Parking Structures and Greenwashing

Can a project be environmentally friendly and invest in parking at the same time?

According to John Greenfield, one parking lot developer thinks so. In a post on Grid Chicago Greenfield explores an array of supposedly green innovations on an 11-story downtown parking structure. Greenfield sounds rather skeptical that the parking structure is really environmentally friendly, but lets one of his sources make the point more forcefully:

Michael Burton, a sustainable transportation activist who co-founded Chicago’s Critical Mass ride, is less measured in his critique. “A green parking structure!” he emails. “What’s next, a LEED-certified strip mine? Any infrastructure that encourages private automobile use instead of rapid transit, walking and/or biking is inherently environmentally unfriendly. Using green technology to market a new parking structure is simply cynical greenwashing.

Greenfield’s example is useful for pointing out the fundamental contradictions in many projects that tout their green credentials while simultaneously relying on cars and car commutes.

In Provo, the current Nu Skin building is just the most recent example of this phenomenon. As has been widely publicized, the company’s new-but-ugly building will be LEED certified. In a recent article by my colleague Genelle Pugmire, CFO Ritch Wood even said “we will be totally green.”

But that’s not totally true; while the building itself may be green, Nu Skin is also hard at work on an accompanying parking structure:

Construction on Nu Skin’s new parking structure.

It’s also worth noting that this parking structure is five blocks, or less than half a mile, from the new commuter rail and bus station. It’s surrounded by the most walkable area in Utah Valley. And Nu Skin is just one of the culprits. Similar criticisms apply to the Utah Valley Convention Center and some of BYU’s development, just to name a few recent examples.

The point here is that erecting environmentally friendly buildings is only part of the battle. It’s a great part and companies like Nu Skin should be commended for trying, but buildings ultimately account for a minority of our energy consumption and carbon emissions. A much more important issue is how workers commute to and from the office. In other words, being green also means not building parking structures.

As a result, calling structures with big parking lots and car orientations “green” is misleading at best. At worst, it’s deceptive and entirely misses the point of environmental stewardship.

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2 Comments

Filed under driving, environment, parking

2 responses to “Parking Structures and Greenwashing

  1. Not to mention that tearing down perfectly okay buildings to build yourself a new one isn’t very green either.

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