Friday, February 25, 2011

Across the Country, Legislators and Their Constituents Actively Support Green Schools

Nathaniel Allen
Associate, Schools Advocacy
U.S. Green Building Council

Since the start of the new year, legislators at all levels of government from across the country have been busy attending and hosting big events to advance green schools. State legislators in the 50 for 50 Green Schools Caucus Initiative have been particularly active. Here are the highlights:

  • In South Carolina, State Senators John Courson and Phil Leventis worked with the Conservation Voters of South Carolina and their local USGBC Chapter to host a briefing titled “Creating Jobs through Conservation,” featuring testimony about the success of green school initiatives in the Palmetto State and nationwide as an agenda item for the year ahead. Senator Leventis, a member of the bipartisan National Advisory Council for the 50 for 50 Green Schools Caucus Initiative, spoke about the importance of green schools to the health and productivity of our students and ultimately our nation’s economic prosperity. After the briefing, the Senator commented: “We have an opportunity right now to promote jobs in South Carolina by retrofitting and building green schools that will save our taxpayers money and ultimately help improve our education system.”

  • Meanwhile, the Kentucky USGBC Chapter Advocacy Committee spent a day meeting with more than 30 legislators, laying the groundwork and establishing connections to support and enhance the Commonwealth’s existing leadership around green schools. As the House of Representatives was called into session last Tuesday afternoon, Representative Mary Lou Marzian, co-chair of the Kentucky Green Schools Caucus, arranged for the entire team of USGBC advocates to be recognized on the House floor. Later that evening, six legislators joined the chapter volunteers on a hybrid bus tour to visit a local high-performing school.

  • In North Carolina, over 30 USGBC Chapter volunteers had a full day of meetings with members of the North Carolina legislature, using the opportunity to promote dialogue between legislators in the Tar Heel State about power of green schools.

  • Following the success of a green schools summit held in the state this past fall, Nebraska State Senator Ken Haar hosted a green schools curriculum summit, convening education stakeholders to discuss a plan to incorporate environmental literacy into the education of all children in Nebraska.

  • Approximately 40 USGBC Chapter volunteers in Texas convened at the Capitol for a day of advocacy, meeting with approximately 100 different members of the legislature. In an evening reception, Rep. Eddie Lucio III, Chair of the Texas Green Schools Caucus, highlighted the many green schools efforts in the Lone Star State and outlined the importance of increasing dialogue among his colleagues in the legislature.

The personal and professional connections made by these leading lawmakers and USGBC chapter volunteers in support of green schools exemplify the growing success of one of USGBC’s most treasured goals: Green schools for all children within this generation. In many ways, the most effective advocacy for this key issue is about facilitating connections – between lawmakers, their constituents, and the many resources that can aid them in advancing green schools.

Across the country, the success of these groups can be seen at all levels of government. On the same day as the “Creating Jobs through Conservation” briefing in South Carolina, Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor toured a green school in his home state with constituents after being invited as follow up from USGBC’s Congressional Advocacy Day in Washington. On the federal stage, the bipartisan Congressional Green Schools Caucus will continue its momentum into the 112th Congress to educate and inform federal lawmakers about the enormous impact of greening our nation’s schools.

At the local level, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a member of the Mayors’ Alliance for Green Schools, prioritized green schools as a key strategy to move Sacramento forward in his State of the City Address. Mayor Johnson remarked, “Second, we want to “green” our schools. Over the next 10 years we’ll retrofit 15 million square feet of school facilities to meet LEED standards for green buildings. We can pay for it by raising $100M from the County treasuries across the region. Schools will spend less money on energy costs. This savings will potentially free up dollars to pay off the loan and protect teacher positions.” Mayor Johnson welcomed USGBC’s Center for Green Schools Director Rachel Gutter to speak at Greenwise Sacramento, an event highlighting an ongoing initiative to transform Sacramento into the greenest city in the country. During her address, Rachel Gutter announced the Sacramento City Unified School District as a recipient of a 2011 Center for Green Schools Fellowship.

To get involved in the national green schools movement, and for additional information and resources, visit

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Green Building on the Chopping Block in House Spending Measure

Bryan Howard
Legislative Director
U.S. Green Building Council

Representing one of the first significant acts of the new Republican majority, the House of Representatives is poised to pass a bill that would cut federal government programs by over $61 billion. There is no question that with the spiraling federal deficit, Congress does need to cut wasteful, duplicative and outdated programs - but let’s take a look at some of the good federal programs that the House is considering to devastate or eliminate.

