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Tag Archives | green building policy

Is San Francisco Reconsidering Its Green Building Legislation in Light of the LEED Performance Debate?

The San Francisco Chronicle has picked up on the recent flurry of commentary generated by Mireya Navarro’s piece in the New York Times about the LEED building performance gap. The article opens up by stating “[r]evelations that many buildings certified as green under a broadly accepted national standard for energy savings are not performing as well as predicted recently prompted changes to the [LEED] program and are forcing San Francisco officials to consider amending city rules that are tied to the older guidelines.” However, a closer look at the substance of the article suggests that city officials may actually be trying to expedite the application of the LEED 2009 system and its corresponding Minimum Program Requirements (“MPRs”) to large, private construction projects. (As you will recall, the new MPRs require that projects which pursue LEED certification to “commit to allow USGBC to access all available actual whole-project energy and water usage data in the future for research purpose” or risk decertification.) I also think the piece is noteworthy because it suggests an inextricable link between increased data reporting and increased building performance.

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Contractor Leads Attack Against Nashville’s LEED Legislation

Some interesting legislative developments are taking place right now in Nashville, Tennessee that implicate many of the green building policy issues that we’ve been wrestling with over the past few months here at GRELJ. Since 2007, metropolitan Nashville has required most new and major public projects to larger than 5000 square feet or costing more than $2 million to earn LEED certification. Recently, city councilman Duane Dominy of suburban Antioch introduced legislation that would “allow the Metropolitan Government to pursue an alternative sustainable development design standard to LEED certification based upon pre-determined energy reduction and efficiencies. If Metro chose to pursue an alternative to LEED, the contractor would be required to warrant for a three-year period that the annual energy use for the building will be less than similar buildings” or will earn a minimum score under EPA’s Energy Star program.

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Energy Performance in LEED Buildings: A History

“LEEDing from Behind: The Rise and Fall of Green Building” is a survey piece by Community Solutions executive director Pat Murphy that reviews the significant body of critical commentary on the energy performance of LEED buildings that emerged beginning in 2005 with Randy Udall and Auden Schendler’s seminal “LEED Is Broken – Let’s Fix It” article. Mr. Murphy’s stated purpose in writing his piece was to “show the history of the dialogue about LEED energy performance.” Many of the articles cited will be familiar to you, but this is the first time that I have seen all of them organized chronologically with their key points about LEED-related building performance highlighted. I think that reviewing the piece is extremely instructive in terms of framing both green building policy-related issues, as well as corresponding risk management considerations, from a much broader perspective. Mr. Murphy concludes that “[t]here has been concern with the LEED rating system relative to energy and CO2 since its inception. . . . LEED has failed to lead in the important areas that are measurable. Initially, [USGBC] adopted a weak status relative to energy consumption. [It] did not recognize and incorporate accountability and verification, unfortunately wasting years that could have providing important feedback relative to energy use. [It] has also not clearly and honestly communicated that LEED is not an exemplary indication of energy performance.”

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Baltimore Developers Raise Questions About Green Premiums Under New LEED-Driven Legislation

On July 1, new green building legislation applying to private development took effect in Baltimore. Council Bill 07-0602, which was signed in August of 2007, required that the city establish green building standards for new or substantially renovated commercial and multi-family residential buildings larger than 10,000 square feet. City-owned buildings were required to comply with the new legislation beginning January 1, 2008, city-subsidized buildings by January 1, 2009, and all other buildings this past July 1. While the city is developing its own Baltimore-specific green building standards that should be released by the end of 2009, in the interim, in order to obtain a building permit, all buildings applying must be “equivalent” to LEED Silver. The legislation does not require formal LEED certification, but owners must submit a checklist for the appropriate LEED rating system as part of the plans submittal for a new building permit. Checklists must set forth specific credits the project will pursue, briefly describe how each credit will be achieved, and (interesting to note from a legal perspective) the parties responsible for each credit. The checklist must also be signed by a LEED AP who is not an employee of the building owner at the time of submittal. Again, although certification is not required, in order to obtain a building occupancy permit from the city, at the time of occupancy permit application, project teams must submit a completed checklist indicating which credits the project met successfully, signed by a non-employee LEED AP. As we’ve discussed frequently here at GRELJ, all of these requirements could raise interesting- and novel- liability issues in the event that a project fails to receive a building permit or certificate of occupancy as originally contemplated. However, the city’s development community is calling for Baltimore’s City Council to reconsider the legislation based on perceived additional green building first costs and asking it to propose an incentive-based structure in its place.

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New Marsh Report Offers Construction Industry Feedback on Green Building Risks

It may have been lost a bit in the recent discussion over LEED 2009 decertification, but last month Marsh released a new report that solicited feedback from construction industry executives on the risks that they perceive as arising out of green design and construction across ten risk categories: brand and competitive edge or reputation, project consultants and subcontractors, education, finance, building performance, green building regulations, return on investment, standards of care and legal, supply chain and technology. To obtain the feedback, Marsh convened four forums in in Washington D.C., San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City in late 2008 and early 2009, which were attended by a total of 55 industry executives. While the executive summary to the report, which is titled “Green Building: Assessing the Risks, Feedback from the Construction Industry,” acknowledges that its findings “might be characterized as anecdotal,” I do think that the report is important to consider in the context of the types of risks that stakeholders identified as the most salient.

