The Man from Greensboro and His Super Green Hotel

12/26/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dr. Bill Chameides is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the dean of Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment. He blogs at

Been to any LEED Platinum hotels lately? Probably not, unless you've been to the Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, North Carolina - it's the first and only one of its kind. I recently had a chance to visit the hotel and speak with the man responsible for it - Mr. Dennis Quaintance.

First some stats. Collectively, commercial and residential buildings consume a little less than 40 percent of the energy we use and the greenhouse gases we emit in the United States (see graphics below). Add in buildings from the industrial sector, and those percentages move to about 50 -- more than the contribution from either transportation or non-building related industrial activities.

U.S. CO2 Emissions by Sector/Source: Energy Information Administration statistics More than 80 percent of the energy consumed during a building's lifetime occurs during its operation, so lowering energy consumption in the building sector means constructing more efficient buildings that use renewable instead of fossil-fuel energy.

To encourage the construction of energy efficient and environmentally sustainable buildings, the U.S. Green Building Council has devised the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. This provides builders and developers with metrics for assessing the sustainability of their projects. Through an independent, third-party certification program, buildings can achieve ratings of LEED Silver, Gold, or Platinum, with platinum being the highest.

According to a 2007 report [pdf] of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, "current best practices can reduce emissions from buildings by at least 60 percent for offices and 70 percent for homes;" yet energy consumption and carbon emissions from the building sector continue to rise at a pace with the other segments of our economy. So what's the problem? Why are we not making more progress on the green building front?

There are any number of explanations. One significant problem is that the people who construct our buildings are usually not the ones who use them, so the incentive is not to build for energy efficiency, which would cut costs for the user, but for lower costs, which benefit the builder.

But every once in a while a visionary comes along and breaks the mold. Dennis Quaintance is just such a person. Neither an architect nor a civil engineer, he is a hotel man, plain and simple.

Find out how Quaintance went on to build the country's first LEED Platinum hotel.