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Environmental Mission Statements: Four Seasons’ Golden Opportunity

This article is cross-posted on Environmental Leader.

*** This blog has moved. Please come and read new posts on our updated site, The Natural Strategy Blog. ***

As the hotel industry continues to move toward Corporate Social Responsibility, recent Deloitte hospitality research states that “Sustainability will become a defining issue for the industry in 2015 and beyond.” With this in mind, I have been analyzing the environmental mission statements and policies of various hotel companies. In this article, I review Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts’ “Supporting Sustainability” policy and suggest several ways in which they could turn their commitment to protecting the environment into a defining core value.

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts have built an internationally recognized brand by offering guests exceptional luxury in beautiful locations around the world. They understand that while each property provides patrons with a unique experience, a consistent level of service across all hotels is crucial to the success of the company. From what I have found on-line, all Four Seasons properties do not apply the same level of attention to their environmental programs. Four Seasons says their “guiding principle is the Golden Rule – to treat others as you wish to be treated” and I believe this allows them to excel at what they do. They now have a “Golden Opportunity” to bring sustainability, and the increased revenue and marketing opportunities it offers, to all areas of their enterprise.

Four Seasons has posted their environmental stance on-line under the heading “Supporting Sustainability.” One of three corporate values found on their corporate website, it states that:

Four Seasons involves employees and guests in the common goal of preserving and protecting the planet. We engage in sustainable practices that conserve natural resources and reduce environmental impact. As importantly, sustainable tourism will enhance and protect the destinations where Four Seasons operates for generations to come.

Four Seasons closes their statement by making it clear why protecting natural resources is important to them. As I outlined in a previous post, an effective environmental mission statement answers the following three questions: Why is the topic important? What is the end goal? How will success be measured? Without understanding why environmentalism is a significant issue for their business, Four Seasons would not be able to develop an effective strategy for minimizing their impact on the Earth.

By stating their aims, Four Seasons touches on another piece that effective environmental policies must contain: what is the end goal? Four Seasons understands that in order to reach their objectives they must work with both their guests and employees. These are two vital groups that can have a large impact on sustainability efforts and Four Seasons is wise to include them. I believe it is also important that Four Seasons join with their business partners and the communities in which they operate. Both of these stakeholders have a keen interest in the strength and character of Four Seasons’ business practices.

What their Supporting Sustainability statement lacks is how Four Seasons will measure their success in relation to their goals. For example, they could develop specific and measurable energy reduction targets to be met by 2015 at all of their properties. The absence of an enterprise-wide environmental program with goals for all properties is setting Four Seasons up for inconsistent programs across their brand. I believe this may lead to an appearance that sustainability is not a true core value for the company.

Searching the internet provides several examples of “green” programs that take place at Four Seasons hotels. There are gardens, a few sustainable meeting packages, and even some green lodging awards. These initiatives are very encouraging and show that many Four Seasons properties are taking steps toward protecting the natural world; however, the lack of a corporate-wide program means inconsistent and potentially uninspired local offerings are inevitable.

For example, I found one Four Seasons Hotel’s website in which “Green Initiatives” is the seventh item listed under the Conference Planning page. The sustainability offering falls below technical assistance, music and entertainment, receiving and maintenance, welcome amenities and VIP gifts, spouse programs, and family programs. I understand that what sets Four Seasons apart in the hospitality industry is their close attention to all aspects of a meeting and this thorough list of offerings is proof that they can accommodate all conference needs. At the same time, I am discouraged to find “green” initiatives last in the list of services offered to Four Seasons’ guests. Its position within the list matters. I was forced to scroll down two pages to find the first mention of “green.” Having studied and worked with sustainability programs for many years, I believe this makes the “Green Initiatives” offering at this Four Seasons Hotel appear to be an afterthought. Added to the bottom of the list, the sustainability option may seem to be offered because it is in vogue rather than being a corporate value of the company. Four Seasons truly has a “Golden Opportunity” to bring sustainability into every part of its operations and avoid the potential mixed-message that situations like this create.

Four Seasons is a leader in the hospitality industry because they know how to run a world-class organization. The time is ripe for them to bring the exceptional execution they apply to other parts of their business into focus on a company-wide sustainability campaign. Not only will this decrease their operational costs and get them in-line with the rest of the industry, going “green” can provide a year’s worth of content for social media marketing and will no doubt drive new business, something even this prestigious company can use in today’s economic climate.

