Standards Keep House In Order

August 20, 2007
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Green is in the eye of the beholder. That certainly is true in an age when sustainable business practices are clouded by a myriad of environmentally friendly terminology and initiatives intended to add sparkle to the package but not always bringing substance to the contents. West Michigan continues to provide such substance. Grand Rapids is nearly always mentioned in national presentations by sustainable business experts as being a leader in this sector.

In this issue's Focus section, the Business Journal staff concentrates on presenting an updated picture of the green movement in business and industry in West Michigan. It, of course, is an impressive model that has its roots here in charter members that include Herman Miller Inc. and other industry innovators. It's clear this region continues to lead the way in numerous sustainable business efforts, whether it is in this edition's profiled subjects that include the developments of a showcase art museum, a burgeoning suburban health care center, or even high school athletic facilities. Add to those efforts the pending approval of a newly developed sustainable product standard for the office furniture industry, which was one of the first places the sensible side of the green movement began to take hold years ago, and a picture of continuing accomplishment is truly put into focus.

As is noted in Daniel Schoonmaker's story on page B4, "green" has become a market necessity, so much so that the practice of "greenwashing" has taken hold in mass quantities. This strategy promotes programs, building projects and product development as environmentally friendly, whether they are or not. The most successful and well-recognized measurement of environmental attributes continues to be the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED standards. There are, as is noted in the glossary of designations and labels outlined in useful primers on page B5, a host of other worthwhile designations and qualifications that continue to proliferate.

As Cascade Engineering's Kelley Losey, who is president of the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, points out, "Some people might be getting into (green initiatives) for the wrong reasons, but it doesn't really matter what door they come in. They're going to be forced to do the right things eventually." In other words, the verification process will take hold and legitimize a number of efforts before they can be recognized as legitimate contributors to the sustainable business cause.

Green characteristics do not come on the cheap. Significant additional investment is frequently required, but the economies of scale are making such efforts more affordable in the long run. The decision to design the new art museum for a LEED rating was made in 2001, a direct result of a $20 million gift from the Wege Foundation. Peter Wege continues to insist any project receiving Wege Foundation funds be green, using LEED guidelines.

The standards are set, the pretenders are being weeded out. This vital movement is a serious one. And it won't end soon.     

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