- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2007

A wave of green building laws is sweeping the nation, forcing builders to install solar panels, fluorescent light bulbs and roofs with vegetation whether they like it or not.

Green buildings are designed for energy efficiency and healthy indoor spaces, usually with recyclable materials and low-energy fixtures that create little pollution.

Traditional buildings account for about 38 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions, or greenhouse gases, that many scientists say add to global warming, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We think green buildings can play a significant role in reducing energy use and global warming,” said John Surrick, spokesman for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, whose headquarters outside of Annapolis is one of the greenest of buildings.

There are more than 76 million residential buildings and nearly 5 million commercial buildings in the United States. By 2010, another 38 million buildings would be added at the current rate of construction.

Buildings rank as one of the biggest drains on the nation’s and the world’s energy and water resources.

In the United States, buildings account for 39 percent of total energy use, 12 percent of total water consumption and 68 percent of total electricity consumption, the EPA reports.

“If we take the path we’ve taken now, that’s not sustainable,” said Diana Horvat, principal in the D.C. architectural firm Envision Design.

Nationwide, about 53 cities offer incentives or set requirements for green building design. They resulted in about $7.73 billion of construction projects last year being built under “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” or LEED, standards of the U.S. Green Building Council, a trade organization that advocates green buildings. In addition, 10 counties, 17 states and 11 federal agencies have approved green building requirements.

“I’d say we’re adding about five to 10 cities a month,” said Taryn Holowka, spokeswoman for the U.S. Green Building Council.

The General Services Administration, the federal government’s landlord, has required since 2005 that all new buildings be built according to LEED standards. The GSA owns and leases some 8,666 buildings used by more than 1.1 million federal employees.

Its latest green building ventures include two EPA buildings at Potomac Yard in Alexandria that opened in July with a LEED gold rating for their energy-reduction systems, such as a green roof and low-water-flow toilets.

Local governments aboard

Former D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams on Dec. 29 signed the “Green Building Act of 2006,” which requires green building design in most new or renovated commercial buildings.

All commercial developments of at least 50,000 square feet about the size of the interior space of 20 midsized houses are required under the District’s legislation to obtain certification from the U.S. Green Buildings Council, beginning in 2012. City-owned building developments funded after fiscal 2007 must earn the certification.

One of the District’s premiere green building efforts is the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium being built in Southeast.

The builders are trying to construct the stadium to be the nation’s first LEED-certified professional sports stadium. It is designed with efficient lighting, local and recycled building materials, storm-water management systems and a location near Metrorail and bus stops. The $611 million stadium is scheduled to open in time for the 2008 baseball season.

Montgomery County approved a green building bill in November that grants tax rebates and lower government fees to developers that install recycling centers and other environmentally conscious amenities in buildings of at least 10,000 square feet.

Maryland offers tax credits worth 6 percent to 8 percent of the construction cost for commercial green buildings if they meet the state’s energy-efficiency standards.

A bill introduced in the Virginia General Assembly this session would have required new buildings funded by the state to meet minimum standards for green design, unless the environmental features raised construction costs by 15 percent or more. The bill did not reach a vote before the General Assembly adjourned in late February.

Arlington County offers zoning variances that allow developers to have more residents in their buildings if they include green features.

The Alexandria City Council is studying proposals to promote energy efficiency.

The chairman of Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors last week announced a proposal for the county to participate in a “Cool Counties” program with the Sierra Club. The program awards points to counties for using environmentally friendly energy-conservation techniques. Fairfax County’s role in the program could include retrofitting as many as 400 public buildings, including schools, with green features.

Other local governments have discussed green building standards, but have taken no extensive action.

Industry sets standards

The U.S. Green Building Council was organized by builders and developers in 2000, a year after an executive order from the Clinton administration required the General Services Administration to install environmentally friendly amenities in government buildings.

Owners of buildings “would say it’s green, but then you’d say, ‘What’s green about it?’” the U.S. Green Building Council’s Miss Holowka said. “Maybe it had solar panels, but does that mean that it’s green? LEED was created to define what a green building is as a design guideline.”

The organization uses a 69-item checklist for new commercial buildings to rate them as either Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum. Certified, the lowest standard, requires at least 26 points. Platinum, the highest standard, requires at least 52.

Features that earn points include building near public transportation, installing composting toilets, painting walls with nontoxic paints and strategically placing windows to let in the most sunlight. Residents or workers in all green buildings must recycle.

“The main benefit and the reason most people do it is the bottom line,” Miss Holowka said.

The council has certified more than 700 buildings nationwide. Another 5,000 are seeking certification, which can take a minimum of one month but up to several years, depending on the length of construction time.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation headquarters was the nation’s first building to attain the U.S. Green Building Council’s Platinum rating.

The builders used recycled materials for the walls. Expansive windows fill in the rest of the walls, bathing the building with sunlight. Low-flow water fixtures and solar panels further reduce energy and water consumption.

“Through the use of natural ventilation and free heat from the sun, our heating and cooling system doesn’t run at all for a third of the year,” Mr. Surrick said. “We use 90 percent less water than a conventional building.”

The Green Building Initiative in Portland, Ore., competes with the U.S. Green Building Council to set the standards for green building design.

The initiative says its interactive, Internet-based rating system is the low-cost alternative for builders.