An effective plan would be to hire a Chief Sustainability Officer who can create a robust environmental mission statement and develop an environmental action plan for the entire organization. As is quickly becoming the norm, Four Seasons should be transparent about their entire sustainability project and publish an annual report documenting all of their environmental work.

Making sure employees embody The Golden Rule every day allows Four Seasons to offer consistent and outstanding service at all of their properties. To ensure the success of a new sustainability program, Four Seasons will need to train their staff to incorporate “green” ideals into everything they do. Knowing how well they execute day-to-day operations as well as special projects, I am sure that Four Seasons will develop and implement an innovative and exciting environmental sustainability program when they turn their attention to this “Golden Opportunity.”

Environmental Mission Statements: How To Develop Your Own

This article is cross-posted on Environmental Leader.

*** This blog has moved. Please come and read new posts on our updated siteThe Natural Strategy Blog. ***

In my last article, I outlined the environmental mission statements and polices of nine hotel companies. It was interesting to compare how these organizations chose to define their relationships with the Earth. All companies understood that operating their properties has significant effects on the natural world. Most discussed how they plan to protect the earth. Several listed goals they have developed in order to minimize their impact. A handful provided clear tools they will utilize to achieve these goals. While the interest in environmental sustainability these companies have shown through their policies is very important, I believe focused environmental missions are much more effective than general statements of how a company interacts with the our planet.

The number one hurtle many organizations face when looking to bring sustainability into their company is the same obstacle that slows down many new initiatives. Executives have a difficult time defining a road map. They do not know how to begin the process of making the products and services they provide more environmentally sustainable. This is where a strong environmental mission statement is crucial.

An environmental mission statement is the sum of three parts: Why + Goal + Success

  1. Why is this topic important to us? – We believe …
  2. What is our end goal? – We want to …
  3. How is success measured? – We envision a world ….

Taken separately, these three questions are powerful enough to spark conversation and suggest that change is in the air. When grouped together, they can light a “green” torch will illuminate the best path forward.

Why is this topic important to us? The reasons are almost infinite. There may be an operational problem which needs to be solved. Stakeholders may have become restless about the status quo and are demanding change. Incentives may have been put in place by the government. Maybe other major players in the industry are already starting to move toward sustainability and you do not want to be left behind.

Whatever the reason, you have to be honest with yourself about why you are ready to go “green.” Very often a variety of factors are at play. Each and every one of these should be documented and vetted. Together they will enable you to figure out what is important to your organization. Understanding the reasons behind the change allows you to move with confidence and passion.

Why sample – “We believe developing environmentally sustainable business practices is a vital step toward decreasing our company’s carbon footprint, increasingly its competitive advantage, and preparing for inevitable government regulations. ”

What is our end goal? I believe that given the choice, all business leaders would elect to run their operations as cleanly and efficiently as possible. How does that look in your business? Will your products be produced with 100% recycled material? Will travel be replaced by virtual meetings?  Can your people work remotely 85% of the time?

These seemingly basic questions create an outline for what needs to be done. Even within the same industry, hospitality for example, a hotel’s path to “green” differs from an airline’s which differs from a travel agency’s which is not the same as a cruise line’s course to environmental sustainability. Looking at the ways in which your business negatively impacts the earth and defining all the areas in which you need to change will help bring your road map into focus. Keep in mind, your environmental mission statement should evolve as your company and our world move ahead. Consider it progress when you have to edit your statement because you have accomplished your goals.

Goal sample – “We are working to assess the full extent to which our products and services touch the natural world. We will finish this process by August 1st, 2010 and use the findings to develop a strategic green vision to be launched in January 2011.”

Be bold when developing your goals. This is a time for action.

How is success measured? Close your eyes to block out distractions and image the possibilities. Research is now revealing that daydreaming to be another effective method for developing creative ideas. So, choose your means and image your successful end.

Envision your customers, your employees, your office, and your suppliers. What are they doing in five or ten years? How about in 15 or 20 years? Image beyond today’s technology. How are your goods and services packaged, distributed, sold, used, and recycled? Who purchases them and why? Do not worry if your vision seems a bit out of reach. A lofty goal will rally your employees to find creative ways to make it a reality.

