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gbNYC’s Top 5 Stories in Green Building: 2008

Before we get the ball rolling here at gbNYC in 2009, I’d like to wish all of our readers a very Happy New Year and thank you for continuing to make this site such a success during 2008.

A year ago, as 2007 drew to a close, we wrote that the New Year promised to be “fascinating” for green building, both locally and across the rest of the country. I think our prediction turned out to be an understatement for a variety of reasons, including the reaction to our analysis of the Shaw Development case and the ongoing credit crisis; 2009 promises to be no less of a wild ride.

We’re looking forward to sharpening our focus here at gbNYC over the course of 2009 on the design and performance of green buildings while presenting the legal and regulatory aspects of sustainable design in much greater detail over at the Green Real Estate Law Journal .

That being said, I’d like to review what I think were the five most important green building stories that we presented in one manner or another here at gbNYC during the course of 2008. I chose both general and local green building issues that we reported on an ongoing basis which I believe will continue to be significant moving forward through 2009.

#1: Shaw Development v. Southern Builders : Green Building Law Practice Area Begins to Crystallize in Aftermath of America’s First Green Building Litigation

Although the litigation itself did not commence in 2008, gbNYC did report the lawsuit for the first time back in August. Since then, much has been written across the legal community analyzing the dispute in more detail, and I think it’s fair to say that 2008 will ultimately be considered a turning point for green building law as a practice area. Stakeholders are beginning to recognize the risks inherent with green construction, particularly where, as in Shaw Development, a project seeks to take advantage of (or is required to comply with) a particular green building regulation. Regulatory activity will only increase in 2009 and I suspect that Shaw Development is just the first of many litigations that will we see growing out of green construction projects.

#2: AHRI et al. v. City of Albuquerque : The First Shot Across the Bow of Green Building Legislation?

Back in the fall, the federal district court for the District of New Mexico granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiffs in AHRI et al. v. City of Albuquerque , a first-of-its-kind lawsuit that sought to bar the enforcement of local-level energy efficiency codes on the basis that federal standards preempted the application of the proposed local-level codes. In her decision, Judge Martha Vazquez noted that legislators were “unaware” of federal preemption doctrine when they crafted their proposed legislation. It is possible that other state- and local-level regulatory schemes that were similarly drafted without broader consideration of legal implications might be challenged in 2009, particularly if AHRI ends up standing for the proposition that stakeholders no longer fear backlash for attracting negative attention to green building by filing lawsuits.

#3: 11 Times Square Continues to Look for Tenants While Other Local Green Projects Stall During Fourth Quarter

While green building enjoyed a record year by the numbers (in terms of LEED and Energy Star applications, as well as the McGraw-Hill prediction that green construction will triple by 2013 to a $150 billion per year industry), a number of local projects either struggled or were canceled outright in the aftermath of the meltdown on Wall Street. Despite assurances that it would be well on its way towards filling 11 Times Square by the summer, SJP Properties ended 2008 without inking a single tenant for space in its LEED Gold hopeful tower on 42nd Street and 8th Avenue. Meanwhile, notwithstanding its striking green design, Vornado’s planned Harlem Tower at the corner of 125th Street and Park Avenue fell through , and a number of green building projects across Brooklyn, include the Steelworks Lofts in Williamsburg, saw work halt because of the prevailing market conditions.

#4: LEED for Commercial Interiors Office Space Proliferates Across Manhattan

We wrote quite a bit here at gbNYC about LEED-CI projects in Manhattan, a number of which earned formal certification from USGBC during the course of 2008. Anecdotally, at least, we saw a significant uptick in the number of these types of projects that were reported over the last year, suggesting that tenants are not only seeing the financial advantages of greening their office space, but are serious about taking a leadership position in terms of demonstrating their commitment to environmental issues and green design to their clientele.

#5: Green Building Performance Is Still a Question Mark and Industry Experts Are Taking Note

In our article wrapping up last November’s Greenbuild in Boston, we noted that the conference contained relatively little discussion of the performance failures of LEED and other green buildings that have been documented to date. A number of engineers- including New York City’s Henry Gifford- have written extensively about the problems associated with basing a third-party certification, in part, on a building’s projected (rather than actual) energy consumption. Gifford’s critique was analyzed extensively by building science expert Joseph Lstiburek in an ASHRAE journal piece that was published earlier this fall. As USGBC prepares to roll out LEED 2009 and other organizations such as NAHB, and the Green Building Initiative continue to refine exactly how these ratings are conferred, it will be instructive to observe whether other building science experts join the discussion and help frame how next-generation green building guidelines are established, particularly as more governments incorporate such systems into legislation.

Finally, I’d also like to link you back to some of my favorite posts from 2008. Again, all of our best to everyone for a happy, healthy, and green 2009!

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One Response to gbNYC’s Top 5 Stories in Green Building: 2008

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