Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Department of Education Announces Landmark Green Schools Program

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

Today, the federal government launched an initiative that may be the biggest thing to ever happen to the green schools movement.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley announced the creation of a Green Ribbon Schools program. (Read the Green Ribbon Schools press release from the Department of Education.)

Modeled after the Blue Ribbon Schools program, which recognizes academic distinction, the Green Ribbon Schools program will be a voluntary award, recognizing schools that are demonstrating excellence – or making notable improvement – toward sustainability. Though still in development, the program will evaluate schools across four categories: environmental education; energy efficiency and resource conservation; healthy operations and maintenance; and community engagement and service learning.

L to R: Sean Miller, Earth Day Network; Danielle Moodie, National Wildlife Federation; Jim Elder, Campaign for Environmental Literacy; Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education; Rachel Gutter, Nathaniel Allen and Jason Hartke, Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council.
The program is a milestone in collaboration among the Department of Education, EPA and White House CEQ, and it will undoubtedly raise the profile of green schools. But more significantly, if one looks closely within the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and the Department of Energy, there are dozens of programs, grants and initiatives that can relate to healthy, high-performing schools. The Green Ribbon Schools program has the opportunity to help connect these dots and advance change at a level we've not yet seen.

Kudos to our friend Jim Elder, Director of the Campaign for Environmental Literacy, for originally conceiving this idea. We've been proud to work closely with Jim, as well as our colleagues at the National Wildlife Federation and Earth Day Network, to help advance this concept to reality. (Read our shared press release.) In total, 75 state and national organizations signed on in support of this program prior to today's announcement. This is a landmark day for green schools, and we give the federal government tremendous credit for advancing an initiative that will help ensure the vision of green schools for everyone within this generation.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

There’s More to Be Done: Government Summit Will Expand on Federal Government’s Green Building Efforts

Aaron Lande
Sustainable Cities Specialist
U.S. Green Building Council

With the release yesterday of the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) sustainability scorecards for federal agencies and departments, the public got its first progress report on federal agency efforts to cut emissions. Specifically, the scorecards gave insight to federal progress on President Obama’s government-wide goal of cutting direct GHG emissions by 28 percent and indirect GHG emissions by 13 percent over the next decade.

Though federal agencies and departments were early adopters and key leaders of green building, demonstrated by their early and continuing use of LEED, a review of the scores made one thing quickly apparent: There is more work to be done. The agencies have a long way to go to meet the Executive Order that 15 percent of all federal agencies' building stock must meet high performance green building standards by 2015. What better forum to commune and strategize on greening governmental buildings than USGBC’s upcoming Government Summit?

Coming up May 10 and 11 in Washington, D.C., USGBC’s annual Government Summit (formerly Federal Summit) is a gathering place for leaders in government sustainability, offering many tools and resources for agencies to improve their sustainability scores. The event will include education sessions sharing best practices and implementable strategies related to green building from practitioners who have had success within the federal framework. The Summit will also feature opening plenary speaker Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, who will discuss the results of this year’s sustainability assessments and the steps that must be taken to improve upon them for next year.

The green building accomplishments of the federal government have been vast, but efforts must be increased in order to meet national goals. As it has done in year’s past, USGBC’s Government Summit will facilitate those necessary conversations, and spur real progress in the realm of governmental green building.

Registration for this year’s Government Summit is open now and Early Bird pricing is available through Tuesday, April 26.

Related articles:
Tapping the Business Opportunities in Green Government Buildings
Government Sector Leads the Green Building Movement from the Front

Featured Speakers: USGBC Government Summit 2011

Nancy Sutley, Chair
White House Council on Environmental Quality

Kathleen Hogan, Deputy Assistant & Secretary of Energy Efficiency
Department of Energy/The ENERGY STAR Program

Governor Martin O'Malley, Governor
State of Maryland

Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO & Founding Chairman
U.S. Green Building Council

Access the full Government Summit speakers list and education program »

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Members of Congress Weigh In On Green Schools

Earlier this week, Representatives Jim Matheson (UT-2) and Ben Chandler (KY-6), Co-Chairs of the Congressional Green Schools Caucus, shared a letter with their colleagues in support of green schools. Representative Matheson noted, “As we debate the budget and seek fiscal reform at the local, state, and federal levels, we want to highlight one area where taxpayers are seeing a significant return on their investment: green building, particularly green schools.”

