-efficient building technology.

In this particular case, not only does putting a single building on a 29-acre site waste land and guarantee that nothing is or ever will be within walking distance beyond the HSBC campus (as it turns out, there's no walkable infrastructure or logical walking destinations nearby anyway). But the new building is also located in a place that, notwithstanding (or perhaps because of) the "easy access to Interstate 94," is known to generate high rates of driving. I suppose I don't have to add, but will, that there is no public transit access. "


I know that LEED takes location into account; that may be why the building is going for gold instead of platinum. But perhaps some things should be deal-breakers when it comes to calling a building green; putting in special spaces for alternative fuel vehicles doesn't cut it when you are moving 3,000 employees out of the city and dropping them on a farm.

More on LEED in TreeHugger

HSBC Tower Gets Mexico's First LEED Gold Rating
Adobe Achieves LEED Platinum
LEED Introduces Protactinium Level
Donovan Rypkema: LEED stands for "Lunatic Environmentalists ...
Hearst Tower Leed Certified in "Gold"

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