The term “going green” is gaining favor with a growing number of companies. Look no further than “green” certification plaques displayed outside buildings, or the litany of products on store shelves labeled organic. For those concerned with keeping up appearances, going green has never been easier. But for business owners focused on creating value for customers, it’s never been more wasteful.
So-called “green” buildings provide a useful example. A host of organizations are in the business of rating buildings based on environmental standards, but the mere existence of a rating system doesn’t make these organizations credible.
One such rating system is LEED, or the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards. LEED is managed by the U.S. Green Building Council, a privately run non-profit, and promoted by Uncle Sam. However, despite its name, LEED doesn’t actually require buildings to prove that they’re ahead of the curve on energy and water efficiency.
Applicants can acquire LEED status merely by offering computer models that project the building will meet a certain threshold. Moreover, they can do this even before the building is occupied. After that, buildings don’t have to demonstrate continued efficiency. It’s like telling your parents you’ll take care of the house while they’re away and then throwing a huge party, except in this case your parents never return to see the damage.
The LEED rating system is also gimmicky. Installing a bike rack gets you a point, while adding only the minimum number of parking spaces scores you two. This allows buildings to take the easiest and cheapest path to green glory without actually doing much for the environment. LEED developer Rob Watson has even admitted to “[throwing] a few gimmes in there.” In turn, some environmentalists have rightly criticized LEED as mere “greenwashing.”
Even though building developers can easily game the system, LEED certification can still add significant costs to a new building. These costs are often borne by taxpayers. The General Services Administration estimates that soft costs alone, such as fees for LEED consultants, add about $150,000 to the price of a new federal building. That figure doesn’t even include added construction costs to achieve LEED status.
Unsurprisingly, research shows that LEED-certified buildings are often less energy-efficient than their uncertified counterparts. One study found that even in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Green Building Council’s own backyard, many of the LEED-certified buildings were the least energy-efficient of all comparable buildings.
By comparison, consider Energy Star, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own green building rating system. Unlike LEED, buildings must submit actual utility bills before they can claim the Energy Star seal. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that comparisons have shown no correlation between LEED certification and a high Energy Star score.
There’s nothing wrong with saving energy, but unfortunately “green” building ratings systems such as LEED offer little more than a plaque and a press release. What’s worse, these rating systems make buildings more expensive to build, and thus to occupy. And as more of LEED-certified buildings crop up across the country, businesses operating on thin margins will find it increasingly difficult to find affordable space.
Much of the same can be said of another “green” scheme, this one pushed by organic food activists: labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients, or GMOs. In defiance of science, many environmental activists decry genetically engineered crops like corn and soy, promoting “GMO-free” foods as the “greener” option.
Far from being bad for the environment, GMOs are actually quite beneficial. Using modern biotechnology, GMOs allow farmers to grow more food on less land, helping both the environment as well as the economy. Forcing farmers to return to old agricultural practices would reduce food production and raise prices, making it harder for American families to put food on the table.
Indeed, some green activists are now trying to force states to label foods that contain GMOs, but studies show such efforts would increase food costs—adding up to $450 to a family’s annual grocery bill. An outright ban on GMOs would only inflict more pain on American households.
The most well-respected scientific and medical associations in the world find that GMOs are A-OK. This “who’s who” list of the scientific community includes the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, British Royal Society, World Health Organization, American Medical Association and American Association for the Advancement of Science. It seems the only groups opposed to GMOs are environmental activists pushing a political agenda.
A look beyond the rhetoric and into the science exposes many so-called “green” schemes as expensive scams. We all want to show Mother Nature some love, but don’t be fooled by corporate tricks that play on our green sympathies. Instead, ride a bike to work, plant a tree, or do some composting. It’s the difference between being green and simply spending more green.
By Anastasia Swearingen — Anastasia Swearingen is a senior research analyst at Berman and Company.