The proposed bill would:
  • Cut $1.6 billion (nearly 20%) of the Federal Building Fund at the General Services Administration (GSA). GSA uses the fund, utilizing largely private sector employees, to modernize and update public buildings to make them more efficient and reduce the utility expenses paid for by your tax dollars.
  • Cut $786 million (over 35%) of the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) office at the Department of Energy (DOE). This is the home base for the Building Technologies Program (BTP) which works with industry, researchers and academia to develop technologies, techniques, and tools for making buildings more efficient, productive, and less costly.
  • Eliminate $250 million in funds for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) HOPE VI program, which leverages private sector dollars to transform existing blighted public housing into vibrant and livable communities.
  • Cut $10 million for the Energy Star program at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). To date, more than 130,000 buildings across the country have used the Energy Star performance rating system to manage and improve building energy use.
Sounds bad, right? It is.

Such proposals prolong America’s economic problems and won’t help the federal budget or taxpayers. Cutting spending shouldn't come at the cost of effective programs, like those listed above, that rebuild our communities and our economy while making long-term investments in innovation and infrastructure in core 21st century technologies.

It is too early to know how the Senate will act on this proposal, but if news of these cuts alarms you, you may want to send an e-mail or call an elected official.

Click here to view the letter in opposition to the GSA funding cut.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fine-Tuning our Buildings for Optimum Performance

Lauren Riggs, LEEP® AP
Manager, LEED and Building Performance Partnership
U.S. Green Building Council

The notion that green building is a process and not just an event is something that is often overlooked. Much like the life cycle of a building, the green building process is one that takes a building from merely a sustainable “vision” to a sustainable structure.

The LEED rating system centers on sustainable operations and providing verification through LEED certification. The first phase in the green building process is called integrated design, which requires a team of professionals who understand that the use of the building, its indoor and outdoor conditions, will vary over its lifetime, and the team must plan for every reasonable contingency.

Will the building be used in the same way forever? Will a coffee shop open on the first floor? Will the ventilation system satisfy the requirements of any potential tenant? The building must perform optimally in a variety of future scenarios. The first phase team will envision, complete and test the building before ushering it into a second phase (i.e., ongoing operations and maintenance) and a new team, with different skills and goals.

LEED drives this integrated approach building by asking teams to identify and simulate the best combination of design strategies for an energy efficient, healthy performing building and occupants. However, the green building process and LEED cannot rely on performance simulations alone – merely simulating building operations will not ensure high performance operations.

The only way to ensure high performance operations is to listen to the building. Operators must collect useful feedback from the building while it is in use and fine-tune all the building systems based on an understanding of the inherent capabilities of the design and the needs of the occupants. Are the occupants comfortable? Or, do the lights stay on far after the last person leaves for the night? Operators should always be asking questions and getting answers – fine-tuning - in order to keep the building performing at its design potential.

Every time a building goes through the tuning process, the design performance information gives the user an idea of how their green building should perform. Operating teams can use the tools that LEED provides – LEED for Existing Buildings, Building Performance Partnership, etc. - to track, benchmark and verify energy use, water use, occupant satisfaction, transportation and other key aspects in ongoing building performance. USGBC empowers the teams that use these tools to fully understand the operating intent of the building, to fix issues they identify, and to educate and inform occupant behavior in their building. The act of collecting and understanding the operating data produced by green buildings and their occupants is the best way to make sure the building continues the green process.

When starting out with LEED, think of each phase of the green building process as a new stage of life; many buildings will experience growing pains, adjustment periods and identity crises. If the building does not receive the attention it needs, its support systems (e.g., ventilation and water systems) may function improperly and the building will suffer. Maintaining awareness of the building’s systems - tracking their ups and downs - is the longest phase of the green building process and should never end. USGBC recognizes that this phase of the green building process is critical to ongoing efficiency and continues to devote time to supporting teams in their operations and maintenance efforts.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Congressional Outlook Uncertain, but Executive Branch Opportunity Abounds

Lane Burt
Technical Policy Director
U.S. Green Building Council

There has been a whole lot of negative talk about the prospects for energy, climate or other significant legislation coming out of our newly divided Congress, and that is not the best news for the green building industry. However, this does not imply that green building advocates should pack up and go home – in fact, it means quite the contrary. It turns out that a renewed focus on utilizing the legal authority already granted to federal agencies by Congress could reap huge benefits for architects, engineers, builders, developers, manufacturers and others involved in the green building process.

