The True Inconveniences of Designing Al Gore's Office

For a high-profile environmentalist such as Gore, politics sometimes interfere with making the right decision.

It must suck being Al Gore. All he has to do is flip on the lights at home, and every global-warming denialist this side of the equator picks up a pitchfork. Never mind that he has done more for the environment in the 21st century than, oh, anyone else.

So you can imagine the ridiculous lengths he has to go to to prove his eco bona fides, whether it’s what he piles onto his plate or how he designs his offices. As to the latter, take a look at the New York headquarters of his boutique green investing firm, Generation Investment Management. A lot of effort went into making the place seem unimpeachably green — so much that, weirdly, it’s actually less green than it could be.

The 5,000-square-foot space is on the 48th floor of One Bryant Park, the world’s first LEED Platinum skyscraper. The Gen I.M. office itself recently earned — wait for it! — LEED Platinum certification.

It’s obviously pretty plain. (This is about as sexy as things get in finance, anyway.) But the architect, Kendall Wilson of Envision Design, who has gone eco-chic for a crush of earnest environmental clients (Greenpeace, the Environmental Defense Fund, the U.S. Green Building Council), had to do everything short of rescuing a polar bear to meet the Goreacle’s exacting standards. This project was an exercise in steeling Gore against the critics.

Some of its basic stuff: More than 90 percent of the wood is Forest Stewardship-certified. There are occupancy-sensor lights thrown up everywhere. And check out the Greenguard-certified furniture. Those are Haworth X99 chairs below.

Some of it was more involved. Consider Wilson’s search for flooring: "We found reclaimed wood flooring that came from upstate New York," he says. "But then, when we were doing the research, we found that it was being shipped to China to be finished, then back to the United States. So then we looked at cork flooring from Portugal. That’s the only place it comes from. Then we realized the cork is shipped to New Zealand to be processed and manufactured, then it comes to the United States."

He settled on some rubber material made partly out of recycled car tires for the pantry (origin: Lancaster, Pennsylvania; distance traveled: 130 miles), and custom Lees carpet with lots of recycled stuff packed into it for the main spaces (origin: Glasgow, Virginia; distance traveled: 361 miles). Here’s the carpet:

The problem with all this critic-proofing is that it skews the ethical stakes. Wilson proposed fitting out the walls in synthetic gypsum, which comes from a byproduct of coal-burning power plants. It’s standard fare in green building these days, a low-impact alternative to real gypsum wallboard—a natural, non-renewable resource. But Gore’s project manager, Gen I.M mucky muck Peter S. Knight, wasn’t having it. "He said, ‘Look,’" Wilson recalls, "‘we can’t have anything to do with coal-burning anything.’" The message, of course, is that "coal-burning anything" has political implications Gore had better avoid, lest his personal choices turn into fodder for yet another smear campaign. Lord knows he’s had enough of that. So Wilson agreed to use the real thing (with trace amounts of recycled content). Not especially green.

This is the pain of being Al Gore. The prophet of environmental apocalypse is forever on the defensive—to such a degree that he ends up having to undermine himself, ever so slightly, just for the sake of appearances.

Talk about inconvenient.

[Images courtesy Envision Design]

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32 Comments

  • Kathryn Alexander

    Two things I find interesting - The bitterness and blindness of most of these comments, and the fact that there are NO plants in that office - what a message. Getting ready for the future?

  • Edward Hooks

    What kind of PASS did AlGore get for contributing to the ever-expanding government which is the most environmentally Hostile Organism ever unleashed on the planet?

    Time to TURN off the lights on the Warmers, Schemers, and cockroaches in Washington. If controling Carbon WAS a solution to ANY problem, the poster calling the citizen victims Morons is the one that thinks the Government could GET ER DONE...

  • Edward Hooks

    What kind of PASS did AlGore get for contributing to the ever-expanding government which is the most environmentally Hostile Organism ever unleashed on the planet?

    Time to TURN off the lights on the Warmers, Scammers, and cockroaches in Washington. If controling Carbon WAS a solution to ANY problem Who is the Moron that thinks the Government could GET ER DONE...

  • Cameron matt

    We all have to start somewhere. The endeavor of putting this office together just goes to show how limited the options are for green materials. We couldn't just go on down to home depot and start making our house green without a substantial effort, research and funds!
    Start by doing your part! As a photographer I recycle old cameras. Found a place that actually does something with them and also benefits schools. www TeleplanCameraRepair.com What are you doing in your field to contribute to green, recycle, etc?

  • William Gama

    Good strategy to generate a bit more buzz about Al Gore. By the way, I know there are cork lamination produced and finished in Portugal and sent straight to the US, next time research a bit more.

