Its building has one and staff members
think every building should have one. Okay, maybe not the Chrysler
Building, but certainly the multitudes of brownstones that line
Manhattans streets. It is the Earth Pledge Foundation
(EPF), and the object of this affection is the green or vegetated
roof. While admitting that its goal of planting the rooftops of
20 to 40 percent of New York Citys buildings is ambitious,
executive director Leslie Hoffman sees her organizations Green
Roof Initiative solving many problems.
We really are going to try and build a coalition here in the
city to green the rooftops of New York to ameliorate storm water
runoff programs and the urban heat island effect. Also, there arent
many opportunities to develop outdoor space in Manhattan, so our
rooftops are a great answer.
Green roofs are a natural, almost predictable direction for the
EPF, an organization started by Theodore Kheel in 1991 to stimulate
interest in and support of the upcoming 1992 Earth Summit in Rio
de Janeiro. Motivated by the findings of the summit, Kheel adopted
the promotion of sustainable development as EPFs primary goal
and received early backing from his friend, renowned artist Robert
Rauschenberg. To promote the summit, Rauschenberg created its official
artwork, Last Turn, Your Turn, produced additional pieces
and has remained an important EPF supporter and fundraiser.
An auspicious beginning and a few assets, mostly in art, were all
that Kheel had to offer Hoffman when he hired her as executive director
in 1994. The foundation, at the time, was not much more than a legal
entity on a shelf in Kheels law firm with no programs and
The activity of having supported the Earth Summit had pretty
much come to an end, Hoffman remembers. When Ted met
me he was interested in acquiring my energy, my somewhat diverse
passions for gardening and food, and my experience in design and
construction. While different, both agriculture and architecture
are methods by which people can significantly participate in moving
to a more sustainable future through the choices that they make.
With a staff hovering around 15, Earth Pledge today reflects both
its initial sustainable development mission and Hoffmans influence.
For example, it was one of the first non-profits on the Web because
of Hoffmans early pioneering in the Internet and has since
developed and produced many Web-based programs. It has a full-time
programmer and graphic designer for interactive media and has delivered
sustainable messages to a diverse constituency.
Farm to Table, one such outreach, is a Web-based program to connect
people to local farming and all the reasons to support itprofiles
of farmers, whats in season, recipes from chefs and restaurants
that support local farms and from the farmers themselves, and up-to-the-minute
food and environmental news. Hoffman has a passion for the subject
I understand it as one of the principal underpinnings of a
sustainable lifestyle. Food systems are about as basic as it gets,
she says. In 1999, we published our Sustainable Cuisine White
Papers, a collection of essays from chefs, farmers, food producers,
restaurateurs, academics and other experts, all exploring the link
between food quality, environmental issues and culinary traditions.
According to its Web site (www.Farmtotable.org), EPF offers lucky
New Yorkers a quick and easy way to identify, locate and connect
to the best local and sustainable food and wine available. For the
rest of us, EPF is talking about taking Farm to Table nationwide.
An anaerobic digestion project is also in development right now.
As Hoffman explains, Its a closed system that takes,
in this case, food wastebut it could be anything from manure
to any organic matterand turns it first into methane gas and
then, ultimately, electricity. Its a way to take restaurant
food waste and close the loop on sustainable cuisine.
Food waste makes up between 11 percent and 25 percent of New
York Citys waste stream, and currently over a million tons
of food waste per year is exported to landfills. This translates
into truck traffic, pollution, transportation costs, landfill problems,
and it goes on and on. While most people think of food waste as
compostable, it really isnt unless the trash is separated.
Here in New York, its mixed in with everything else, so youre
trucking it off to the same landfills that all the rest of the garbage
is going. The other thing that people dont think about is
that composting releases a lot of methane, which happens to be a
particularly detrimental greenhouse gas. Really what were
doing is speeding up the process and then capturing the methane
to generate clean energy.
Earth Pledge has also issued white papers on sustainable cities
and sustainable architecture. Upcoming publishing efforts include
a series on sustainable development as well as sustainable tourism.
Theres also Our World in Focus, a collection of photographs
and essays that highlight global issues, to be released during the
Johannesburg World Summit. The book will reflect various aspects
of human life: people, nature, food, shelter, community, pleasure,
tragedy and economy in order to highlight what man has done to the
Earth, what nature has to offer and some solutions through the photographs
and essays about the progressive efforts that are being made all
around the world. Done in collaboration with Magnum Photographers,
the preface is written by Nitin Desai, secretary general of the
United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development, and contributors
include the Dalai Lama, Queen Nour of Jordan, John Elkington and
Alice Waters. It will be a very beautiful, accessible book,
EPF has also just moved its offices into a 1902 building that was
Abraham Lincolns granddaughters residence. Designed
by the same architect, Ralph Townsend, as the carriage house it
has occupied for the last few years, the building has been renovated
to give the organization better office space.
It was in a little bit rough shape, but it was basically intact,
Hoffman remembers. We decided to do a showcase of environmental
and communication technology, because we do so much work on the
Web, and we have a very digitally savvy group. We began by researching
who were the manufacturers of the systems, products, finishes, furnishings
and equipment that would meet the highest standards of environmental
friendliness. We made a big effort to ensure that the style of what
we did is a sophisticated overlay between design-savvy and a historically
correct building. The one thing we didnt want was a nutty-crunchy,
granola kind of look.
The EPF tried to preserve the best of a nice old building and impose
on it environmentally friendly products and technologies, but there
were some compromises, Hoffman admits. For example, the lighting
is very contemporary and energy efficient. Designed by JoAnne Lindsley,
the lighting designer who helped the federal government come up
with its energy efficient lighting standards, the building is lit
by fluorescent, LED and fiber optic lighting and, where needed,
some halogens for color and historical correctness. Although not
environmentally perfect, the combination seems appropriate for this
charming townhouse with its storied past and, of course, its green
Which brings us back to Earth Pledges Green Roof Initiative.
This is a big project that wed like to integrate with
our sustainable cuisine programs, Hoffman says, and
maybe eventually do some urban agriculture. In our own garden upstairs,
were growing herbs and vegetablesweve got tomatoes,
eggplants, peppers, squashall kinds of other things. Its
fun, but also immensely important in a city like New York that has
combined storm water and sewage systems. By absorbing the
water that falls on them, green roofs help to minimize water pollution.
They also help lower the heat island effect that cities experience
during the summer, sometimes as much as six to eight degrees. Buildings
with green roofs will also see lower energy bills.
New York is famous, at least through the movies, for its rooftop
gardens, but Hoffman doesnt count them as green roofs. Theyre
pots on a terrace, she says. Ill tell you what
I think is going to happen. A number of high profile projects are
starting to get a fair amount of publicity for greening their roofsTwenty
River Terrace, the new green residential building down in Battery
Park City and the Staten Island Ferry Terminaland people are
becoming intrigued. We already held a symposium that was a tremendous
success. I think our next step is to develop a resource manual for
doing green roofs in New York.
My real interest, Hoffman concludes, is to twiddle
the imagination of people so that they start to see that life can
actually be enhanced by struggling for sustainability. Its
not about giving things up, its about having an enhanced intellectual
engagement with what it takes to really sustain life on this planet.
For more information about Earth Pledge initiatives, call 212-725-6611
or visit: www.earthpledge.org.