Read the full letter below.

Learn more about the Congressional Green Schools Caucus »

Visit the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council »

Green Schools Save Money and Help Kids
From: The Honorable Jim Matheson

“Green schools are about saving money and doing better with the money you have.

It's about finally starting to think about things in terms of ROI [return on investment]. ... Schools could save 25 percent off the bat with some basic efficiency measures, occupant education, and engagement programs. I've seen it happen.”

- Rachel Gutter, Director of the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council

Dear Colleague:

As we debate the budget and seek fiscal reform at the local, state, and federal levels, we want to highlight one area where taxpayers are seeing a significant return on their investment: green building, particularly green schools.

Because it uses substantially less energy and water, the average green school saves $100,000 per year – enough to pay two teachers, purchase 200 computers or buy 5,000 new text books. And going green doesn’t have to cost more up front. Studies have demonstrated that green schools can be designed and built at or below regional K-12 construction costs and operated within existing facilities budgets.

But decreasing operational costs isn’t the only benefit to green schools. Green schools also have a lasting impact on student health, academic performance, and teacher retention - daylight boosts concentra¬tion; comfortable temperatures increase focus; good acoustics enable communication; and air that is fresh and clean improves health.

We encourage you to learn more about the cost savings and other benefits associated with green schools by visiting www.centerforgreenschools.org. If you are interested in joining the bipartisan Green Schools Caucus please contact Jan Beukelman in Rep. Matheson's office or Bethany Williams in Rep. Chandler's office.


Jim Matheson
Co-Chair, Congressional Green Schools Caucus

Ben Chandler
Co-Chair, Congressional Green Schools Caucus

Friday, April 15, 2011

Final Budget Deal is Still Thin on Important Funding for Green Building

Bryan Howard
Legislative Director
U.S. Green Building Council

Late last week, in an effort to avoid the first shutdown of the federal government in 16 years, the Obama administration and Congress agreed on a framework to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year 2011 (FY11). The broader details of the legislation (scheduled for a vote later this week) have only recently been released.

The bill contains broad spending reductions in virtually every government agency and enterprise. In total, the Continuing Resolution (CR) cuts $38.5 billion compared to the funding from 2010. Some reductions are particularly severe, including those in the area of green building, and should concern green building consumers and advocates. Below is a brief list of these cuts:

Federal Building Fund at the General Services Administration (GSA)
  • Cuts: Funding reduced by $1.6 billion below FY2010 levels. The CR provides $82 million for construction and $280 million for repair of federal buildings overall.

  • Damage: While this gives GSA some flexibility to continue multi-year construction and renovation projects, funding reductions of nearly 20% will have a dire effect on private sector construction and will impede the ability of the federal government to improve efficiency in their buildings.
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the Department of Energy (EERE)
  • Cuts: Funding reduced by $408 million below FY2010 levels, with $1.835 billion allocated in total.

  • Damage: As home of the Building Technologies Program (BTP), these cuts to the EERE could harm the development of technologies and practices that make buildings, systems and components more efficient, and less costly to consumers.

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
  • Cuts: Funding reduced by over $150 million below FY 2010 levels for the HOPE VI program, with only $100 million allocated in total.

  • Damage: Cuts to this program will limit the ability to leverage private sector finance to transform existing distressed or blighted public housing into vibrant and livable communities.
Sustainable Communities Initiative
  • Cuts: Funding reduced by $50 million below FY 2010 levels, with $100 million allocated in total.

