Green Or Gone

Greenwashing Architecture? The Myths Of Sustainable Buildings

For anyone truly concerned with climate change, trends like rooftop gardens and sustainable badges for office buildings are a distraction, at best.

The new British Horse Society HQ circles an ancient Oak tree and is topped with a Sedum green roof.
Miguel Jurado

BUENOS AIRES â€" The word sustainable is in vogue these days and used for so many things, from economic plans to cooking recipes. Not surprisingly it has also landed in the world of architecture and urban planning.

Within a few years, we have gone from science fiction to eco-imagination. The most radical idealists are already imagining green villages, vertical farms in the middle of big cities and plant-covered towers. Everyone wants to build with recycled materials, reduce their building's carbon footprint and recover the lost balance between nature and man. The politically correct frenzy provides fertile ground for marketers and opportunists who have duly emerged, promising paradise with no pain at all.

Our gringo neighbors up north have come up with a word for this sustainable talk: "greenwashing." It is a new word (playing off "whitewashing") that describes everything businesses and corporations do to present themselves as environmentally friendly (without actually being so). Why? Because "greening" sells.

While it's difficult not to fall into the trap, we might briefly review some of the main lies â€" or misconceptions, if you like â€" around so-called sustainable building.

Nothing greener than plants

Efforts to turn buildings into environmental pumps or engines are filling rooftops with grass and walls with plants, whether they be banks, shopping malls or museums. For the landscape gardener Wade Graham, author of Dream Cities: Seven Urban Ideas That Shape the World, the green cities we dream of today are too closely tied to the idea of controlling nature. The alternative, he writes, must be to delve into the real causes of our environmental and urban degradation.

Chicago City Hall Green Roof â€" Photo: Tony TheTiger

Green construction for everyone

Apple's signature building in Silicon Valley is an example of the green dream. Designed by the architects Norman Foster and Partners (designers of the new Buenos Aires city hall), the premises leave 80% of the 175-acre lot free, all at the cost of $5 billion, which means that such buildings are only for the wealthiest firms. Graham, who is also a historian and lecturer at Pepperdine University, observes that in spite of the best intentions of Apple and Foster, the project will just help further expand San Francisco's suburban sprawl. It will, he writes, be another big building beside a highway, requiring heaps of parking space for its drive-in employees (even if mostly underground to reduce the environmental impact).

International certification assures sustainability

LEED is one of the world's best-known environmental certificates, awarding points to buildings for their environmental qualities and use of responsible material and construction systems. A building with 40 points wins a LEED certification, while 50 earn it LEED Silver and 60, LEED Gold. LEED Platinum is for buildings racking up 80 points or more. What the categories actually do is ensure more firms are willing to pay more for the space their premises use, though many of the points are actually easily acquired without contributing real sustainability. Their norms reward particular types of air conditioning, for example, but not windows that can open. There are also points for bicycle racks or electric-car parking spaces.

A certified building is more energy-efficient

Christopher W. Cheatham, partner in Cheatham Consulting L.L.C., says green certificates have become a problem worldwide. They are not working as foreseen, he says, citing examples of buildings that had 40% energy savings rates according to certificates, but which in practice saved 20% or less.

Sustainable building will save the Earth

Graham says that driving hybrid cars or making green buildings is not enough to save the planet, notwithstanding all the pollution cars and buildings do indeed cause. The solutions lie far beyond. The real problem, Graham argues, is in an economic system based on destroying nature and transferring the costs of our destruction onto future generations and the poor.

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Over the past week thousands of migrants have arrived at the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on the border between Mexico and the United States. According to Del Rio's mayor, border patrol agents are struggling to process new arrivals, with about 4,000 migrants currently waiting.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Сайн уу*

Welcome to Friday, where the new U.S.-UK-Australia security pact is under fire, Italy becomes the first country to make COVID-19 "green pass" mandatory for all workers, and Prince Philip's will is to be kept secret for 90 years. From Russia, we also look at the government censorship faced by brands that recently tried to promote multiculturalism and inclusiveness in their ads.