  • Cameron matt

    We all have to start somewhere. The endeavor of putting this office together just goes to show how limited the options are for green materials. We couldn't just go on down to home depot and start making our house green without a substantial effort, research and funds!
    Start by doing your part! As a photographer I recycle old cameras. Found a place that actually does something with them and also benefits schools. www.TeleplanCameraRepair.com What are you doing in your field to contribute to green, recycle, etc?

  • Frank Purcell

    Sure it was fairly easy to google the definition of LEED, but now I've lost my place (and interest) in the story. I prefer that such things are defined alongside their first use in a story.

  • c. stadelmaier

    I would imagine that this piece was commissioned by the design firm well before the inconvenient truth of the fudged "global warming" science came to light. But why is Fast Company's featuring it prominently on the email blast at this point? Why not leave it in obscurity?

    Why not feature a story on the "Global Warming Petition Project" instead; started well before the "facts" about the fudged science came out, 31,486 scientists have signed the petition to date.

    And just for the record, no one has as yet found a get rich quick scheme to take advantage of those of us who live by the adage "waste not, want not."

  • george hagen

    IS THERE ANY TRUTH TO THIS....
    The “privately-owned” Chicago Climate Exchange is heavily influenced by Obama cohorts Al Gore and Maurice Strong.

    For years now Strong and Gore have been cashing in on that lucrative cottage industry known as man-made global warming.

    Strong is on the board of directors of the Chicago Climate Exchange, Wikipedia-described as “the world’s first and North America’s only legally binding greenhouse gas emission registry reduction system for emission sources and offset projects in North America and Brazil.”

    Gore, self-proclaimed Patron Saint of the Environment, buys his carbon off-sets from himself–the Generation Investment Management LLP, “an independent, private, owner-managed partnership established in 2004 with offices in London and Washington, D.C., of which he is both chairman and founding partner. The Generation Investment Management business has considerable influence over the major carbon credit trading firms that currently exist, including the Chicago Climate Exchange.

    Strong, the silent partner, is a man whose name often draws a blank on the Washington cocktail circuit. Even though a former Secretary General of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the much hyped Rio Earth Summit) and Under-Secretary General of the United Nations in the days of an Oil-for-Food beleaguered Kofi Annan, the Canadian born Strong is little known in the United States. That’s because he spends most of his time in China where he he has been working to make the communist country the world’s next superpower. The nondescript Strong, nonetheless is the big cheese in the underworld of climate change and is one of the main architects of the failing Kyoto Protocol.

    Full credit for the expose on the business partnership of Strong and Gore in the cap-and-trade reduction scheme should go to the investigative acumen of the Executive Intelligence Review (EIR).

    The tawdry tale of the top two global warming gurus in the business world goes all the way back to Earth Day, April 17, 1995 when the future author of “An Inconvenient Truth” travelled to Fall River, Massachusetts, to deliver a green sermon at the headquarters of Molten Metal Technology Inc. (MMTI). MMTI was a firm that proclaimed to have invented a process for recycling metals from waste. Gore praised the Molten Metal firm as a pioneer in the kind of innovative technology that can save the environment, and make money for investors at the same time.

    “Gore left a few facts out of his speech that day,” wrote EIR. “First, the firm was run by Strong and a group of Gore intimates, including Peter Knight, the firm’s registered lobbyist, and Gore’s former top Senate aide.”

    (Fast-forward to the present day and ask yourself why it is that every time someone picks up another Senate rock, another serpent comes slithering out).

    “Second, the company had received more than $25 million in U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) research and development grants, but had failed to prove that the technology worked on a commercial scale. The company would go on to receive another $8 million in federal taxpayers’ cash, at that point, its only source of revenue.

    “With Al Gore’s Earth Day as a Wall Street calling card, Molten Metal’s stock value soared to $35 a share, a range it maintained through October 1996. But along the way, DOE scientists had balked at further funding. When in March 1996, corporate officers concluded that the federal cash cow was about to run dry, they took action: Between that date and October 1996, seven corporate officers–including Maurice strong–sold off $15.3 million in personal shares in the company, at top market value. On Oct. 20, 1996–a Sunday–the company issued a press release, announcing for the first time, that DOE funding would be vastly scaled back, and reported the bad news on a conference call with stockbrokers.