  • Damage: This office supports a joint initiative with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and provides grants to communities to better integrate transportation, land use and housing efforts. A 33% reduction will impact these programmatic improvements substantially.
A full summary of the bill is located here.

These cuts are by and large an improvement over the House of Representatives proposal (H.R. 1), but the effect that they will have on private sector construction is nonetheless chilling: limiting private sector investment in infrastructure and building improvements and hampering future innovation in the building industry won’t do much to create jobs, save energy and save money, the very things that we need the most.

The Next Leadership Challenge: Advancing the Resiliency Agenda

Jason Hartke
Vice President, National Policy
U.S. Green Building Council

The tragedy and sorrow associated with the recent disaster in Japan and the pattern of disasters that have occurred over the past few years in the Gulf of Mexico, Haiti, Indonesia and other countries around the world dramatically underscores the importance of fashioning a new resiliency agenda.

A central challenge of the 21st Century is to develop strategies that can help us bounce back from potentially disastrous events. If we are to have regrets, let us do so by coming to terms with the reality that the human condition can never be free of risk, but at least let us not regret our inaction.

Like globalization and sustainability before it, resilience is the mot juste for a forward thinking world facing numerous multidimensional threats, hazards and disasters. Resilience is not just the right descriptive word, it is the right paradigm, requiring foresight and broad societal understanding and support. The concept of resilience is especially suitable in a world more interconnected, more urbanized, more complex, and yet more fragile than ever.

Just as the protean dimensions around the concept of sustainability were examined in depth in the early 1980s, resiliency will go through a similar evolution, gaining conceptual clarity and scope, generating new agendas and policy perspectives, and mobilizing a new generation of leadership. This agenda is the urgent work before us, but is also the work of the generation to come. It is a fundamental task of civilization.

The risk or vulnerability arises from adverse climate change impacts, earthquakes, hurricanes, extreme weather events and security threats. It arises in a manifold of ways that can stress communities, cities and entire countries to the breaking point. We need to be ready, not surprised. We must continuously look over the horizon to see what plans are on the table, what preparations need to be made and what assets are in place to handle the foreseeable and unforeseeable crises. And when these tragedies do occur, we need to deploy the resources and assistance to help these communities recover.

So our leaders will need to be able to understand and address the complex range of issues that arise in any full event-cycle analysis. We need strategies to prevent and mitigate disasters to the extent possible, plans and preparations for the inevitable events that will come, and appropriate tools and resources to rebound smarter, greener and better. We cannot have a sustainable future unless we build the policy structures for resiliency along with critical levels of appropriate investment.

At the U.S. Green Building Council, we’re working on an in-depth study with the University of Michigan that looks to identify and assess the linkages between green building strategies and resilience. We believe that sustainable building practices can be a powerful vehicle to help advance stronger, more resilient communities, and that an integrated design approach can cost-effectively help improve these structures and mitigate the impact of disasters.

The Institute of Business and Home Safety (IBHS), under the leadership of Julie Rochman, has made the important point that a more resilient building is a more sustainable building. In the wake of the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast, green building expert Alex Wilson championed passive survivability, a term he used to “describe a building’s ability to maintain critical life-support conditions in the event of extended loss of power, heating fuel, or water.” To make the Navy more resilient, Secretary Ray Mabus has been leading the execution of an ambitious sustainability plan, making its facilities, fleet and operations less reliant on fossil fuels, and therefore enhancing national security.

At a recent event earlier this month on Mitigating Disaster through Design and Construction, Dr. Sandra Knight, the Deputy Federal Insurance & Mitigation Administrator at FEMA commented about the need to invest in the repair and maintenance of the built environment – our buildings, highways, bridges, dams and levees, and other built infrastructure. “This is what I lose sleep over,” said Knight. “We’ve got to get serious. We’ve got to be able to communicate risk.”

