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Green buildings and Sustainability

August 27, 2010

Yesterday, the Grand Rapids Press ran a short article in their Business section entitled, “Region’s ‘green’ building set for showcase.”

The article is about an upcoming tour of “green” or LEED certified buildings in the Grand Rapids area. The West Michigan Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council is hosting the tour, which costs $60 a day or $100 for the 2-day tour on September 10-11.  This “green” building tour is part of a weekend conference in Grand Rapids called GreenTown, something the Press article failed to mention.

The article does cite three different sources, a representative from Habitat for Humanity (Kent County), a CEO of a consulting firm and Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell. Heartwell is quoted as saying:

“Seven years ago, when I took office, members of the Chamber of Commerce were calling me a ‘tree hugger’ and were laughing about sustainability, (saying), ‘Ah, it’s a passing fad. It will be gone tomorrow. Well, in fact, now no more conservative body than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has totally embraced the concept of sustainability and has recognized the city as the most sustainable mid-size city in the nation.”

This is an interesting comment from the Mayor, but it is also misleading in that there is no clarification of what he means by the Chamber “embracing the concept of sustainability.” Even if it was clear to readers what sustainability meant “embracing a concept” and practicing sustainability are two very different things.

It is true, as we reported in May of this year, the Chamber of Commerce gave the City of Grand Rapids a sustainability award. What we also pointed out in that previous article is that the bulk of the work of the US Chamber of Commerce and its local chapters advocates for policies that are inherently unsustainable.

The US Chamber of Commerce is rife with contradictions, when comparing their politics to that of sustainable policies. First, the Chamber is dominated by oil, pharmaceutical, automobile and other major polluting industries. Second, the Chamber has aggressively opposed climate change legislation in the US, even though the proposed legislation has been very weak.

Third, the Chamber has opposed virtually all pro-worker initiatives in recent decades, most recently the Employee Free Choice Act. Lastly, it is worth noting that the US Chamber of Commerce has spent more money lobbying Congress than any other entity since 1998, spending over $638 million to influence policy. Receiving a sustainability award from these corporate entities is like receiving a peace award from the Pentagon.

(Editor’s note – GRIID plans to be at the Greentown event and report on the content of what is shared.)

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