How sample – “We are striving to revolutionize our industry and change our world. We envision products that honor the materials from which they are made and inspire those who use them. They can be recycled by simply leaving them out in the rain. They can last for a lifetime if stored in a cool, dry, and sacred place.”

Some will say that having goals is too specific for an environmental mission statement and should be reserved for an annual environmental report. I disagree. Placing all of one’s efforts into an annual report can lead to an environmental policy that is too generic, such as, “We will ensure that our products are safe for the earth and its people.” Annual reports are incredibly important and should discuss the story behind developing, pursuing, and achieving your goals.

Mission statements, on the other hand, are made to inspire action. Without clearly stating why you are seeking change, defining your goals, and how to measure their success, an environmental mission statement does not live up to its potential.

Environmental Mission Statements: A List of Hotel Sustainability Policies

February 15, 2010 2 comments

This article is cross-posted on Environmental Leader.

*** This blog has moved. Please come and read new posts on our updated site, The Natural Strategy Blog.

A mission statement can help an organization navigate difficult times. I wonder how many hoteliers used their mission statements to remind them what of mattered most to their company during the past 18 months. As is true with many sectors of the world economy, 2009 was the worst year in recent memory for the hospitality industry. Meeting planners and business travelers moved to on-line conferences whenever possible and overnight vacations became a luxury for many people. Despite these financial problems, hotels and their investors understand the importance of developing a sustainable product and have been investing in green technologies.

This is the first in a series of posts that will investigate environmental mission statements. The articles will focus on how to develop an environmental mission statement, which companies have them, how are they being used, and discussing whether environmental mission statements are necessary. I have started by compiling links to the environmental policies and statements of several well-known hotel organizations.

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts – One of the first hotel companies to incorporate sustainability into their organization, Fairmont’s Environmental Policy outlines  their commitments to protecting the natural world. Mission Statement

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts – While it is not a true environmental mission statement, the “Supporting Sustainability” paragraph on their Corporate Values page summarizes Four Seasons’ stance on being “green”.

Hilton Worldwide – A Sustainability Statement and an Environmental Policy are both available on Hilton’s Sustainability web page. Measurable goals are documented and ways to achieve them are noted. Mission Statement

InterContinental Hotels Group – Listing eight steps it will take to improve its relationship with the earth, IHG’s Environmental Policy is clear and aggresive. Their Green Engage program is an industry leading environmental initative and shows they are serious about their mission. Mission Statement

Kimpton Hotels and Restaurant Group, LLC – The foundations of the EarthCare program were set almost 30 years ago. Since then, Kimpton has dedicated itself to innovative “green” practices across all of its locations. Mission Statement

Marriott International, Inc.Spirit to Preserve is the sustainable arm of Marriott’ s Social Responsibility and Community Engagement program. In their Social Responsibility Report, J.D. Marriott says, “An integrated green strategy is a business imperative”. While Marriott has several partnerships with international conservation organizations, I am unable to find an official environmental mission statement.

Omni Hotels and Resorts – Similar to other hotel companies, Omni Hotels does not have a specific environmental mission statement. Instead, they provide information on their Environmental Stewardship practices.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. – Their Environmental Sustainability Policy is clear and professional, outlining the five “green” areas on which they are focused. Mission Statement

Wyndham Worldwide Corporation – The Wyndham Green program is well defined on-line. Their Policy Statement defines their thoughts on the environment, provides local and global goals, and lists seven areas of focus. The site also provides links to their Green Scorecard and Core Initiatives. Mission Statement

Clean Energy Subsidies: A Necessary Step

January 10, 2010 2 comments

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On January 8th, Jeffery Ball had an interesting post in the Wall Street Journal discussing clean energy subsidies. I feel he did a reasonably good job of highlighting both sides of the renewables debate, but I am concerned about a crucial piece of information that was missing from his blog: the entire reason for subsidizing new forms of energy is to decrease our use of fossil fuels which generate CO2 and are causing the temperatures of our planet to rise. A discussion of wind and solar energy subsidies outside of this context is akin to a discussion about what to have for breakfast when it is already time for lunch. The fact is that we have to switch to renewable energy sources because oil will not be around forever. The growing problems we are facing from burning fossil fuel make it necessary to hasten this transition and subsidies and feed-in tariffs are an important step in the process.