When a city, town or neighborhood has been struck by disaster, we must meet the moral challenge to rebuild and recover smarter, greener and more resilient, lifting these communities up as exemplary models for the world to see and emulate. Take the example of Greensburg, Kansas. Amid despair and devastation after a tornado ravaged the town in 2007, the people themselves drew toughness and resiliency from the hope of a bold vision: to rebuild on the foundation of a green, sustainable future. Their goal was to seize their namesake – Greensburg – and become a shining light, a new and sustainable city on the hill. Taking this path, the town achieved new heights in sustainability and national acclaim, creating a resilient national model for rebuilding.

From the White House to the State Houses, City Halls to community leaders, the private sector to the civil society organizations, multilateral development institutions to society at large, we need to set new standards for resilience. The resiliency agenda will require a deep and profound reassessment of our priorities. The sooner this agenda is debated, developed and implemented, the better. Starting today and in the decades to come, we need to do all in our power to lessen the impact of cataclysmic events.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Score One for the Green Guys

Aaron Lande
Sustainable Cities Specialist
U.S. Green Building Council

In a scene we hope to see replicated in city council meeting rooms across the country, the Lakewood, Colo. City Council gave unanimous approval last month for the Lamar Station Transit Oriented Development (TOD) station project.

Why is this a momentous decision? The Lamar Station project, registered under the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, was met with a degree of reluctance. Fears that this proposed infill development would create a Manhattan-esque neighborhood of densely packed buildings led Lakewood residents to cry “NIMBY!” (Not in my backyard!) To allay those concerns, proponents of the project pointed out that Lamar Station is a LEED for Neighborhood Development registered project, encouraging greater walkability within and around the community, a sense of cohesion between neighbors, and the possibility of public transportation. These elements all lead to reduced automobile dependence. Given the current economic climate and high cost of gasoline, this is good news for Lakewood residents.

Cries of NIMBY soon turned to PIMBY: “Please, in my backyard!”

The cutting-edge Lamar Station project provides a game plan for how to overcome similar concerns elsewhere, because compact development is the future of this country and we need to find a way to get everyone on board. Given population prediction models, growth in the U.S. cannot be contained in low-density developments without consuming an ever-growing swath of land and resources, and contributing to climate change. More and more, we’re realizing that in order to provide affordable housing for working families, and to meet residents’ housing choices, high-density housing is required.

Here’s how the Lamar Station project is accomplishing this objective: Located on the emerging west corridor light rail project out of Denver, the project will redevelop an under-utilized brownfield located in the center of an established neighborhood. It will feature a mix of affordable and market apartment units, public and community spaces, and access to a multi-modal transportation network. The project will be integrated into the surrounding community, and enhance it by embracing existing assets, transit-oriented development, and sustainability. Perhaps most importantly, given the current financial environment, the project has the potential to catalyze future investment and re-development of infill and environmentally contaminated properties along the light rail corridor.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Federal Shutdown Looming: Government Efficiency Continues to be Whipping Boy in House Budget Debate 

Bryan Howard
Legislative Director
U.S. Green Building Council

With negotiations between the House and Senate failing to reach a breakthrough over a six-month spending bill for the rest of fiscal year 2011 (FY11), Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) have released a bill that includes a one-week measure that includes $12 billion in cuts. 

Among other provisions, the bill revives a $1.6 billion reduction at the General Services Administration (GSA)’s Federal Building Fund (FBF) based on the previous fiscal year 2010 (FY 10). As I have written before, similar cuts have been passed by the House of Representatives as part of H.R. 1, the Continuing Resolution (CR) of 2011, and would have an incredibly negative effect on private sector employment and sustainability efforts of undertaken by the federal government. 

Although the Senate and the White House have agreed to funding cuts, the inability to reach compromise on the specifics has brought about this one-week stopgap. If agreement cannot be reached on a longer-term bill by the end of the week it remains uncertain whether there will be even enough support in the House of Representatives to pass another short-term CR, which appears to be scheduled for a vote later this week. 

