Green building programs are continuing to flourish in U.S. cities despite the country's economic downturn, an American Institute of Architects (AIA) official told the Ecobuild America annual conference here.
Brooks Rainwater, AIA's director of local relations, based his conclusion on a report the group released last month entitled "Green Building Policy in a Changing Economic Environment." According to the report, about 21 percent of surveyed communities have green building programs, up from 14 percent in 2007. AIA, which surveyed 661 cities with populations exceeding 50,000 people, found that at least 138 cities have green building programs in place.
In addition to identifying new programs that have been developed in the past two years, the report sought to ask cities whether they have altered their original green building policy guidelines in light of the economic downturn. These cities reported with a resounding "no" from coast to coast, AIA reported. The organization additionally concluded that cities are integrating green building policies into wider economic development goals.
"While we know that the design and construction industry is experiencing tremendous pain during this economic recession, it is heartening to see community leaders and policy implementers pushing ahead with sustainable design efforts," AIA said. "The downturn has had a devastating effect on construction generally, but sustainable building design continues to maintain and improve its market share."
The AIA report concluded that the regional distribution of green building programs continues to help illustrate the growth of sustainable development nationwide.
"What we've really seen over the years is that the West Coast started green building first, by and large, and developed a number of green building programs, and the East Coast is catching up now," Rainwater said. "In the last two years, we've seen a 75 percent increase in green building programs on the East Coast. It's really remarkable. And even with the center of the country not having quite as many green building programs, they're starting to catch up a little bit, and they have very innovative programs in cities like Chicago; Austin, Texas; and Grand Rapids, Mich."
Among the cities surveyed, the western region still leads the way on green building programs with 56 cities having a program in place. The mountain region is second in the share of cities with green building programs with 24 percent of residents living in these cities. The eastern region now boasts 49 cities with policies in place. The central region has 21 green building programs.
Rainwater attributed the increases in city green building policies to a decline in green building costs, rising citizen group influence, and a better understanding among designers and developers about green building. Enticements for such development include tax incentives, density/floor area ratio bonuses, and expedited permitting, he said.
Despite increases in city green building programs, AIA believes the following steps need to be taken to make such programs more commonplace across the country:
- Be Inclusive -- Architects, builders, and others in the design and construction community must be involved in the process of creating a green building program to make it truly effective. Education sessions are important and can be offered by another city's sustainability director, a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accredited professional, or professionals associated with other ratings systems being considered in communities.
- Architects Are Here to Help -- Architects would like to help communities develop green building programs and are available as a resource.
- Hire a Director of Sustainability -- This official can coordinate the multiple departments that are generally involved in developing a well-rounded green building program. This individual usually is placed within the mayor's office or the permitting department.
- Train and Accredit Municipal Employees -- Municipal employees should be trained in the rating systems that a community plans to use. By having expertise at every point of contact between the city and architects, contractors, and developers, a more congenial atmosphere is created, and green projects achieve greater success.
- Keep It Simple -- Consistency is the best policy. Planners and other city officials from across the U.S. mentioned that one of the main concerns they had was that it can be difficult to navigate different requirements throughout a community. While downturn-specific plans or other uneven ways of implementing green building policies may be desirable from a political standpoint, it sometimes creates difficulties for those who must implement programs.
- Implement Additional Sustainability Initiatives -- Many communities have passed far-reaching sustainability initiatives. Green building programs generally are very popular, and communities should take the opportunity to pass other environmentally friendly policies alongside the green building ordinance. Examples include green purchasing programs, hybrid fleets, and streamlining the solar permitting process. For the most innovative cities, the next frontier will be green zoning and the placement of green buildings in a more sustainable cityscape, which is happening more often.
- Pursue Green Economic Development -- When possible, cities should integrate sustainability policies, including green building programs, into their economic development plans. Green jobs, green business certification programs, and green buildings provide comparative advantages that cities can highlight and use to draw businesses and the "creative class" into their communities.
- Make It Regional -- Healthy competition between municipalities in regions leads to the development of superior municipal green building programs.
- Remove Legal Barriers -- Many restrictive and outdated zoning laws and building codes prevent mixed-use development, greywater systems, and high- or even moderate-density construction. Sometimes cities "put the cart before the horse" and enact new policies without examining current barriers to sustainable, livable communities. These efforts should be examined holistically with an eye toward creating the best policy for your city.
- Green Buildings Need Green Communities -- In order to truly curb carbon emissions, preserve open spaces, and create livable communities, sustainability efforts must incorporate the whole built environment. Rating systems such as LEED for Neighborhood Development and Earthcraft Neighborhoods are providing new templates for sustainable community planning.
Toward the end of facilitating green communities, AIA has begun collaborating with the Urban Land Institute, focusing on areas hard-hit by the economic downturn, Rainwater told GBI. The organizations could release a white paper on their efforts this summer, he said.
