Friday, September 10, 2010

Greenwashing at the old, "Green" parking behemoth


Whatever the merits of the building, the PR effort behind it has been sensational.  Adoring profiles of HOK's Greenway Self Park, in Chicago's River North have been everywhere, even taking in even my good friend Edward Lifson.  When he featured it on his Hello Beautiful! blog - on Earth Day - he speculated it might be "The best new corner in Chicago .  . ."

Last month's Fast Company article, Windy City's Gusts Supply Power to Stylish Turbines, seemed to be more of the same.   Until I got to this paragraph:
Greenway’s turbines were made by Helix Wind, though the initial plan was to use Aerotecture, a Chicago-based solar and wind energy company. But after studying the wind patterns near the garage, the company decided the site was too “low power,” says Bil Becker, Aerotecture CEO. To avoid making himself--and the burgeoning wind-power industry--look bad, they withdrew from the project. “They’ll try to [force] you into building a sculpture, he says, “but we don’t make sculptures.”

Which pretty much sums it up.  The Greenway Self Park is a triumph of greenwashing, of style over substance.  I apologize to Aerotek: I originally gave them credit for the turbines - at that point I was believing what the press releases were saying, as well - and I admire them for having the guts to decline to participate and to go on record about it. 

If you want all the grisly details on this not-so-good-as-it-first-seems structure, check out my article here.

How could anyone consider  an 11 story lump bringing over 700+ gas-guzzling,  carbon-spewing cars into the center of the city sustainable?  The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind. Just don't expect that wind - or all the PR spin - to turn the pretty turbines very often.

11 comments:

Aaron said...

Great to see somebody make this point. I was baffled at the idea of "green" parking structure and hope that the next developer decides that being green might mean promoting other means of transportation.

I have the same question about the PNC Bank "Green Branch" that's apparently going to go up at Halsted and Wrightwood. Will it include a drive-thru (as most of these "green branches" do)? Or will the bank recognize that being environmentally-friendly (especially in such a dense neighborhood) means encouraging customers to walk or use public transit?

vmichael said...

Nice job Lynn

Anonymous said...

I agree that this is a case of greenwashing. But one should also note that this project provides parking for other nearby Friedman projects. There is no underground parking or ugly parking podium in the new hotel building next door. The future huge hotel complex 1 block north also won't have any parking due to this garage. I'm not sure about whether the proposed 50 story apartment tower to the north will include parking, however.

Anonymous said...

LB

NO INTELLIGENT PERSON WILL ARGUE THAT A PARKING GARAGE IS SUSTAINABLE. BUT, THIS ONE IS MORE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY--EVEN IF ONLY MARGINALLY--THAN ANY OTHER SIMILAR GARAGE. YOU CANT COMPARE THIS TO A FIELD OF WIND TURBINES--COMPARE IT TO A NORMAL GARAGE.

Lynn Becker said...

MAKING AN ARGUMENT IN ALL CAPS DOESN"T MAKE IT ANY MORE COGENT.

THIS WASN'T PROMOTED AS "MARGINALLY" BETTER. Oh, sorry.

This wasn't promoted as "marginally" better. It was promoted as the second coming, claiming the turbines would produce "10,000 to 15,000 kWh of power annually", which is pretty hard when the turbines rarely turn. This wasn't rocket science. Aerotek knew it, and they dropped out of the project. At that point, the developer had to know that their claims for the turbines were tenuous, at best. But they still went ahead with the smokescreen, so you compare the garage's performance to the developers inflated claims. They don't get a pass by saying it's still better than the worst.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it is greenwashing because the turbines might not work as well as originally intended. If it was all just for show they probably could have found a cheaper way to decorate the building. The developers deserve credit for their efforts to make a green garage. If they fell short then provide some solutions for the better utilization of wind turbines in Chicago. I think the green movement in Chicago should embrace developers who spend the money to build greener structures. We should provide solutions along with the criticism in order to keep moving the green agenda forward. We all breath the same air.

Lynn Becker said...

There's no shame in falling short of ambitious goals, but when your first vendor tells you the turbines won't really work, and your response is not to rethink your design but to find a vendor with less scruples, that's greenwashing at its most cynical. You don't make progress in sustainability by rewarding projects whose commitment is only skin deep, a marketing device where there's minimal interest in actual results.

Rick Lightburn said...

Wouldn't it be nauseating if they were to get tax credits for being green? For installing a wind turbine? If they installed a wind turbine instead of sculpture because they could get tax credits for installing them and not for installing sculpture?
Of if not tax credits than zoning allowances?
That would be just sick, wouldn't it?
Wouldn't that be greenwashing?

Lynn Becker said...

is getting tax credits for being green, or installing wind turbines greenwashing? nope. what about if a huge array of turbines scarcely move, and you were warned about how little energy they'll produce? as Aunt Sarah might say: you betcha. maybe they should have declared them sculpture - hey, it worked for the Pritzker Pavilion - and then trolled for art subsidies.

Anonymous said...

As a respected professional such as Bil Becker knows, wind turbines should neer be placed at the corner of a building due to turbulence. I understand they did not install the green roof either.

Anonymous said...

Jut because one vendor bowed out doesn't mean it's not a green building. Let's wait a year and see how much power the turbines actually produce and how much power is saved by the other elements that were installed (lower wattage lighting, etc). By the way Lynn, do you happen to know how much carbon was saved by using modern production techniques on this site? I'm not discrediting you, but I'm certainly more interested in the entire picture than in blasting one technique that seems to have fallen short of plan.