As it stands currently, the prospects of the federal government staying open for another week are looking murky at best.

For a summary of the bill, click here.

For the full text, click here.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

USGBC Testifies on Strategies to Increase Efficiency in the Federal Government and Promote the Better Buildings Initiative

Doug Gatlin, U.S. Green Building Council’s Vice President of LEED, testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on the how the General Services Administration (GSA) can eliminate waste, cut costs and improve environmental performance through improved building management and purchasing.

“With an inventory of more than 7,000 government-leased and 1,500 government-owned buildings – representing more than 354 million square feet of space nationwide – GSA has an extraordinary capacity to reduce the environmental impact of our nation’s buildings and save taxpayer dollars,” said Gatlin.

Joined by GSA Administrator Martha Johnson and other members of the real estate and business community, Gatlin provided Senators with a number of options to improve environmental performance while decreasing costs to taxpayers. He outlined a number of strategies including consistent funding to update, maintain and commission existing buildings.

“… commissioning costs, on average, $0.30/ft2 and generates between $0.25-$0.30/ft2 in whole building energy savings for a payback time of 1.1 years, and a 91% return on investment (ROI). This type of commissioning is arguably the single most cost effective strategy for reducing utility costs in buildings today.”

Jeffrey DeBoer, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Real Estate Roundtable, also joined Gatlin in calling for changes to the Energy Efficient Commercial Building Tax Deduction (179D) to make it more useable for existing buildings.

“As GSA develops its program to release excess properties into the marketplace, Congress should take complementary steps to enable retrofits of those assets by re-designing section 179D,” said DeBoer.

Changes to the tax deduction along with a number of other programs to spur commercial building efficiency were included in the recent Better Buildings Initiative (BBI) announced by the President Obama earlier this year.

To watch the full archived hearing or to read the full testimony click here.

For a detailed summary of BBI click here.

Related posts:
USGBC and the Better Buildings Initiative: How Do We Get Started Sooner?
Congressional Outlook Uncertain, but Executive Branch Opportunity Abounds

Defending LEED

Jason F. McLennan
Chief Executive Officer
Cascadia Green Building Council

This article by Jason F. McLennan was originally printed in the Spring '11 issue of Trim Tab, Cascadia Green Building Council's magazine for transformational people and design. View the full length article »

Recently there has been a lot of attention drawn towards the USGBC (United States Green Building Council) and the LEED rating system that has been less than flattering. A frivolous lawsuit about what LEED "falsely promises" to people and increased vitriol to the standard in general. Well, I am here to defend LEED - which might surprise some. I think people sometimes mistakenly assume that I am anti-LEED because of my sometimes vocal criticism of elements of the program, as well as the fact that I created a program (the Living Building Challenge) that some consider to be in competition with LEED - which it most assuredly is not.

Do I think that LEED is perfect? Absolutely not. No system is perfect. And yes, some criticism is deserved - and needed to keep improving what has become the most dominant green building program in the world. But there is a big difference in criticism that is intended to make the program stronger - so that it can continue to contribute to lowering environmental impact and changing the building culture - and criticism that is intended to tear down and destroy something that I believe has done a lot of good in the world. The former is essential - if not always appreciated - the latter is destructive and typically self-serving of particular corporate or individual interests.

So here I am - coming to LEED's defense. To be clear, the USGBC did not ask me to write this article. If they had I probably would have declined. I am nobody's "yes" man and what should be clear by now is that Cascadia - as a chapter - does not "toe the line." We are an independent voice and the conscience of the movement - USGBC chooses to put up with us and we choose to remain a chapter, because together we are collectively stronger and we share the same mission.

