Friday, April 03, 2009

Hmm... I guess its the thought that counts?

Sunnyvale has adopted some Green Building Standards. Basically they require new buildings or major alterations to meet "LEED" or "GreenPoint" standards. While these are based on good intentions, they often miss the bigger picture. The Economist had a recent article comparing recycling efforts in San Francisco and Mumbai. San Francisco spends millions of dollars on high-tech recycling plants, yet Mumbai likely has a much higher diversion rate - because recycling is profitable for everyone involved. Bay area cities often try to centralize recycling efforts, while actively discouraging rag-pickers and dumpster diving. For instance, Sunnyvale recently replaced "extra dump" days with "on demand" pickup. With extra-dump days, everyone would leave their bulky and extra trash out on a few predefined days a year. This provided an ideal opportunity for people to 'cruise' ahead of the garbage trucks and pickup and 'reuse' the junk. [You can still see the 'cruisers' in nearby Santa Clara] By replacing it with on-demand pickup, the city may save some on fuel costs, but also limits the amount of reuse.

LEED standards are another matter. There are obviously some objects to the standards from interested parties like the shopping center council. However, more injurious for the city is the lack of a 'big picture' view. A 3000 square foot McMansion that uses 20% less energy than other 3000 square foot McMansions seems like a good thing. However, compared to 3 1000 square foot townhomes that could occupy the same area and hold 3 times as many residents, it looks downright horrible. Its even worse when you consider that these McMansions will have large landscaped yards - which will be the source of most of the water use, and extensive energy used by the hired gardeners and their gas-powered leaf blowers. Perhaps the best benefit of the ordinance is that it allows 5% extra lot coverage for meeting the highest standards. At least its a start.