Anyone who has traveled outside of the United States knows that in most of the world gas prices are four to five times higher than they are in our country. I remember first learning about this disparity during a trip my family took to visit my relatives in Switzerland when I was a teenager. When I asked why gas prices were so much cheaper back home I was probably told about subsidies, but all I can recall now is learning about farmers. Yes, farmers. These folks would not be able to drive their tractors across their fields or drive their pickup trucks into town if they had to pay the high gas prices. America is just too large a place and people have to move themselves and their products great distances to make a living. Allowing us to pay the real price of gas would be impossible, so the government kept the prices low. This reasoning made sense to me at the time, but I now believe the money that has kept gasoline cheap needs to go toward bolstering the renewable energy market and that new taxes should be levied on polluting energy sources such as coal and oil.

It is certainly not only subsidies that create the difference in gasoline costs. Then just as now, Europe has far higher and more numerous taxes on petrol. This would be unheard in the US, for it would cripple the farmer and the construction worker who drives to job sites all over the county and the nurse who commutes one hour each way to the hospital. It would be un-American to burden these hard working souls with more taxes so instead cheap gas has led to urban sprawl, a lack of walking cities, and an increased dependence on our automobiles.

Our friends across the Atlantic implement taxes on gas to support public transportation and encourage small cars. They also offer feed-in tariffs, which pay those who install new a energy technology a rate that is well above the market cost in an attempt to help the new technology gain a market share in an industry dominated by fossil fuels. Mr. Ball’s article states that New Energy Finance estimates in Germany that “renewable energy from projects that qualified for feed-in tariffs between 2004 and 2008 will cost consumers [euro ]122.3 billion (about $175 billion) between 2008 and 2030 — 46% more than the same amount conventional energy would cost.” I do not question the validity of this statement. There will absolutely be an increased cost to renewable energy, but this cost is far less than the costs of not combating climate change. The Natural Resources Defense Council states that “Four global warming impacts alone — hurricane damage, real estate losses, energy costs, and water costs — will come with a price tag of 1.8 percent of U.S. GDP, or almost $1.9 trillion annually (in today’s dollars) by 2100.” (NRDC) Mr. Ball chose not to include this type of information about the future costs of “conventional energy” and why would he? This other half of the story turns the shockingly high 46% cost of solar over oil into a moot point.

It is not only the damage and destruction of property that needs to be considered. An often overlooked advantage that clean energy has over oil is that wars will most likely not be fought to control it. This can certainly not be said about the history of fossil fuel. In fact, in 2007, Alan Greenspan broke his silence and wrote in his memoir, ““I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” It was clear to him through the lens of time that we had moved into Iraq to secure oil for our county’s future needs. Fortunatly, there are other ways to secure a nation’s future.

There are examples across the globe of countries who have successfully introduced clean energy into their economies. In 1975,  Brazil focused on producing ethanol to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. In 2008, ethanol was accounted for 50% of the fuel used in its vehicles and the country is now exporting 20% of its sugar cane based fuel abroad. Sweden has been moving toward an oil free economy for several years and its goal of breaking dependence on fossil fuel by 2020 is coming true with the help of subsidies and feed-in-tariffs. Despite Germany’s often overcast skies, it has the most solar installations in the world and has become the leader of solar manufacturing, followed closely by India and China. All of these nations are now exporting solar hardware and finding that being green is profitable.

The United States has an incredible opportunity to create a green economy in part by focusing on becoming a leader in renewable energy technologies. With so many other countries already on a path to reduce their green house gases and increase their GDP, I am saddened that, by the time the US is able to look back and realize that 2010 was the time to transition to clean fuels, it may be too late.

Quarter of Your Carbon Footprint and a Quarter Pounder

November 18, 2009 1 comment

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I just finished reading a fascinating NY Times article entitled, “To Cut Global Warming, Swedes Study Their Plates”. The story discussed how Sweden is encouraging their food producers to add carbon dioxide emissions information to food labels. From the complex logistics of managing this type of program to the incredible possibilities that will come from exposing the public to the true cost of its food, carbon footprint labels on food represent the cutting edge of sustainability. Despite inevitable challenges, this idea seems so simple and full of promise that I cannot stop thinking about how it could be developed in the US.

