Sustainable development and green building is no longer the passion of a few; it is the new standard for all buildings, including government-owned facilities. The notions of sustainability and green building are not as simple as they once were. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards are not the only options, but they remain the centerpiece for many municipalities' green ordinances, which elevate green building to a requirement rather than a voluntary certification. In addition, many governmental agencies have adopted the 2030 Challenge, issued by Santa Fe, N.M.-based Architecture 2030, which seeks an immediate 50 percent reduction in fossil fuel energy consumption in new and renovated buildings, and the elimination of fossil fuels from new construction by the year 2030.
LEEDing the way
Although the terms often are used interchangeably, not all green building is sustainable design. Green building means resource-efficient and environmentally conscious construction. By contrast, sustainable design goes a step further and looks to harmonize energy conservation, resource conservation and quality of life, such as functional spatial design and improved indoor air quality. LEED evaluates environmental performance from a "whole building" perspective over a building's lifecycle based on accepted energy and environmental principles.
In addition to making LEED a centerpiece of his city's sustainability efforts, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled the "Green L.A. Plan" in 2007. Its goal is to reduce the carbon footprint of Los Angeles by 35 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 to meet the 2030 Challenge. Villaraigosa envisions reducing emissions from the L.A. and Long Beach ports, public and private buildings, the airport, the Department of Water and Power (DWP) and city-owned vehicles. Further, the Green L.A. Plan includes making city residents more aware of being green. The mayor took another step by developing, pursuant to ordinance, the "Green Building Plan." The cornerstones of the plan are:
- A requirement that all new projects greater than 50 units or 50,000 square feet must comply with the LEED Certified level.
- Expedited permit processing for projects that meet LEED Silver designation.
- A review of the city's building codes to ease use of environmentally sound and superior materials and processes.
- A cross-departmental Sustainability Team that reviews and revises green building policies and specific projects. City staff will meet weekly with the development community.
- A plan to train and certify the city's staff — including general managers and department and agency heads (Planning, Building and Safety, Public Works, Water and Power, Transportation, and Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles) — in green building methods and policies and/or as LEED Accredited Professionals.
- Joint efforts between the city and the Board of Water and Power commissioners to continue to add DWP financial incentives for projects that meet green building standards.
- A Mayor's Annual Award of Excellence in Sustainable Design & Construction that recognizes exemplary efforts by individuals and companies in the private sector.
LEED required in other cities
Calabasas, Calif., has adopted its own code, called the Green Development Standards. It requires that, prior to the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, all construction or replacement of privately owned and city-owned, non-residential structures more than 500 square feet comply with the Calabasas-LEED rating, which is the current U.S. Green Building Council LEED rating system. Structures up to 5,000 square feet must at least meet the standards established by the LEED Certified rating, while structures more than 5,000 square feet must meet the LEED Silver rating.
The Pleasanton, Calif., Commercial and Civic Green Building Ordinance requires that commercial projects of 20,000 square feet or more meet a minimum LEED Certified rating as a condition of approval. Other California cities, such as Santa Monica, provide expedited plan check processing for projects registered under LEED. Many California cities have mandatory building requirements outside the scope of LEED, and some cities have instituted voluntary programs, which likely will become mandatory in the near future.
What remains at issue is how the California Building Standards Code (CALGreen) that now is mandatory in California will affect LEED and the municipalities that have focused on LEED certification for the implementation of their sustainable development practices. (see "CALGreen requirements" on next page). In all cases, however, CALGreen is pushing owners to build in a sustainable manner, which unlike the voluntary LEED system is compulsory on building owners.
Moving east along a green path
Albuquerque, N.M., also has set some lofty sustainable development goals. Albuquerque signed on to the 2030 Challenge and is working toward the immediate 50 percent reduction in fossil fuel energy consumption in new and renovated buildings and seeks to eliminate fossil fuels from new construction by the year 2030. Albuquerque is working to accomplish those goals through a carrot and stick approach.
The stick is the "Revised Energy Conversation Code," which applies to commercial buildings, multi-family residential buildings and single-family units. The code strives to implement the 2030 Challenge by creating better energy efficiencies in buildings. The carrot is Albuquerque's "Green Path" award, which is given to those buildings that substantially exceed the code minimum for green building and that are significantly energy efficient.
Albuquerque boasts a number of LEED-certified projects but few Green Path-certified projects, which shows that the certification provided by Green Path is hard to achieve. Nonetheless, the requirements for certain levels of LEED certification and the push toward energy efficiency have paid off for Albuquerque. "Twenty percent of new homes bought in 2010 were LEED Silver or Gold-certified homes. This was up from 13 percent in 2009," says Carmine Raia, Albuquerque's Green Path Program Manager. "On the commercial side, in 2011 we have six new buildings under construction that registered with the United States Green Building Council for silver or gold certification."
The color of the future
Green building principles already dominate commercial and residential development. Municipalities not only have embraced sustainable development but also have made building green mandatory under many circumstances. The coupling of LEED requirements with the pledges of the 2030 Challenge has created an environment where the baseline level for environmentally responsible development is high.
Many cities and counties have enacted a minimum sustainable development threshold that meets or exceeds LEED requirements and pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. No longer is government asking for environmental awareness. Rather, it is telling owners what to do in specific complex ways that have resulted in state-of-the-art environmentally sensitive projects.
Douglas Praw is a Los Angeles-based real estate attorney and a partner in Goodwin Procter's Business Law Department. He is a member of its Public Finance and Real Estate, REITs & Real Estate Capital Markets Groups. Follow him on Goodwin Procter's Sustainable Development blog (goodwinsustainabledevelopment.com) and Twitter@GreenBuildLaw.
CALGreen mandates building practices that decrease waste, reduce energy use and conserve water. While municipalities can implement stricter regulations, CALGreen sets the minimum thresholds. It imposes certain requirements on all new construction, including:
- a 20 percent reduction in indoor water use, with voluntary reduction categories of up to 40 percent for commercial projects, and separate water meters for nonresidential buildings' indoor and outdoor water use;
- moisture-sensing irrigation systems for larger landscape projects;
- salvage/recycling of 50 percent of construction waste, with voluntary reduction categories of up to 80 percent for commercial projects
- inspections of HVAC systems for nonresidential buildings exceeding 10,000 square feet to ensure maximum energy efficiency; and
- use of low pollutant-emitting interior finish products, such as paints and carpeting.