Governments pushing developers to go green
WASHINGTON -- Next spring, the Washington Nationals will take the field in the nation's first baseball stadium to meet energy efficiency and environmental standards developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.
The stadium, which is being built on a brownfield area next to the Anacostia River, will feature energy-efficient lighting, water-conserving plumbing and an intricate stormwater management system that will enable water to be reused on site. Recycled construction materials also are being used.
District of Columbia officials expect the stadium to spur development in the area. Building an environmentally smart stadium shows developers the city expects them to go green as well, said Mayor Adrian Fenty.
Leading by example is the most common way governments are promoting green building. Many states and federal agencies require their new buildings and leased space to meet high energy efficiency standards.
But Washington and a handful of other localities are going a step further and requiring all major new commercial buildings to meet the standards. Some environmental groups are pushing Congress to enact national energy standards for new buildings.
Buildings are getting a lot of attention in the fight against global warming because they account for 39 percent of the energy used every year in the U.S.
Carbon dioxide emissions could be cut by 6 million tons a year -- the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road -- if half of the country's new commercial buildings used 50 percent less energy, according to the Green Building Council.
Many developers are building more energy-efficient buildings without any prompting from the government. The council has certified nearly 900 buildings under its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, and 6,500 more projects await certification.
More tenants are demanding energy-efficient buildings -- not only to be good corporate citizens, but also to save on energy bills. Meanwhile, the cost of building green is going down as the supply of materials needed to meet LEED guidelines increases, said Tom Bisacquino, president of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties.
"The business case for building green is getting stronger, and will only continue to get stronger over time," Bisacquino said.
In a few years, a building will have to be green in order to be considered Class A office space, he predicts.
Home builders are going green as well. The National Association of Home Builders has developed guidelines for environmentally sound building practices, ranging from site design to materials used in construction. By 2010, about 10 percent of new homes will be green, according to a survey of NAHB members.
By 2015, green homes "will just be accepted," said NAHB Vice President Bob Jones, a builder in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
The city of Austin, Texas, plans to require home builders to increase the energy efficiency of new homes by 65 percent or more by 2015. Homeowners could use solar power or other technologies to generate the electricity they need.
Offering developers incentives to go green is a better approach than setting government mandates, Bisacquino said.
Some localities offer tax breaks, expedited permitting and density bonuses to developers of LEED-certified projects.
"Those are really effective," said Jason Hartke, manager of state and local advocacy for the Green Building Council.
NAIOP is researching which incentives work best and plans to draw up model legislation for localities to consider, Bisacquino said. The federal government, meanwhile, should make tax breaks enacted in 2005 for energy-efficient buildings permanent, he said.
The Green Building Council thinks the government should increase its research on green building technologies, which now accounts for only 0.2 percent of all federally funded research.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors wants Congress to create new block grants for states and localities to use in updating building codes, conducting energy audits and developing conservation programs.
At a recent hearing, Marty Blum, mayor of Santa Barbara, Calif., told House members, "You can show us what your priorities are by showing us the money."
Each year, buildings account for:
- 39 percent of U.S. primary energy use
- 70 percent of U.S. resource consumption
- 15 trillion gallons of water use
- 136 million tons of construction and demolition debris
Source: U.S. Green Building Council
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