Continue reading the full-length article »

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Plan to Green Every School in Illinois: LEED Task Force Report

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

The U.S. Green Building Council-Illinois Chapter held a reception this past week in Springfield, Ill. to mark the release of a comprehensive report identifying opportunities to green all schools in Illinois. The report was the result of more than two years of collaboration between the USGBC-Illinois Chapter, civic and corporate partners, and was commissioned as a result of the October 2009 adoption of House Joint Resolution 45 by the Illinois General Assembly.

Introduced by State Representative Karen May (who has since become Chair of the National Advisory Council of the 50 for 50 Green Schools Caucus Initiative - See my previous blog entry to read about how other state legislators are advancing green schools), HJR 45 was adopted to pursue a statewide campaign to transform existing Illinois public schools and meet the goal of every student attending a green school within a generation.

To achieve this goal, HJR 45 created the HJR 45 LEED Task Force, with the following responsibilities: 1) Advise USGBC-Illinois on a pilot program to assist three underserved Illinois schools in achieving LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance certification, 2) assess how this pilot program can influence broader policies on greening existing schools in Illinois, and 3) author a report on the state of sustainability in Illinois schools that includes recommendations for programs and financial mechanisms that can foster sustainability on a larger scale in schools across the state.

The reception was held in conjunction with a USGBC-Illinois Chapter event in which green building advocates from the Chapter participated in two days of sessions at the state Capitol. During this time they met with approximately 50 Illinois Lawmakers or their aides and provided the report to help guide future activity. After the reception Doug Widener, Executive Director of the USGBC–Illinois Chapter, met with Representative May and a select group of state lawmakers about plans to accelerate the work of the already active Illinois Working Group on Green Schools.

“We’re so proud of the collaboration that took place in order to make this report a reality,” Doug reported after the reception. “I’m confident Illinois students will benefit from our work, and our hope is that these findings can be replicated in other states.”

Click here for more information and to view the report.

Friday, April 1, 2011

EPA To Recognize Well-Planned Communities

Aaron Lande
Sustainable Cities Specialist
U.S. Green Building Council

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the opening of the nomination period for its 10th Annual National Award for Smart Growth Achievement. This award allows EPA to recognize and support communities that use innovative policies and strategies to strengthen their economies, provide housing and transportation choices, develop in ways that bring benefits to a wide range of residents, and protect the environment. Is it just me, or could that description be applied to LEED for Neighborhood Development communities as well?

The award is open to public- and private-sector entities, though all applications must include a public-sector partner. Applications can be submitted in one of four categories:

Programs, Policies and Regulations: Recognizing regulatory and policy initiatives that support the principles of smart growth, especially actions that remove barriers to or provide incentives for smart growth.

Smart Growth and Green Building: Recognizing development, in either single or multiple buildings, that combines smart growth and green building approaches as building design and materials are integrated with land use and location efficiency.

Civic Places: Recognizing projects in the public realm that improve a community's sense of place while adding environmental and economic benefits. EPA is particularly interested in projects that create well-designed and vibrant public spaces.

Rural Smart Growth: Recognizing communities that preserve and encourage rural economies and character. EPA is interested in thriving rural areas that have used smart growth approaches to encourage economic development and job creation, improve transportation choices and housing options, and support the economic viability of working lands.

Applications are due Apr. 6, 2011.

To give a sense of what the EPA is looking for, here are last year’s winners:

Overall Excellence in Smart Growth: Smart.Growth@NYC: Policies and Programs for Improving Livability in New York City — New York City Department of Transportation with the Departments of Health, Design and Construction, and City Planning

Smart Growth and Green Building: Miller’s Court — Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development, Seawall Development Company, Hamel Builders, and Marks, Thomas Architects

Programs, Policies, and Regulations: Making the Greatest Place: Metro’s Strategic Implementation of the 2040 Growth Concept — Metro, Portland, Oregon

Rural Smart Growth: Gateway 1 Corridor Action Plan — Gateway 1 Communities and Maine Department of Transportation

Civic Places: Mint Plaza — City and County of San Francisco, Martin Building Company, CMG Landscape Architects, and Sherwood Design Engineers