When It Comes To Green Building, Where You Are Is As Important As What You Build

HSBC Headquarters, Prospect Heights, Ill, outside of Chicago, certified LEED Gold.

A few years back, Alex Wilson of BuildingGreen started using the term "Transportation Energy Efficiency",.He defined it as "the amount of energy associated with getting people to and from that building, whether they are commuters, shoppers, vendors, or homeowners."

But Alex was really a cry in the wilderness, while developers kept building green office buildings in the suburbs and people kept building green houses deep in the country. But now the evidence, and the tools, are making it clear that where you build is as important as what you build, perhaps even more important.


Abogo score of the HSBC headquarters; note the transportation cost and carbon footprint.

Julie Wernau of The Los Angeles Times reports on the work of the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago, which has a whole toolbox of useful stuff. They have a new calculator, the Transportation Energy Index, that shows what percentage of a population takes transit or drives, based on census and other data. (At Greenbuild they told me that it would be public in December but I do not see it yet). She writes:

Experts say the ability to quantify the energy spent getting to and from a building could force businesses to reconsider what it means to be green. Transportation emissions account for 29% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and the newly quantifiable data could spur development in urban areas served by public transportation.

The USGBC, which administers LEED, has hired CNT to build a better tool to predict energy required for travel to a building, but it isn't easy to make it really accurate:

"You have to understand why the people get there, how far they have to go, what kind of transportation they use, what the energy impact is of that," [CNT scientist Peter] Haas said.

The tool uses "as the crow flies" miles, rather than mapped routes to determine the transportation efficiency of a building. It relies on census data and the National Transit Database to determine where visitors are generally traveling from and the modes of transportation they are likely to use or have available.

More in the LA Times.


Downtown Chicago, where HSBC used to be located. (not the exact site, but probably comparable) note that the footprint is a fraction of the new location, and the cost a lot less, too,

TreeHugger has looked at this issue before, discussing the new LEED certified headquarters of HSBC. All the green goodness in the world in that building do not begin to compensate for the carbon footprint of its 3,000 employees coming to work.

More on the HSBC building:

Dumb and Dumber: NAIOP Calls HSBC HQ Green Project of the Year
LEEDwashing sin of being laughingly inappropriate;
Greenwash Watch: HSBC Headquarters

calgary enegy consumption

There are other data that confirm the idea; Canada's Urban Archetypes Project looked at 32 communities in 12 cities and found that location was everything when it came to energy consumption. You could live in a drafty old barn and still use a lot less. See Minus Oil: Forget Hybrids And Solar Panels, We Need Active, Exciting and Vibrant Cities

It is about time that this issue got taken seriously. More on Transportation Energy Intensity:
The Transportation Energy Intensity of Buildings
Jargon Watch: "Transportation Energy Intensity" of Buildings

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