Last year, the Nutrition Department at Sweden’s National Food Administration was asked to create new guidelines that encompass reducing climate change as well as maintaining human health. Earlier research suggested that up to 25% of an individual’s carbon footprint is associated with their diet. This is an incredible number! It means that in addition to reducing my driving and flying, what I choose to bring into my kitchen affects my carbon emissions. That seeking alternative sources of energy for my home and what I decide to order when eating out are both very important ways in which I can help combat global warming. Providing consumers with more information will enable them to be better stewards to our natural world. What a wonderful step in the right direction.

I see several benefits, as well as some challenges, with including carbon emission counts alongside food in restaurants and at grocery stores. Let me start with two of the potential difficulties.

First of all, who is going to do the measuring and what standards will they follow? In Sweden, emissions labeling is only recommended and each producer is asked to conduct their own research. The government has funded general studies on staple products like rice, fish, carrots, chicken, and tomatoes, but because there are multiple factors, including soil conditions, fertilize use, degree of processing, packaging material, and length transportation, companies such as Max, Sweden’s local answer to McDonald’s, are working to define the footprints of their specific menu items. The nation’s largest food co-op, Lantmannen, which is owned by 40,000 Swedish farmers, is also conducting CO2 emission audits for many of its products and placing its findings in supermarkets across the country. The guidelines put forth by Sweden’s National Food Administration are now under review by other European Union (EU) countries. It will be interesting to see where the process goes from here. I am very encouraged that everything is already underway and am confident that the EU program could act as a model for how to roll out CO2 emission labels for food in America.

Secondly, how are consumers going to understand what the numbers mean? When nutritional labels were introduced across the US in 1994, there was a steep learning curve. Even though much of the population already knew the terms being used, such as fat, protein, sodium, and carbohydrates, most of us did not fully understand how much fiber was enough and how much sugar was considered too much. It has taken both public and private educational campaigns to bring us up to speed on why we should be reading nutritional labels. We have to expect the same ramp up time when emissions information is added to a label already busy with nutritional analysis. For most of the US, the entire idea of carbon emissions, what exactly they mean, how many ounces of CO2 per pound is too much, and what are reasonable alternatives to my burger must be answered. The question is who will be the teacher?

Despite these organizational hurdles, I believe CO2 labels will become ubiquitous over the next few years. The idea is similar in many ways to what Climate Counts has been doing. They are one of my favorite organizations because they are empowering consumers to make purchasing decisions based on how companies are handling their climate change responsibilities. Climate Counts ranks businesses in a variety of sectors against a score card that evaluates what the company is doing to reduce its role in climate change.

Carbon emission labels for food are more specific because they look at individual items rather than an entire organization. I think this is appropriate for food and may be a way for both consumers and producers to ease into a new paradigm where food takes on the important role of saving the Earth. Imagine going into a restaurant and ordering a pizza made with local goat cheese and organic vegetables. It would have a low CO2 count and most likely a slightly higher price than a pizza from the same establishment made with pepperoni and mozzarella from a major distributor, which would have a higher emission label and a corresponding lower price. As with many Swedes, some US consumers will not change their eating habits. But how many of us have been torn between two items at the supermarket or at the local grill? I have a feeling that understanding the true cost to the planet will move a significant portion of the population to choose the meal or product with the lower CO2 emissions. They may not always make choices based on emissions information but if enough people do it even occasionally, their impacts will create change.

If I begin to make food purchasing decisions based on the new food labeling, I am able to help re-focus the companies that produce the food. If Tyson Fresh Meats, the largest beef and pork supplier in the world, observes even a minor fluctuation in the amount of meat they are selling because their products have a high CO2 count, they will no doubt work to become competitive with companies that can provide these items with lower emissions. One of the first steps to measure and then reduce a carbon footprint is to assess the carbon released during each step of the supply chain. By encouraging its suppliers to reduce their emissions, Tyson could literally change the face of the industry. There are numerous examples of how the sustainability requirements Wal-Mart put in place have forced their suppliers to make a variety “green” business changes, many times looking to their own suppliers and asking them to reduce their CO2 emissions. Eventually each player in the chain cleans up their process and we all win.

I have been reading articles for several years that extol the virtues of a plant-based diet. The theme of these pieces has increasingly moved from human health to the well-being of the planet. In addition to their goals of generating all of their energy from non-carbon based fuels by 2020 and not allowing the sale of fossil fuel powered vehicles by 2030, Sweden has researched what else they can do to help reduce their country’s carbon emissions. By rolling out the inclusion of CO2 emission information with one of the most common items in our day-to-day lives, they have pioneered a system that has the power to transform the way we look at our food and the way we interact with our planet.

