Greenwashing and New Development

Environmental consciousness has more or less become the default when building new structures, including in Utah. Think about it, the Utah Valley Convention Center, pretty much any new building on BYU campus, and other buildings come with various certifications assuring the community that they’re eco-friendly.

Much of this phenomenon is a positive thing, but some of it is also “greenwashing,” or an effort to make development seem environmentally progressive whether it is or not.

More specifically, DC.Streetsblog recently explained that greenwashing is currently happening with sprawl. As they point out, it doesn’t matter how environmentally certified a new building is if it’s located far from its resident’s destinations:

“The location matters,” McMahon said. “A project in a sprawl location is not truly green. And a building in an urban location isn’t really smart if it isn’t green.”

The article also mentions how “the greenest building is the one that’s already built” — something reported in this blog post from January — and argues that regulations are still sometimes making it easier to build cheap, low density housing on open land instead of greener housing in centrally located and walkable neighborhoods.

Of course, it’d be nice if we could live in houses on big lots in suburban style neighborhoods and pat ourselves on the back for being environmentally friendly. But we cannot and greenwashing new development, where ever it’s located, will only impede progress.

In addition, the population of Utah County is projected to grow rapidly in the coming years. If all those people move into sprawling neighborhoods on the edges of the city — or, worse, into even more sprawling neighborhoods in nearby cities — we will have failed in many ways, not the least of which will be environmental.


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Filed under building, BYU, construction, Downtown, environment, neighborhood, pollution, urban

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