The consulting and paperwork needed for LEED certification can add up to $20,000 to the cost of a building, Green Building Initiative officials say. Their Green Globes system adds about $4,000.

“We streamline a lot of the reporting process because people are entering data into the Web tool,” said Vicki Worden, head of commercial programs for the Green Building Initiative, a coalition of environmental groups, businesses and green building-industry suppliers founded in 2004. “They get instant feedback on how their building looks in terms of our rating system.”

So far, most federal, state and local governments are choosing LEED standards for green building certification.

Sacrificing cost, convenience

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation building, while achieving its Platinum rating, also uses composting toilets.

Composting toilets work without plumbing by having the human waste drop down a pipe to a pile of soil. The pile is hauled away to be used as mulch on plants.

Users of the toilets are supposed to throw a handful of sawdust down the pipe to speed up decomposition of the human waste.

Therein lies part of the controversy behind green buildings.

Some residents and workers do not want human waste piling up in their basement, low-flow water fixtures that provide only a trickle, or solar panels that need to be cleaned to work properly.

“Small things like that can make a huge difference” in whether people accept the green features, Mrs. Worden said.

Although the organization advocates green building design, convincing owners of the buildings to go green can sometimes be a struggle.

“I think there is some resistance,” Mrs. Worden said. “We have got to make a few sacrifices to reduce our individual impact on the environment. All of those things are going to take a little bit of adjustment.”

The other issue is the cost.

LEED certification adds an average of 3 percent to the cost of a new building, according to developers, although costs and benefits vary.

“It all depends on the project,” said Matt Klein, president of the D.C. real estate firm Akridge. “There’s no question that there’s added cost.”

When developers pitch new buildings with green features to tenants or investors, “We’ve got to justify that as a smart investment,” Mr. Klein said.

Akridge officials consulted with the D.C. Council in development of the green building requirements for commercial projects.

“The real estate community looked at them and helped shape them to make sure they’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “I think they’re standards we can live with.”

However, the U.S. Green Building Council says building owners earn back their environmental investment over years of operation.

LEED-certified buildings use 20 percent to 50 percent less energy and 30 percent less water than conventional buildings, said Miss Holowka, the council’s spokeswoman.

“You look at those numbers, and that’s a big chunk of money,” she said.

Akridge’s green building ventures include management of the Human Rights Campaign building at 1640 Rhode Island Ave. NW, which was renovated in 2003 to include a green roof and timers on the lights to ensure they are used efficiently.

Akridge also developed the 257,000-square-foot American Association for the Advancement of Science building at 1200 New York Ave. NW, which opened in 1996. The walls are built with nontoxic materials, such as straw. Ten-story-high vertical incisions on the sides bring in more natural light and reduce the need for electrical lighting. Motion sensors turn lights off automatically when rooms are unused. The building opened before the U.S. Green Building Council established LEED-certification standards.

Although green building is gaining momentum, it still faces powerful opponents.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, who has called the idea of man-made global warming “a hoax,” says the federal government should stay away from requiring green building design on private buildings.

The Bush administration is cautioning against environmental standards that could hurt the nation’s economy.

Opponents of mandatory green building design also say the scientific evidence is not clear about the extent to which emissions from equipment are causing global warming.

GSA fuels momentum

The GSA created much of the momentum behind the green building movement.

Following the 1999 executive order, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which required energy-efficient design in all new federal government buildings.

“GSA requires that new federal buildings and major renovations be certified through the LEED rating system and encourages a Silver rating,” said spokeswoman Maryanne Beatty.

One example is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives building going up at Florida and New York avenues in Northeast, which is designed with a Certified LEED rating.

The federal legislation created an incentive for building material manufacturers to go green, using recycled wood or steel, making more reflective windows and installing low-flow water fixtures.

Manufacturers that do not make green products would lose out on valuable government contracts.

“Carpet companies compete to provide the most environmentally friendly products and packaging,” Mrs. Beatty said. “Almost all paint companies now have low or no volatile organic compounds, like formaldehyde.”

In addition, rising energy expenses, as well as construction costs that have risen to about $50 per square foot largely from steel and cement prices can make the economics of green features an attractive alternative, said Sally R. Wilson, advisory services director for Washington real estate developer C.B. Richard Ellis.

“Most of our tenants are asking about it,” she said.

Major corporations, such as Ford Motor Co., Bank of America, Target Corp., PNC Bank and Frito-Lay Co. are designing green buildings under LEED standards. Parts of the Pentagon were designed as green when it was rebuilt after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The National Association of Realtors says its social conscience guided design of its $46.5 million, 12-story headquarters that opened in October 2004 at 500 New Jersey Ave. NW. The building won a Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

It was built on a “brownfields” site contaminated from decades of use as a gasoline station. Its green features include outside views from all work stations, a lighting system that balances inside light with sunlight and a carbon monoxide cleaning system.

“We built it here because it’s a political statement,” said Lucien Salvant, the association’s spokesman, as he stood in a conference room with an expanse of reflective windows overlooking the Capitol. “This is the first one in the District to be built from scratch to be certified.”

A local leader for green private developments is real estate developer Tower Cos., which estimates it spent $115,000 more to make its $10.4 million Blair Towns apartments in Silver Spring environmentally friendly.

The low-energy utilities and spacious windows for sunlight reduced electricity consumption by 35 percent and water use by 20 percent, the company says. The complex opened in 2005.

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