The startup is betting that the more information is available about buildings' green features, the more green buildings there will be.
For every need, there’s a social media platform to guide you through the tangle of options. For restaurants, check Yelp. For hotels, Trip Advisor. For that guy you met last night who seemed kind of cool, Facebook. But for that new apartment that had great light but felt a little drafty? Nothing.
Until now. Honest Buildings, which launches today in beta, aims to fill that gap and simultaneously encourage building owners to make greener choices. Search an address in one of 5,570 cities, and ratings on the building's walkability, energy use, and LEED compliance shed light on its green performance. Join the network, and you can review, comment on, or add photos of a building. Members who design, build, and repair buildings can showcase particular projects and link them to the building’s profile page.
Among the sectors with the most to contribute toward sustainability—transportation, electricity, and the built environment—buildings get the least attention, because they're typically boring. Electric bikes? Exciting! Super-insulating windows? Snooze. But if the nation is to wean itself from its carbon addiction, buildings will need a makeover. In New York City, buildings use 75 percent of all energy consumed. In the United States as a whole, the building sector ate up 40 percent of the country’s primary energy consumption in 2008. Most of this energy goes to heating and cooling the spaces where we spend our days.
In theory, making buildings more energy-efficient should be a no-brainer for building owners and operators: It might require investing a little more upfront, but the measures save money in the long run. But Riggs Kubiak, CEO of Honest Buildings, found that in real life the choice wasn't so simple. Working as the global lead on sustainability at the New York-based real estate firm Tishman Speyer, Kubiak was having a hard time selling his colleagues on sustainability with the “you’ll save money later” argument. When he started pointing out the sustainable features of competitors’ buildings, though, he struck a nerve. Honest Buildings was born out of the idea that more transparency about the built environment would push building owners and developers to compete on sustainability measures.
The site's biggest draw—what kept me clicking, at least—is the forum it provides for sustainable designers, architects, efficiency consultants, and other service providers to showcase their work. When I searched for my own apartment building, I saw only that it’s in a highly walkable neighborhood. But when I started looking at retrofit projects like the Empire State Building, I learned that a company called Serious Energy had installed the new super-insulating windows. And super-insulating windows are less boring when you get a sense of the buildings on which Serious Energy has installed them: the New York Stock Exchange, the Museum of Flight, the Boulder Library, the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas.
The company doesn’t only work on fancy projects like these, though: its showcase also features an office building in Morristown, New Jersey. If I were a developer looking to build or retrofit an office space, I'd give these guys a call. Or if I were looking for office space to rent, I might choose this building over a less green one. To track down this sort of information on my own, I’d have to be extra conscientious about my business’ environmental impact. Honest Buildings make it that much easier for anyone to make green choices.