I am very hopeful that despite the logistical challenges, carbon dioxide emissions labels on food will soon be as common as nutritional information. I foresee both government and private institutions playing a role in developing the program as well as educating consumers on how to decipher CO2 figures. Whether or not consumers decide to act on this information is still unknown. I like to think that if we were able to ensure the safety of dolphins by demanding they be protected during tuna fishing, we will find it a way to make food choices that ensure the entire Earth is spared while we work to feed ourselves.

FOOD Inc. Shows That Consumers Can Change Corporations

October 14, 2009 1 comment

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I just returned from seeing FOOD Inc., a new documentary about the industrialization of the American food industry. I knew the basic message would revolve around how distant we as a nation have become from the food we consume. I also had a feeling that Monsanto and their evil seed empire would make an appearance. What I was not expecting was to learn so much about how the incredible quantity of meat we eat in our country is supplied. I was also surprised to hear that the rise of fast food created a demand for cheap ingredients and helped spur the growth of the modern day corporate farm.

When Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, his infamous expose of the meat industry in the early 1900s,  his words shed light on both the unsanitary processing facilities as well as the exploitation of immigrant workers in the meat factories of Chicago. The public was outraged and demanded safer meat, a bit ironic because Sinclair had hoped to raise awareness of the dangerous working conditions. The Pure Food Act of 1906 and the Meat Inspection Act gave people safer meat and workers better conditions. Evidently these changes, and others that followed, were effective, for being a meat packer became a well-paid and respected position by the 1950s, in line with the often venerated American autoworker. This is in stark contrast to today’s meat plants, which are among the most dangerous places to work in the US. So what happened? Among other reasons, FOOD Inc. says, McDonald’s happened.

By getting rid of its waitresses and turning their kitchen into an assembly line, McDonald’s developed the foundation for the modern day industrial food company. People were trained to perform the same job over and over and over again. They were treated as machines, paid a low wage, and disposed of at will because other workers were readily available to take their place. As fast food grew, McDonald’s needed larger and larger quantities of meat, potatoes, chicken, lettuce, etc. They demanded that farmers ensure consistent quality in their products while at the same time decreasing their cost. How were the farmers of the 1950 and 1960s able to meet this demand? They were not and the corporate farm was born.

According to the movie, in the 1970s, the top four beef producers made up approximately 20% of the industry. Today, they account for almost 80%. The US has gone from having hundreds of slaughter houses to only thirteen major factories that process beef. Not only are the cows being kept in high density feedlots, they are being feed a diet of corn instead of what ruminants typically eat, grass. Corn is used because its production is heavily subsidized by the federal government and the cost to ranchers is actually below the cost of production. It also makes the cows grow larger and fatter.

The corn produces an unnatural environment in the cow rumination chamber and encourages the growth of harmful e-coli. Reports of e-coli tainted meat increased throughout the 1990s and we have even seen other crops, such as spinach and peanuts, become infected over the last few years. E-coli outbreaks have killed multiple people, one of the most notable of which was a 2 1/2 year old boy who died twelve days after eating an infected hamburger while on vacation with his family. This tragedy was the impetus for Kevin’s Law, a food safety bill that has been bounced around Capital Hill for almost a decade but has yet to find its way into law.

Despite a fair amount of doom and gloom concerning the current state of our food system, FOOD Inc. offers a strong sense that this madness can be stopped. Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in Virginia is an honest, humble, and insightful spokesperson for a farming system that treats animals as living beings and rewards small scale agriculture with fresh, nutrient packed, and delicious food. The audience clapped when he mused about what happens to people who treat cattle, chickens, and pigs as if they were only a raw material. He wondered how we will treat our neighbors, our community, and the rest of the world if we can’t treat our food and the people who raise and process it with respect.

After the movie ended and the house lights came on, I left the Portsmouth Music Hall thinking about what Gary Hirshberg, CE-Yo of Stonyfield Farm, said near the end of the film about the power of consumers. He assured us that companies will do what we as consumers want. When Wal-Mart customers showed a preference for milk free of rGBH, an artificial growth hormone, the company switched to non-rGBH milk. This has more or less “nailed the coffin” on rGBH because of Wal-Mart’s tremendous buying power.

