By Ryan Duffy, Communications Fellow

The following is an excerpt taken from Chapter 3, “Building Green,” of Green Think: How Profit Can Save the Worldwritten by USGBC's co-founder and CEO, Rick Fedrizzi:

Not long ago, I traveled to Mumbai, India, to visit the city’s first LEED Platinum building. It’s a beautiful structure that resembles many LEED buildings around the world, including those highlighted in this chapter. You can see the use of glass to let in natural light…the LED fixtures on each of those floors… all the sustainable features that, by now, we’ve come to expect from green buildings.

And yet as soon as you step outside, it’s a very different story. As far as the eye can see, in every direction, there are slums. I saw people who have only a piece of cardboard—or if they’re lucky, a sheet of corrugated metal—protecting them from the elements. The smell of human waste and trash hit me in waves alongside the oppressive heat. I remember, standing outside this space-age tower juxtaposed with the Stone Age shantytown surrounding it, feeling as though I had landed on another planet.

The juxtaposition is tragically common. From the favelas of São Paolo to disadvantaged communities in the Bronx, poverty and desolation are often found not very far from gleaming new LEED buildings. On the way back to my hotel in Mumbai, I kept thinking about these stark contrasts, and honestly, it made me really uncomfortable. While LEED addresses the problem of unsustainable buildings, buildings only partially address the problem of our unsustainable and unjust global society.

Don’t get me wrong. LEED is fantastic—for profits, for the planet, and for people all around the world. And while the first two are important, for me sustainability has always been about people. Green buildings allow us to live better, to work better, to heal and learn and play better. But in a world in which environmental degradation is severely impacting—and in some cases, ending—people’s lives, you have to stop and ask: What more can we do to make the world better, safer, healthier, fairer, happier, and yes, more sustainable?

To me, the answer is obvious. We have to take the principles of LEED and extend them far beyond the four walls of a building, out to the four corners of the world itself. WE must take the lessons of LEED and use them—urgently—to improve not just our built environment, but also our social institutions, our political institutions, and the very fabric of our society at large.

This chapter is filled with firsts. The first LEED Platinum school. The First LEED Platinum hospital. The first LEED Gold ballpark with a retractable roof. My money—and a lot of other people’s—is betting on the fact that soon we won’t be talking about the first LEED Platinum building in this industry or that town. We’ll be talking about the first LEED certified city.

If you think that’s far-fetched, consider the pace of change and development in emerging economies around the world. In China, whole new cities are springing up practically overnight. According to McKinsey & Company, “70 to 80 percent of the India of 2030 is yet to be built.” But it will be. And if the gorgeous building I toured in Mumbai is any indication, it will be sustainable. Just think of all the hospitals and homes, the stadiums and schools that can improve the lives of billions of people living in the developing world.

This is not a fantasy. The environmental benefits of green-think are undeniable. The human benefits cannot be understated. And the profit motive—the ability to save and even make money while saving the environment and saving lives—continues to drive companies and communities toward higher standards of efficiency and sustainability. Experts and economists, corporate and civil society leaders all around the world are getting wise to the incredible power of sustainability—and rising to the challenge of doing for our world what LEED is doing for buildings.

From where I’m standing, it is no longer a question of if we will see a sustainable world. The green building movement has proved that we have the ability and the global demand to drive this change. The only variable is when. When will greenthink become second nature? When will some people get their hands out of the unsustainable, unprofitable sands/ To be fair, I don’t know how soon we’ll see a LEED-certified city—though it’s likely sooner than you think—but I do know that if we keep building on this work, and keep building green, we will continue to see extraordinary growth in LEED and unprecedented social and environmental benefits as a result.

Ultimately, to be truly sustainable, we have to pull in economics and politics and food sourcing and transportation and manufacturing and every other sector and discipline there is, until we have a fully three-dimensional view of sustainability. The stories of the green buildings in this chapter are among my very favorite. But even so, they’re merely footnotes in a larger, epic sustainability story that’s being written all around us. 

If you're interested in reading more, you can find the book here on Amazon for $12.99— as you will find out if you read the book, each book is made only after it is ordered to reduce waste and inefficiency!

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