Consultant Offers Slew of Advice for Green Building Planners
Chris Klehm, president of the Pittsburgh-based consulting firm Energy and Environmental Solutions Inc., offered conference attendees plenty of advice that they can use when undertaking a green building project where Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is a goal.
Planners should establish LEED goals from the outset, Klehm said. "The project should be registered before schematic design. At the very beginning, set those goals and make those part of the owner's project requirements. Outline them in the project documents. Put energy performance in there, materials purchasing, [and] all documentation requirements should be littered throughout the project documents.
"Integrate those throughout the submittal process. Don't set up a separate LEED-submittal process; rather, integrate the LEED submittals into the normal project submittals. Absolutely do a design-case submittal to get two-thirds of those credits out of the way, and I think that increases the likelihood of success, then document all of your construction submittals on a monthly basis. Don't let a contractor ever tell you, 'Yeah, we'll get to that. We'll get to that.' Get the documentation on a monthly basis because it will demonstrate how far you're moving along on the project at hand. It's really hard to make up for that at the end of the project, so get that on a monthly basis and monitor the buyouts and the deliverables against what the project goals are so that you're managing that just like you would the rest of the construction process."
Klehm also urged planners to make LEED part of their budget meetings. "Make it an agenda item, or incorporate it through the other parts of your agenda items and project meetings."
It is also important to have the right language and contract documents for such projects, Klehm said. "The language needs to outline LEED goals. Understand that LEED success has a benefit to the owner and has a legal ramification to everybody.... There is much litigation going on now for projects that did not achieve the LEED goals that they set out to [reach], and we're now seeing those in court because they're missing out on tax benefits, operating benefits, etc. So as we get smarter about designing, we're getting smarter about saying, 'Well, what happened here?' LEED really is verifying performance, so there's a LEED score, energy performance, and the ultimate commissioning process in there, so you need to understand where you are at either as a designer or a contractor or a product manufacturer or an installer within that liability chain."
The American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) has lambasted the Portland Cement Association (PCA) for releasing a document entitled "High Performance Building Requirements for Sustainability." AISC believes the document, which is organized as a list of amendments to the 2009 International Code Council International Building Code (IBC), "promotes over-design and increased reliance on concrete, thus actually decreasing the sustainable characteristics of a building." Furthermore, AISC charged that the document lacks consensus and is not supported by other industry organizations. "Sustainable design and construction can best be accomplished when various construction materials and products are used together in an optimal balance of their sustainable characteristics," according to AISC. "The concept of sustainability in construction should not become a new battlefield in the war between construction materials; it should dictate that each material be used in a sustainable manner on its own merits." AISC is encouraging construction industry professionals to call on PCA to withdraw the document.
In response, PCA spokesperson Patti Flesher told GBI, "We have no intention of withdrawing our recommended code changes for consideration for adoption by local jurisdictions communities that want to have sustainable buildings and/or communities. Offering code changes directly to local governments is not unusual in the United States and is often an integral part of the building code development process. Our recommendations are presented as modifications to the [IBC] for consideration and potentially adoption, implementation, and enforcement by state and local jurisdictions. State and local adoption of more stringent code requirements that would not be advanced through the national model code development process is a common practice. For example, most fire sprinkler requirements appeared in many local and state codes before they appeared in model codes. The code change provisions developed by us combine requirements for enhanced durability and increased disaster resistance with the criteria related to material resources, energy and water conservation, indoor air quality, and other sustainability aspects of design and construction of sustainable buildings that are within the purview of the building code officials. Since an approved national model building code dealing with high performance or sustainability does not presently exist, state and local jurisdictions are adopting their own codes addressing these issues. We are fostering this forward-thinking practice by providing language that might be useful in further development and advancement of more comprehensive green or sustainable building code requirements. We have always encouraged state and local modifications to model building codes so that the building design and construction requirements within any specific jurisdiction are not simply the minimum life safety code but also address the social and economic needs as well as local resources, topography, geology, disaster mitigation, and climate condition of the jurisdiction. Because of our strong belief that building requirements should be more than minimum life safety, we will continue to support this approach for jurisdictions. The requirements are not exclusive to concrete and masonry systems and permit other types of construction."
GroSolar recently completed solar energy systems for the first carbon-neutral house on the East Coast. Solar energy will provide electricity and hot water needs for the building in McLean, Va. The collaborative project was put together by CharityWorks, a Washington, D.C.-based volunteer-based nonprofit. The GreenHouse was designed by the architectural firm of Cunningham Quill and constructed by West Group in collaboration with GreenSpur Inc. The house features eco-friendly designs of 19 interior designers and includes an array of sustainable furnishings, fabrics, and finishes. GreenHouse is expected to exceed Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum certification requirements. The home is believed to be more energy efficient than 99.99 percent of homes built since 2000.