The shocking size and scope of the United State’s potential energy and water savings were highlighted by a 2010 study on existing authorities held by the executive branch to push efficiency in commercial and multifamily buildings. USGBC commissioned this study with a diverse group of building sector organizations (e.g., the Natural Resources Defense Council, Real Estate Roundtable, and Building Owners and Managers Association).

The findings of this report were clear. There is something, and usually something very impactful, that nearly every agency can do to improve the public and private building stock. The more digging we did into the existing authorities, the more opportunities we discovered to “stoke the fire” of the building industry and its sustainable potential. I wrote about the highlights of the report when it was released, and the opportunities I noted then remain before us—still knocking—today.

In many ways, the sheer quantity of opportunities identified by the report (and sheer size of the report itself) is daunting. Where should the White House, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, etc. start? Which potentially transformative policy must come first?

That’s why the full report was just the beginning of a broader federal push. Over the weeks and months to come, we will be reaching out to our 16,000+ member companies and working with our other partners on the report to generate support for industry- and agency-specific recommendations—ones that are targeted, actionable, and potent. We want to make sure that the voices of our member companies and the larger green building community are heard by the executive branch. We expect to deliver real results from their advocacy and leadership. We have already sent our top three recommendations over to the Department of Energy. Our January 21st memo recommends action on a green real estate appraisal standard, the tax deduction for commercial energy efficient commercial buildings, and loan guarantees for financing retrofits.

And the executive branch is paying attention! The President recently announced the Better Buildings Initiative (BBI) to improve commercial building energy performance, and he touched specifically on two of the three priorities. The BBI calls on Congress to take action but also lays out the steps the Administration is going to take by utilizing their existing authorities to create better buildings, better jobs, and lower energy bills.

By targeting executive branch action— along with continuing to push Congress to make progress on BBI and our other priorities like energy and water efficiency, healthy built environments, livable and walkable communities— we will continue to push forward toward the transformation of the built environment. Elections may change our strategy, but they certainly don’t change our priorities—or our expectations for meaningful results.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Rick Fedrizzi on Winning the Future

Read USGBC Founding Chairman Rick Fedrizzi's piece on President Obama's Better Buildings Initiative in the The Huffington Post:
In his State of the Union address, President Obama boldly proclaimed that our nation has reached a "Sputnik moment" -- a point in time that will be characterized by our ability (or inability) to respond to an era as ripe for innovation as any that has presented itself in more than a generation. Seizing this moment, he said, is our opportunity to win the future.

Of course, a huge part of winning the future is to reduce our reliance on the fuels of the past. And last week, the president showed exactly the kind of leadership we will need to when he unveiled his Better Buildings Initiative.
Click here to read the rest of the Huffington Post article.

Keeping Ahead of Tenant Demand with LEED

Jack Beuttell, LEEP® AP
Global Sustainability Manager

One month ago Hines recertified 717 Texas, a Class A office building in downtown Houston. It had originally been certified to the Silver level in 2009, but after two years, we ratcheted its performance up to Platinum, even as the LEED rating system grew more stringent.

Looking at the LEED history of this particular building is an interesting way to measure tenant interest in sustainability over the same period of time. When Hines and Prime Asset Management delivered the building in 2003, it was a part of the LEED for Core & Shell pilot rating system. We had designed the building to be the greenest building in the city, with features like electronically filtered outside air, carbon filtered drinking water and superior daylighting. In the end, we did not pursue certification because the building had already leased up, and the label would not alter the design or the way we planned to operate the building.

After a few years, one of the anchor tenants experienced a major downsizing, which caused us to take a fresh look at our competitive positioning in the market. More prospective tenants were asking about sustainability, even though there were no LEED certified commercial buildings downtown. Anticipating tenant interest and seeking to attract progressive, credit-worthy companies, we registered for LEED and hit the Silver threshold. The building reached 100 percent leased.

Now in 2011, almost every tenant asks about sustainability, and we have found that staying slightly ahead of tenant demand keeps us at the competitive edge; hence the upgrade to Platinum. The perennial challenge for building owners, however, is to balance environmental progressivism with returns paid through higher rents. In order to remain economically viable, we cannot plaster our facades with solar laminates or sew our building crowns with rows of micro-turbines. Most tenants won't pay for those, which means we can't afford them.

Among other things, LEED has become an effective communication and point of differentiation for landlords and tenants; it conveys more transparently what the building actually offers tenants and what the true value of those features is. Looking across our portfolio and into the future, it is clear that LEED has become a tool we will not do without.