    “On Monday, the stock plunged by 49%, soon landing at $5 a share. By early 1997, furious stockholders had filed a class action suit against the company and its directors. Ironically, one of the class action lawyers had tangled with Maurice strong in another insider trading case, involving a Swiss company called AZL Resources, chaired by Strong, who was also a lead shareholder. The AZL case closely mirrored Molten Metal, and in the end, Strong and the other AZL partners agreed to pay $5 million to dodge a jury verdict, when eyewitness evidence surfaced of Strong’s role in scamming the value of the company stock up into the stratosphere, before selling it off.

    In 1997, Strong went on to accept from Tongsun Park, who was found guilty of illegally acting as an Iraqi agent, $1 million from Saddam Hussein, which was invested in Cordex Petroleum Inc., a company he owned with his son, Fred.

    These are the leaders in the Man-made Global Warming Movement, who three years later were to be funded by the man who was to become President of the United States of America.

    If we follow the time line on where Obama was during the funding of the Chicago Climate Exchange, he was still a professor at the University of Chicago Law School teaching constitutional law, with his law license becoming inactive a year later in 2002.

    It may be interesting to note that the Chicago Climate Exchange in spite of its hype, is a veritable rat’s nest of cronyism. The largest shareholder in the Exchange is Goldman Sachs.

  • Luke Dreyer

    Bill's comments are eerily similar to Solinsky's teachings. If you don't know of them, google it (it's scary). THOSE teachings are the ones poisoning this country....and they are stronger now than ever. Good news is that people are waking up to this socialism/communist type crap and I can assure you the team against this is MUCH bigger than the team for it!

    "Enough respect. They and their views need to be"denied" any sort of dignity.

    Turn their poison back on them. They should be belittled, sniggered at, laughed at, goofed on, and generally portrayed as fools and dupes in every possible way by everyone who has an opportunity to do so.

    The public needs and deserves to be TAUGHT that warming deniers are fools who could hurt us all if they're allowed to prevail. That "teaching" process include commercial film, TV programs, feature articles, text books (except perhaps in Texas) even general product advertising where clever corporate people will see the opportunity to differentiate -- anywhere.

    We are at war with an army of idiots, and we'd better start fighting back better, or they will overcome us, and the common sense needed for survival."

  • Brandon Nielsen

    So we should feel bad if Al Gore takes some heat for not living up to his own high standards? Cry me a river. If the author represents what passes as journalism at Fast Company, then this article has informed me of all I need to know. Nice knowing you, FC.

  • Bobby Segars

    I LOVE that so many people are starting to loudly and proudly speak out against this kind of drivel. It makes me think the silent majority has finally found its voice. Here's to making a whole bunch of other global warming alarmists EX-politicians in November.

  • Luke Dreyer

    You are an annoying zombie....no one personally attacked you. But, you have reacted like the usually liberal...spewing at the mouth and personally attacking people. I'm sure pretty soon you'll call me racist! Silly liberal! I'm questioning him more than anything. He is a self serving ex polotician.

  • Bill Bucolo

    Looks like the trolls and ditto heads are out in force on FastCompany.com- and they're obvious as hell. Someone must have called them up (heh). Pinheads can't smear Al Gore and be taken seriously by anyone with half a brain. Gore is right, the science is right; the fools and the corporate dingbats are wrong and will wind up on the trash heap of history. Too bad they haven't figured it out yet, but REALITY definitely has a liberal bias.

  • Paul Fountaine

    Setting aside whether cooling and warming can be or is affected by our behavior, the minute this idiot steps on a Jet rather than meeting online he loses all credibility with me. Honestly, shout all you want about SUV's vs Hybrids (another ridiculous mess) the reality is that Gore's carbon "footprint" as his people like to call it is enormous.

    You simply cannot lead in this manner without losing all credibility.

    And for those who want to paint with a bigots brush, I am all for being responsible with resources, which is why it kills me every time our federal representatives from the President on down while they climb on their jets and fly all over the world on our dime. This in essence forces me to fund a monstrous "carbon footprint" all the while I drive a very economical car, I recycle, and we as a family do what we can to live responsibly.

  • Luke Dreyer

    Blah, Blah....we just want to live in a utopia, peace, love, harmony, tolerance, diversity, save the earth, social justice, level playing field for all and best of all.....coexist! That's all fine and dandy until your neighbor doesn't want to coexist with you! Then what do you do? Buckle like a little puny wimp? Or stand up for yourself, values and morals! All these politicians are self serving pieces of crap and shouldn't be trusted!

  • Kris Schindler

    Thanks for the perspective. Your article underscores the truth that those of us who talk the talk generally can't walk the walk 100% of the time but that we all have the power (and I would argue, the responsibility) to make decisions that will have a minimal negative impact on the environment. Hats off to Gore, Knight, their contractors and the Generation team for making smart decisions as they set up shop in their new headquarters.