It’s not easy being green
Local governments face a host of challenges — from interdepartmental wrangling to budgetary restrictions — when applying green building practices across their communities. Nonetheless, cities such as Austin, Texas; Eugene, Ore.; and Chicago have pursued green initiatives using the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system developed by the Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and are helping set the standards for municipal construction projects.
Public officials can take a variety of actions to bring their green building goals to fruition, including using cool or green roofs, photovoltaics (solar power), daylighting, energy management and cogeneration. Also, local governments can use a community-owned electric utility to encourage green building projects.
For example, Austin Energy, a city department, began its energy conservation programs — energy efficiency, renewable energy and distributed generation — in the early 1980s. “Austin is a progressive city, so we’re a progressive utility,” says Richard Morgan, manager of the city’s green building program. In June 2000, Austin’s City Council required all municipal buildings built with city funds to meet LEED criteria.
According to Morgan, the city has completed two green projects. City Hall opened in November 2004, and a $50 million mixed-use emergency services facility — the Combined Transportation Emergency and Communications Center — opened in October.
Working with the Salvation Army, the city also constructed the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, a $5 million, 26,820-square-foot, three-story building with a parking area. The facility was designed using LEED guidelines to maximize natural light, ventilation and views through openings in the building, courtyards and terraces.
One major challenge for Morgan was educating the public about the lifecycle cost of green buildings vs. traditional construction. According to Morgan, too many public officials over-emphasize the initial cost of a project and overlook the building’s total cost of ownership.
Even when a city wants to build green, implementing those practices across local government agencies can be difficult. In Austin, each city department is considered the building’s owner and allocates the budget for its building project. Construction costs are a frequent target of cuts.
“Each department has its own project manager,” Morgan says. “Some do an exceptional job [executing projects under green guidelines], and some don’t. That’s why we went to the city council [to develop a green standard], because we were getting mixed results from project managers. By imposing an outside standard, it is easier to enforce, and it puts interdepartmental wrangling aside. Since [the city’s] resolution, standards are defined by the USGBC, and project managers can’t say that Austin Energy is being unreasonable.”
A consolidated approach
In the early 1990s, every department in Eugene had its own design and operation standards. But that did not work very well, according to Ron Sutton, the city’s facility operations and maintenance manager. By the mid 1990s, Eugene had created a consolidated facility department. “We have a set of [green building] standards that everyone in the organization works towards,” Sutton says. “Individual departments are focused on their programs, not the buildings, which is why a consolidated facility unit is important. It lets departments focus on their core missions.”
Eugene uses LEED standards for its construction and major remodeling projects and for existing buildings (LEED-EB) to evaluate its overall operations program. “Eugene [has] about 100 buildings, ranging from park restrooms to performing arts centers, [each presenting] its own set of challenges in cleaning chemicals, operation policies and procedures,” Sutton says.
Using LEED-EB gives the city a consistent, third-party way to evaluate Eugene’s operations and maintenance program. “We summarized all that we had done and learned [using the green building guidelines] into a presentation to our city council, which was very well received,” he says.
As a result of the emphasis on green buildings, Eugene expanded its recycling program, increased indoor air quality diagnostics, improved refrigerant monitoring/reporting, adopted standards for cleaning chemicals created by Washington-based Green Seal, reviewed service contracts and added sustainable procedures. “If you’re putting the money in the building, you need to know what you’re getting for your money,” Sutton says. “The only way to see if that performance is following through is to certify the building. [While many] private companies have the resources to pursue LEED, there are ways people in the public sector can do this within their budgets.” Sutton says that building green could initially cost more, but “if it is truly an organizational priority, there may be opportunities to request additional funding, over and above your baseline budget for the LEED certification process.”
A mayor with a plan
Chicago has a clear rationale for building green, according to Sadhu Johnston, assistant to Chicago’s mayor for green initiatives. “Over the total lifecycle of a building, operating the facility is 80 percent to 90 percent of the total cost of ownership. People ask how we can afford to construct buildings in this way. I ask how we can afford not to,” Johnston says.
According to Johnston, Mayor Richard Daley is committed to making Chicago one of the greenest cities in the country in terms of sustainable design. In 2001, the city began its first green building project: a major renovation on a brownfield site. The site previously had served a variety of purposes but most recently was used by a construction and demolition debris recycler.
Completed in January 2003, the facility was named the Chicago Center for Green Technology. The 40,000-square-foot building uses solar and geothermal energy, and includes a rooftop garden and a natural habitat to filter stormwater. The city invested $9 million in cleanup costs and another $5.4 million toward construction and renovation.
Today, the city uses the facility to test sustainable design processes and gauge costs for green construction, and to teach the public about green buildings. The facility’s Green Building Resource Center is designed for builders, developers, architects and homeowners looking to incorporate sustainable design practices and green materials into their next building projects.
The center’s resources include green building standards and construction guides; reference books; recycled, reused and renewable building material samples; a public-access workstation with links to green technology Web sites; and staff and volunteers to guide visitors through the research process. Workshops are conducted on topics such as solar electricity, native landscaping and green roofs. The center also hosts seminars designed specifically for building industry professionals that address issues such as boiler efficiency.
“Following that project, the city [built more green buildings] — three libraries and a police station — and with each successive project we saw costs going down,” Johnston says. He says the first certified building had a 6 percent construction premium. As project managers, engineers and architects learned to optimize green construction practices, by 2004 the city’s police station premium was less than 2 percent.
“In June 2004, the city mandated all new buildings would be certified under LEED-NC [for new construction], and we have 12 projects under way. We also require all projects that receive any city funding to pursue green initiatives,” Johnston says. Target is building two stores in Chicago, and it is receiving tax increment financing from the city because of its commitment to build green.
Securing the commitment from city officials, private companies and construction professionals to build green has been the city’s biggest challenge, Johnston says. Learning new techniques and strategies to make the entire process more efficient is a large part of the effort, and the city conducts extensive training in the private sector.
“Chicago is learning the processes and then reaching out to the private sector through these types of incentives,” Johnston says. “We’re also creating a green building permit process and a green building code which will expedite green building projects.”
And if towns the size of Eugene, Austin and Chicago can go green, other local governments can as well. Though different methods, municipal structures and philosophies exist, the local governments can have one goal: to achieve sustainability in the built environment.
Matt Stansberry is a Needham, Mass.-based freelance writer.
LEEDING the way to building green
The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. Members of the Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council, representing all segments of the building industry, developed LEED and continue to update the system.
LEED standards currently are available or under development for:
- New commercial construction and major renovation projects (LEED-NC),
- Existing building operations (LEED-EB),
- Commercial interiors projects (LEED-CI),
- Core and shell projects (LEED-CS),
- Homes (LEED-H), and
- Neighborhood development (LEED-ND).
LEED provides a framework for assessing building performance and meeting sustainability goals. It emphasizes strategies for sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. LEED offers project certification, professional accreditation, training and practical resources.
For more information about LEED, visit www.usgbc.org
— Matt Stansberry