These stairs dominate a new green building in Seattle that, as the NYTimes headline observes, is:
Consider the General Semantics PP in the photo, its caption, and the headline. Call six flights of stairs, Irresistible, and baby, the Other Guys will use them. Call it, Practically Self-Sustaining, and, baby, you’ve got a perpetual motion machine that runs on itself.
If you eat the specifications in this tasty dish called a Self Sustaining Green Building then you have solved the Energy Crisis, Global Warming, and Thoreau’s Paradox. You can be Green by simply saying you are Green. But, actually doing Green? Read the details.
Every tenant will be expected to abide by strict annual usage budgets or pay for overages, but extra-fine electrical circuits and detailed outlet metering can help diagnose problem spots down to, say, a malfunctioning printer.
So. The green building requires green people, too.
Another signature feature, a glass-enclosed stairwell that Mr. Hayes has named the “irresistible stairway,” rewards climbers with panoramic views of downtown and Puget Sound. The behavioral carrot, aimed at promoting both health and energy conservation, has been juxtaposed with the stick of a slow and less conveniently sited elevator that requires key card access.
The classic Nudge. Hit the Other Guys with barriers, costs, or delays for an otherwise accessible product or service. Yeah. That’s persuasion. Sure, people are taking the stairs because of the panoramic views. What? A slow and hard to use elevator has nothing to do with it?
It helps that a group of enthusiastic early adopters has already leased more than two-thirds of the available office space. That group includes several organizations and companies heavily invested in the project’s success. . . Even more important, Ms. Gomes is eager to work among peers who have similar sustainability values. “To have like-minded people sharing the same space, to me that’s going to be extremely inspiring,” she said.
So, this Green persuasion is like Mitt Romney’s presidential election persuasion. You don’t need to persuade all the Other Guys, just all the Other Guys like you! And again note that it not the green building, but the green people, too.
Although Mr. Sands admires the decision to forgo a traditional garage, he said the lack of on-site parking, coupled with Seattle’s inadequate mass transit, could create commuting headaches for employees who live in the city’s eastern suburbs and who may “have to figure out other methods or places to park nearby because they will have to drive . . .” Instead, a space about the size of a three-car garage will be reserved exclusively for bicycles, while commuting bicyclists can wash away the morning sweat in one of the rainwater-fed showers on each floor.
Sorry for the buzz kill, but has anyone ever heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act? Other Guys here have to be fit enough to do a bicycle commute between home and work. Unless that job skill is in the work description and is a justifiable part of the work, then it is discriminatory on the face of it. You’d think that Green would include everyone in the rainbow, but if she has a disability . . .
Two weeks later, Mr. Peña led a tour group of corporate real estate professionals through the bowels of the Bullitt Center to check out the business end of the 24 toilets. But do they smell? Mr. Peña invited his tour group of 20 to inspect the boxy composters up close and determine for themselves: they did not. The aerobic process is odorless, provided that the building’s maintenance workers ensure proper ventilation and regular mixing.
. . . provided that the building’s maintenance workers ensure proper ventilation and regular mixing.
Gee. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Remember the Towel Nudge That Saved The World? Yeah. The Nudge worked except the housekeeping staff killed half of the effect by working against the Nudge. So, yeah, sure. The composting toilets don’t smell badly . . . provided that the building’s maintenance workers ensure proper ventilation and regular mixing. That’s guaranteed!
Ultimately, Mr. Peña hoped the building’s novelties would become invisible as the occupants adjusted. “As much as I like to think of this building as a living laboratory, I think for the commercial tenants in this building, we also want it to be just as normal as possible,” he said.
Huzzah. Any persuasion campaign should aim at a modified Local that feels as normal as possible. That’s the smartest persuasion point in the story. Perhaps the only smart persuasion point in the story. A cold hearted persuasion analysis of this attempt reveals all the flaws, failures, and frauds baked into the effort.
This green building is not self-sustaining or even practically self-sustaining from the start. It requires likely illegal discrimination against some Other Guys and demands that eligible Other Guys already belong to the church of green and modify their behavior in large ways all and only just to say they work in a Green Building. Energy usage will be lower in the Bullitt House, but not primarily because of the House.
When I worked at NIOSH a frequent barrier I had to confront for creating Change in the Other Guys was the reflexive counter-argument called, Blaming The Worker. If the Worker Other Guy had to alter Her behavior, some people hated the idea because it forced the solution onto the worker rather than the greedy, running dog capitalist honky pig that owned the business. The Bullitt House is designed to operate in a way that Blames The Worker and forces change upon Them. It appears that if you color the play green, you can Blame The Worker and call it progress!
As always, find the Bolivian Bank in the Local. These greens are easy, ripe, and luscious, already fooling themselves with their own words, confusing the word for the thing, the map for the territory, the claim for the outcome. The Times story artfully obscures the rent costs of the building, noting only that they are Comparable to existing office rents in Seattle.
And, the Bullitt House is Practically self-sustaining, too!
You see the profitable persuasion play here. Remove proven and efficient building design and construction, substitute effort from the Other Guys, and charge at least as much if not more. Call it green and you are golden. Persuasion does not get much easier than this.
P.S. Thoreau’s Paradox: Living in harmony with nature while living off of everyone else’s work.