To learn more about the business case for green building, visit

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

From Cutting Edge to Common Practice: How Green Building Rating Systems Contribute to Energy Efficient Building Codes

Jeremy Sigmon, LEED® AP BD+C
Manager, Building Codes Advocacy
U.S. Green Building Council

2010 was a big year for building energy efficiency and state and national codes. The success of the year can be directly traced to decades of familiarity with green building programs as well as nationwide uptake of LEED. After more than 40 years of mere modest improvements in building energy efficiency (looking specifically at the predominant national model energy codes, ASHRAE Standard 90.1 and the IECC), we achieved an approximately 30% efficiency improvement in the last six years and got a first-in-the-nation green building code in our most populous state. Note the U.S. Department of Energy chart below mapping improvements in commercial building energy efficiency since 1975:

It's easy to argue that these efficiency improvements (which are mirrored in comparable efficiency improvements in residential building energy codes) are a product of the natural course of time. But these leaps would have never come to be without the huge groundswell of support from energy efficiency advocates across the country, the organizations coordinating their efforts, and above all a growing vision that we can do better: A lot better.

Bipartisan coalitions and businesses big and small have found common ground in the achievability and affordability of such leaps in efficiency. A closer look reveals a growing consciousness of the ability of buildings and communities to achieve levels of performance beyond the minimum thresholds set in even the most recently updated base building codes and standards. Minimizing pollution and toxicity, reducing vehicular miles traveled, improving water efficiency and incorporating on-site energy from renewable sources are now seen as not only viable but increasingly standard practice in the building industry. In many cases, all of these benefits are realized at no extra cost (especially for the seasoned project team).

Green building rating systems – both the locally developed programs like the nation's first in Austin, Texas or like California-based GreenPoint Rated program and nationally developed and recognized programs like LEED – have had major successes in driving the market to demand better buildings. As early as 2000, LEED building owners were realizing the benefits of higher occupant satisfaction, decreased water and energy use, and the improved marketability of a recognized brand that provides meaningful third-party verification for better building design and construction.

As consumers drove the demand for more and more green real estate, states and local jurisdictions took advantage of the opportunity to showcase the feasibility of these next-generation technologies and methods by demonstrating leadership on public buildings or providing incentives for the private sector to do the same. The climate was right for a handful of jurisdictions to even take the next step and incorporate these rating systems directly into their codes.

And while these intentionally beyond-code, voluntary, third-party verified certification programs were not designed to function like mandatory building codes, the increasing interest in applying them as such initiated the development of a complementary tool intended to raise the floor. By the end of 2006, ASHRAE Standard 189.1 was under development and so was the massive overhaul of the LEED Green Building Rating System, in response to the demand for rating system standardization and a more differentiated value attribution for building measures with greater environmental benefits.

The 2010 release of the International Green Construction Code (jointly released by ICC, USGBC, ASHRAE, AIA, IES and ASTM and including Standard 189.1 as a jurisdictional compliance option) now provides jurisdictions with an adoptable, usable and enforceable code to raise the floor for all buildings. This set of codes and standards is a critical complement in the policy toolbox to green building rating systems, like LEED, that are often adopted to demonstrate leadership in public buildings and for projects seeking government incentives. And while the IGCC was released as a fully published code in March of 2010, later this year we will welcome its 2012 version, and the next version of LEED not long after. We will then look forward to ushering in a new age of improved base codes, integrated green building codes, and next-generation beyond-code green building rating systems like LEED, each working with one another in an important, distinct and complementary manner.

On the road to truly sustainable buildings and communities, it's not a choice between minimum green building codes and beyond-code green building programs. We need both.

The cycle is virtuous. We need rating systems like LEED to continue to serve as the proving ground for technologies, methods, verification protocols, and more aggressive levels of efficiency. As those practices are adopted by market leaders, innovators and building industry pioneers, they too will be incorporated into code books of progressive jurisdictions, which will in turn inform the base codes – the building code, the plumbing code, the mechanical code, the fire code, the zoning code, and so on. Rating systems and green building codes play distinct, complementary and ultimately vital roles on the road to sustainable buildings and communities, and when applied on a broad scale, speed up the conveyor belt of green building information – from groundbreaking and leading-edge to common practice.

We hope you'll join us in embracing both rating systems and codes, both carrots and sticks. We need every tool in the toolbox – particularly the push and pull forces of these separately-intended, but equally important rating systems and codes – to carry out our mission and achieve our vision.

For more on USGBC's work on green building codes, read USGBC's white paper, Greening the Codes.