Friday, December 28, 2012


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In what is becoming an annual end of the year tradition for On the Brink, I am highlighting some environmental news items that I think were overlooked over the course of the year.

Over the last two days, I discussed the lack of information about the "new normal"and the wide acceptance of GMO food-frankenfood.  Today, I thought I would highlight the fine tuning of environmental benchmarks.

I am a big proponent of environmental benchmarks to set goals and targets for environmental improvement.  It is one of the most important strategies employed in environmental policy.  Over the years, many benchmarking strategies emerged including the LEED building rating system and the Forest Stewardship Council's certification program to name just two.  

While I have been a strong supporter of benchmarking systems, I have also criticized them as sometimes being environmentally ineffective or naive.  Take for example the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building system.  It is a fantastic system that advances technology and efficiency.  But one can build a huge mansion for 2 people with enormous per person environmental impacts and still be highly rated in the LEED system.  One real-world example I like to use is of a LEED Gold 9000 square foot commercial building with a handful of employees.  The building is fantastic and a marvel of technology, but was built in an area with abundant vacant commercial space.  It has a huge per person impact.  It stands alone as a luxurious testament to green excess--hardly what was intended when the rating system was developed.

But, times are changing.  The local is becoming much more important in the discussion of benchmarks and many communities or regions are developing their own rating systems and bypassing some of the traditional matrices.  Take for example PlaNYC.  This New York sustainability plan sets benchmark targets that make sense for New York City.  Many regions are following this example and developing their own targets and rating systems.  These activities are helping to transform universal rating systems to allow for local variation.  I expect that over the coming decade, more communities will conduct environmental inventories, set benchmarking standards, and make improvements that make sense for their communities.

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