LEED® is the New Black: Can eco-friendliness outlast our own attention spans?

photo credit: Nationalgeographic.com

It finally happened. Thanks to Al Gore, polar bears, and time-lapse glacier photos, being green is trendy. Celebrities sport organic bamboo T-shirts with giant recycle symbols; green energy stock is through the roof; every retail store has reusable shopping bags (albeit each one of their own design). The effects of climate change may not be visible everywhere yet, but everybody has started to feel the heat. Literally.
Today, being green is good business. From a PR perspective, people like companies who respect the environment because it gives them a sense that they will respect their customers as well. In architecture and design, LEED® gold certification is the modern version of the Pritzker Prize.
The city of Decatur, home to Function:, has embraced this trend with open arms.
David Orr, ecological design guru and author of Down to the Wire: Confronting the Climate Collapse, recently gave a talk at Agnes Scott College here in Decatur. As one of the founding professors of Environmental Studies (currently at Oberlin College in Ohio), he focuses his studies and work on Environmental policies and, more recently, on green building. In a speech Orr gave, he talked about realities for ecobuilding: "Is it possible to design buildings so well and so carefully,” he asked, “that they do not cast a long ecological shadow over the future that our students will inherit? We now know that such things are possible -- that buildings can be designed to give more than they take."
The kicker? This speech took place in 1999, over 10 years ago. Clearly, Dr. Orr was ahead of his time, a pioneer of the movement. But is the environmental movement moving slower than it should be?
During his lecture at Agnes Scott, Orr had a catchphrase: “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.” In line with his working philosophy, David Orr’s new book is not just a sobering assessment of climate change; it’s an urgent call to action. Unlike other more macabre presentations of a rapidly destabilizing planet, though, Orr offers something redemptive: realistic and effective solutions. Not for reversing the damage done already, which most scientists don’t think is possible, but for slowing the decline of natural resources. His plan in action can be seen in Oberlin, OH. Orr and his former students, now architects, engineers and community activists, are responsible for the $7.2 million Oberlin Environmental Studies Center, named the most remarkable college building by the New York Times and recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy. Among its other milestones, the center is only U.S. college building to be completely solar powered and the first to be completely climate neutral.
We can only hope that this trend will last longer than bell-bottoms or boy-bands. Active hoping, with our sleeves rolled up and our minds looking towards the future of green building and green living.

jessi probus
public relations intern
we’re into building things through marketing, design and public relations

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