[*Sain uu - Mongolian]


• U.S. facing multiple waves of migrants, refugees: The temporary camp, located between Mexico's Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio in Texas, is housing some 10,000 people, largely from Haiti. With few resources, they are forced to wait in squalid conditions and scorching temperatures amidst a surge of migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. Meanwhile, thousands of recently evacuated Afghan refugees wait in limbo at U.S. military bases, both domestic and abroad.

• COVID update: Italy is now the first European country to require vaccination for all public and private sector workers from Oct. 15. The Netherlands will also implement a "corona pass" in the following weeks for restaurants, bars and cultural spaces. When he gives an opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly next week, unvaccinated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will defy New York City authorities, who are requiring jabs for all leaders and diplomats.

• U.S. and UK face global backlash over Australian deal: The U.S. is attempting to diffuse the backlash over the new security pact signed with Australia and the UK, which excludes the European Union. The move has angered France, prompting diplomats to cancel a gala to celebrate ties between the country and the U.S.

• Russian elections: Half of the 450 seats in Duma are will be determined in today's parliamentary race. Despite persistent protests led by imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, many international monitors and Western governments fear rigged voting will result in President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party maintaining its large majority.

• Somali president halts prime minister's authority: The decision by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed marks the latest escalation in tensions with Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble concerning a murder investigation. The move comes as the Horn of Africa country has fallen into a political crisis driven by militant violence and clashes between clans.

• Astronauts return to Earth after China's longest space mission: Three astronauts spent 90 days at the Tianhe module and arrived safely in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. The Shenzhou-12 mission is the first of crewed missions China has planned for 2021-2022 as it completes its first permanent space station.

• Prince Philip's will to be kept secret for 90 years: A British court has ruled that the will of Prince Philip, the late husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth who passed away in April at 99 years old, will remain private for at least 90 years to preserve the monarch's "dignity and standing."


With a memorable front-page photo, Argentine daily La Voz reports on the open fight between the country's president Alberto Fernández and vice-president Cristina Kirchner which is paralyzing the government. Kirchner published a letter criticizing the president's administration after several ministers resigned and the government suffered a major defeat in last week's midterm primary election.



An Italian investigation uncovered a series of offers on encrypted "dark web" websites offering to sell fake EU COVID vaccine travel documents. Italy's financial police say its units have seized control of 10 channels on the messaging service Telegram linked to anonymous accounts that were offering the vaccine certificates for up to €150. "Through the internet and through these channels, you can sell things everywhere in the world," finance police officer Gianluca Berruti told Euronews.


In Russia, brands advertising diversity are under attack

Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

❌ "On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos..." reads a recent statement by Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi after publishing an advertisement that included a photograph of a Black man. Shortly after, the company's co-founder, Konstantin Zimen, said people on social media were accusing Yobidoyobi of promoting multiculturalism. Another recent case involved grocery store chain VkusVill, which released advertising material featuring a lesbian couple. The company soon began to receive threats and quickly apologized and removed the text and apologized.

🏳️🌈 For the real life family featured in the ad, they have taken refuge in Spain, after their emails and cell phone numbers were leaked. "We were happy to express ourselves as a family because LGBTQ people are often alone and abandoned by their families in Russia," Mila, one of the daughters in the ad, explained in a recent interview with El Pais.

🇷🇺 It is already common in Russia to talk about "spiritual bonds," a common designation for the spiritual foundations that unite modern Russian society, harkening back to the Old Empire as the last Orthodox frontier. The expression has been mocked as an internet meme and is widely used in public rhetoric. For opponents, this meme is a reason for irony and ridicule. Patriots take spiritual bonds very seriously: The government has decided to focus on strengthening these links and the mission has become more important than protecting basic human rights.Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

➡️


"Ask the rich countries: Where are Africa's vaccines?"

— During an online conference, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, implored the international community to do more to inoculate people against COVID-19 in Africa and other developing regions. The World Health Organization estimates that only 3.6% of people living in Africa have been fully vaccinated. The continent is home to 17% of the world population, but only 2% of the nearly six billion shots administered so far have been given in Africa, according to the W.H.O.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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