Rush University Medical Center in Chicago reserves 25 parking stalls for hybrid cars at the entrance of its parking garage. Likewise, Xavier University in Cincinnati assigns 9 close-in spaces for low-emission, high gas-mileage cars. Both parking allocations were guided by LEED standards– Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, an internationally recognized green-building certification system, equivalent to a Good Housekeeping seal of approval for environmentally friendly buildings.
So decisions to favor certain kinds of cars are a good thing, right? Well, no. Ask yourself, who buys these cars? Various surveys show such buyers are more urbane, highly educated and financially better off than the average American–71 percent of Prius owners make more than $100,000 a year.
The 2007 Scarborough Research lifestyle survey of 110,000 adults, revealed hybrid owners are much more likely to go skiing, hiking, practice yoga and to consume organic food, yogurt, and decaffeinated coffee than the general population.
To frame this issue from a “critical perspective” so favored by many in the professoriate, we need to ask: Who is privileged and who disadvantaged by LEED parking standards? The privileged are mostly mature, well-to-do, highly degreed members of the leisure class. Those disadvantaged by LEED parking standards are the less well-off and the working poor: campus employees in such fields as landscaping, janitorial, secretarial, law enforcement, and food services, often disproportionately female, African-American and Hispanic. Because the approved cars are primarily three or fewer years old, LEED standards favor white-collar over blue-collar workers as well as married couples over single parents, and people who typically can only afford to purchase older, used cars rather than the new cars that qualify for reserved spaces.
LEED standards short-change large families. Buyers of vans, pickups and SUVs all tend to have more children than buyers of standard vehicles. Younger buyers tend to lose out too: only 2 percent of hybrid owners are 24 or younger.
Academics often tell students that citizens with the advantages of wealth, education, and breeding have an obligation to show empathy with and respect for the lives of those who do not possess the social, intellectual or economic capital of society’s privileged classes. If they really believe this, one thing they can talk to their students about is how the LEED standards really work.