Each time we buy an item at the grocery store or the farmers market, we are sending a message to the food industry. Companies spend millions of dollars every year to find out what consumers want. Let’s make sure to tell them we need local food grown and raised with care on organic farms. And this food will taste even better when we know our choices are changing the way the modern way farms operate.

Is LEED Really Leading?

September 19, 2009 1 comment

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Until recently, when I talked with people about LEED certification, I typically needed to follow the acronym up with the term “green building”. Although the standard has been around since 1998, it remained mostly unknown to a large segment of the population. This has been changing recently as following LEED guidelines has become increasingly popular with new construction projects across the country. My company’s building is pursing accreditation and our town library was awarded LEED certification two years ago. LEED is in the news more often but unfortunately, the press it is receiving is not always positive.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and contains several different standards, including one for new construction and major renovations of corporate and public buildings as well as one for the operation and maintenance of existing buildings. New construction is focused on five areas: sustainable site development, materials selection, energy efficiency, water savings, and indoor environmental quality. Buildings are ranked on a 100 point scale in which 40 – 49 points earns a Certified ranking, 50 – 59 brings Silver, 60 – 79 equals Gold, and projects over 80 points are rewarded with Platinum LEED certification. The 14,000 buildings across the US that have received LEED accreditation or are in the process of pursing certification must certainly be state of the art, environmentally efficient, and cutting edge, right? Not always. I believe that LEED has been a fantastic stepping stone toward sustainable building design and construction but is not always leading the way to a “green” future. Others agree.

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC), which developed LEED, was the focus of a recent New York Times article on its previous standards. Evidently, the Federal Building in Youngstown, OH is Certified LEED but failed to be energy efficient enough to earn the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star label. After reviewing last year’s energy bills, the cooling system seems to have contributed to the building’s inability to become an Energy Star Partner. It has become obvious to the USGBC that annual performance needs to be tracked and they announced last week that existing LEED buildings will be asked to voluntarily send in their energy bills. They also have plans to require new projects to submit five years of energy use data as part of their certification process. This is certainly great news and shows that the developers of LEED are willing to analyze their program and adapt their credentials for the betterment of all. But they seem to have a fair amount of work to do. Their recent standard came out in April of this year and as my story below illustrates, the criteria can still guide participants into questionable practices while constructing their buildings.

This week I worked at a new convention center on the East Coast. I was happy to learn that it was applying to be a Certified LEED building. Good for them, I thought. It appears that most new large construction projects today are pursuing some level of LEED certification. When I walked into the south hall, I was surprised to see most of the carpet was stained and deeply discolored. I assumed that something had happened during its installation but was later told that in order to gain LEED points, the carpet was being reused from an old exposition center on the property that was being converted into offices. This fits into the “refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle” mantra but I felt odd about what I saw. This must be a good idea, I told myself, despite the stains and the general “something is not quite right here” feeling I got when I saw the old, worn carpet next to the new, bright carpet.

Yesterday I entered the center at 7:30am and saw a crew of four people cleaning the carpet. When I left for lunch, I saw the same people continuing to clean the carpet. And when I called it a day at 6:30pm, guess what? They were still cleaning the carpet. All that work and the stains seemed just as noticeable as ever. And I thought, all of this for some LEED points?

The carpet cleaning was not working and I assume pressure from management will make them use less benign cleaning agents to remove the stains before the sales office begins giving tours to potential clients. If this happens, then everyone involved in the project may feel that LEED points do not make sense. Put in old carpet and clean it with toxic agents? That just doesn’t add up.

What if I am wrong and the stains are left as I saw them today? Management will certainly feel they need to explain the stains to visitors and will educate everyone who steps into the building as to why the carpets of a brand new convention center look twenty years old. I can hear the comments now. “This is LEED? I don’t like it. I’ll think twice about looking into it when my company is ready for a new building.” “Can’t those tree huggers allow our town to have a new, clean center we can be proud of? These stains are horrible.” And so, with either path the center chooses, cleaning with un-natural products or leaving the rugs stained, LEED’s reputation will suffer.

I am left thinking that the USGBC needs to revamp their LEED criteria so it guides those seeking certification toward pragmatic solutions rather than suggesting confusing strategies. Maybe it is time for them to pull into a rest area, review a road map, and make sure they are truly leading us in the right direction.