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Lessons on Predicting Building Performance from New Yankee Stadium

During the first homestand of the season at $1.6 billion New Yankee Stadium, baseballs flew out of the ballpark at an unprecedented rate; the 20 dingers that were clocked during last weekend’s series against the Cleveland Indians were the most ever in a four-game set to open a new stadium in baseball history. Last season, Old Yankee Stadium saw 160 home runs; the current pace would yield a mind-boggling 351 round-trippers for the entire 2009 season. The Yankees did not anticipate that their new ballpark would turn into a Little League bandbox; dimensions at the new park are the same as they were across the street and engineers performed a wind study in advance of construction that did not suggest any major changes in currents or speeds. So, after witnessing several routine fly balls to right field land halfway into the lower deck last Saturday, it struck me that there are some parallels between what’s been happening thus far at the new ballpark in the Bronx and some of the building performance issues that we frequently discuss here at GRELJ.

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NAIOP Responds to Critics by Making Case for Incentives to Boost Efficiency in Commercial Office Buildings

I took great interest in a number of the documents that NAIOP released in the aftermath of its controversial energy efficiency study. The organization has compiled both an FAQ and fact sheet detailing the various assumptions it made and conclusions it drew in an effort to clarify some of the unproductive vitriol that has flown around the web over the past month decrying its conclusion that 30 percent energy reductions are not practicable for the majority of commercial office properties. Both the fact sheet and FAQ are available on NAIOP’s web site and point out that the results of the study do not apply to all buildings; “[t]he study analyzes a typical office building that represents more than 50 percent of new Class A construction [that took place] in 2008.” NAIOP also clarifies that the subject building is a real 95,000-square-foot, speculative commercial office property in California, and claims that the results of its study show what’s possible for the “vast majority of new construction without having to redesign a typical office building,” calling the results “impressive.”

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Seattle’s KING 5 Calls Washington Green School Claims “Oversold”

Washington State’s High-Performance Public Buildings Act requires LEED Silver certification or a design that complies with the state’s Sustainable School Design Protocol for schools larger than 5000 square feet. In a video describing the benefits of green schools that is available on the State Superintendent of Public Schools’ web site, certain claims are made about the promise of “clean, high-performance, money-saving schools” that are “a wise business choice for cost conscious schools. Relatively small increases in design and construction costs, usually less than 2 percent, ultimately bring 10 to 15 percent reductions in long-term operating costs.” The folks at KING 5 television in Seattle caught wind of these claims and decided to do some digging; you can view the station’s full report through the link at the bottom of this article. As you might guess, the station concluded that the state’s claims about green building premiums, decreased operating expenses, and higher student test scores were highly exaggerated.

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Henry Gifford & USGBC’s Brendan Owens Consider Merits of LEED at NESEA Forum

The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (“NESEA”) held its annual Building Energy conference last week in Boston and sparks apparently flew during a panel discussion that featured Henry Gifford, whose controversial and well-disseminated “Lies, Damn Lies, and… (Another Look at LEED Energy Efficiency)” paper critiqued both LEED generally and the USGBC-promulgated New Buildings Institute study which concluded that LEED buildings were using 30 percent less energy than non-LEED buildings. The panel was moderated by BuildingGreen.com’s Nadav Malin and also included USGBC vice president for LEED technical development Brendan Owens. Boston-based blogger Michael Prager attended the panel and has authored an extremely insightful summary of the event, including quotes from both panelists and audience members. Many of the quotes in Mr. Prager’s article ring particularly salient in light of the uproar over the recent NAIOP study which I noted here at GRELJ last week in the context of using predicted performance as the basis for making building policy decisions. It’s clear that thus far in 2009 there has been a significant shift in attention towards building performance-related issues with respect to both LEED and green building policy generally. As states and municipalities prepare to receive close to $7 billion in stimulus funds to, in part, craft and implement local green building legislation, I think that the substance of the discussion at the NESEA event should become of increasing utility to both stakeholders and policymakers. Of course, as always, it also suggests the overarching importance of vetted contract language in connection with LEED or any other types of green building projects.

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SB 1473: El Dorado County Fighting California Green Building Legislation

In the aftermath of last year’s AHRI et al. v. City of Albuquerque litigation, there has been an increased level of discussion with respect to how municipalities and states should craft green building policy and legislation. Although I have not been following what’s been taking place in California all that closely, a recent article in the Sacramento Bee noting one California county’s reaction to a newly enacted piece of state-level green building legislation caught my eye. California’s Senate Bill 1473 took effect on January 1 and requires cities and counties in California to collect, on behalf of California’s Building Standards Commission, a building permit application fee. The fee is based on the building’s valuation as determined by the pertinent local building official and is assessed at $1.00 for every $25,000.00 of value. Cities and counties are entitled to keep up to 10 percent of the fee in order to cover their own administrative and enforcement costs; the rest of the funds are sent to a special revolving fund established by SB 1473 which the Commission will use to “fund development of statewide building standards, with emphasis on green building standards.” Officials in El Dorado County (which is about halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe) believe that the fee is illegal, calling it “a tax without calling it a tax.”

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