In Wednesday’s Stanford Daily, Heather Benz, a senior at Stanford, wrote an op-ed criticizing a news piece that I wrote for the Review in early January. She argues that the piece “misconstrues and obscures the facts about Y2E2.” Benz continues, calling a depiction of the “green building” industry “flawed,” asserting that there are in fact success stories. She concludes with a noble statement about “saving the planet” (and my apparent opposition to that goal).
There are a few things that need to be cleared up. First and foremost, the article that I wrote reflected neither the opinion of this newspaper or me. It was a news article reporting on a paper written by researchers at Stanford’s Center for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE). In the process of researching the article, I spoke with multiple people in Stanford’s Sustainability and Energy Management Office, including Joseph Stagner, the Executive Director. I heard many of the arguments that Benz uses in her op-ed from Stagner and others. And I reported on them. The article quotes Fahmida Ahmed as saying: “The occupancy of the building is far different than originally assumed by the designer – Y2E2 essentially became a 24/7 building.” Furthermore, Stagner is quoted as saying: “The building is using about 40% less energy than a standard building of this type would.” Now the article obviously also included remarks that criticized the Y2E2’s planning and energy performance – but, those opinions were solely those of the authors of the CIFE paper.
Second, I’d like to reiterate some of the basic points that the CIFE paper argues. It, of course, acknowledges that design plans for Y2E2 changed, as Benz mentions. However, it notes how radically energy use of the building went up after basic additions. The report indicates that “actual [energy use] exceeded the initial prediction and design objective by about 65%.” And based on that evaluation, the CIFE researchers commented, “The data suggest that, even when good people try hard, energy performance comes nowhere near objective, and the objectives need to become much more stringent.” In other words – yes, Y2E2 is more efficient than a standard building, but we can do better, especially in terms of planning and laying out stricter (and achievable) objectives. Furthermore, Benz’s arguments about the green building industry simply gloss over the facts laid out by the CIFE paper. She describes the paper’s argument as a “flawed attack on the green building industry, giving examples of buildings across the world that have not performed as expected.” I guess I fail to see what’s flawed about that line of reasoning. There are examples of buildings not performing nearly as efficiently as they were expected to (and there are success stories as well!). What does that tell us? The industry has a long way to go. And that is so contentious?
Finally, I’d argue that this newspaper’s decision to actually report on opinions that run contrary to accepted belief is actually something positive on this campus. Few other sources of reporting have chosen to scrutinize the rhetoric of those in student government or the administration. I also encourage Benz and others to be more willing to accept (or at the very least, listen) to outside criticism. To argue that the green building industry is flawless is to the detriment of the environmentalist movement. As Benz argues, the industry remains in its “infancy” – therefore, mistakes are going to be made. Wouldn’t it be best to acknowledge them so that the planning and construction of such buildings can improve? In the age of “Climate-gate” and other climate change related scandals, skepticism of anything “green” is on the rise (not to say that I’m a skeptic on this topic – I am not). It would do the environmentalist movement good to acknowledge the occasional fallibility of its actions while rededicating itself to improvement.
Now that is a far more effective way of “saving the planet.”