Municipalities LEEDing the way

By Leo Pierre Roy, AP

Government bureaucrats are not famous for innovation. But civic leaders in several municipalities around the country have joined the green building” movement.

They have enacted laws requiring the use of sustainable design principles to minimize adverse impacts to natural systems, to conserve water and energy, to use environmentally preferable materials, and to reduce waste and emissions.

For example, mayors seeking to revitalize their cities are demanding green roofs and improved stormwater management, among other key initiatives. Additionally, some insist that solar power is provided for citizens. These mayors are seeking greater health, improved worker productivity, and energy cost savings.

Meanwhile, they are enhancing the livability and quality of life in urban areas.

Awareness of the impact of the built environment on the natural environment is emerging, as is a desire to increase the harmony between them. While private-sector participation in green building design and construction is completely voluntary (and is presently being undertaken by environmentally-motivated, non-profit organizations and forward-thinking private companies), municipal leaders are mandating the application of sustainable design principles in their communities because they recognize its extraordinary benefits.

Most municipalities that are promoting sustainable design have adopted the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. The LEED criteria, created during a 10-year period through a voluntary, grassroots effort, have become a widely accepted standard for what is environmentally preferable in design and construction.

These criteria are designed to reduce or eliminate the negative impacts of buildings on the environment and their occupants in five areas: sustainable site planning, water savings, energy efficiency and renewable power, materials and resource conservation, and indoor environmental quality.

To date, nearly 100 projects have been LEED certified, representing a staggering 149 million square feet. And more than 1,000 projects from throughout the nation are registered for future certification .

LEED certification is based on existing, proven technologies. It allows flexibility through a point system, as every project is not able to incorporate all sustainable design features. Ratings include Certification, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum, depending upon the level of criteria met by a project. LEED promotes a whole-building, integrated design process, encouraging early collaboration among all design, engineering, and construction disciplines.

The municipalities leading the green building movement use a variety of techniques to promote sustainable design principles. Most lead by example, requiring that any municipal buildings over a certain size seek LEED certification.

They make information on green building technologies available through resource centers where people can visit, through published materials, or through extensive websites that provide links to various sources. In some cities, such as Boston and Chicago, the mayors have made bold pronouncements, setting goals for their cities to be the greenest in America. Other cities support a more grassroots approach by offering developers incentives to achieve desired results.

Progressive cities In 2001, San Jose, Calif., became one of the first municipalities to require the use of the LEED standard on all municipal buildings larger than 10,000 square feet. More than a dozen cities, including Arlington, Va.; Austin, Texas; Dallas; Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; Seattle; and, most recently, San Francisco, have passed similar ordinances. Federal agencies also have embraced the LEED standard, including the General Services Administration, which builds non-military federal buildings. It has a goal of LEED Silver rating on all structures costing $2 million or more. Other federal agencies that have adopted LEED include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as the Navy and Air Force.

The city of Arlington, Va., adopted the requirement for LEED Silver for all municipal buildings. Additionally, it requires all commercial developers to submit a LEED scorecard in the early design phase to encourage the consideration of sustainable design features.

Developers are not required to implement the green building features, but are required to at least consider them. Arlington also offers private developers of commercial office space the ability to apply for additional density in exchange for achieving LEED Silver rating on their projects. This city’s own projects, including schools, community centers, and a fire station, lead by example. Its informative website ( EnvironmentalServices/EnvironmentalServices Main.aspx) provides information about current city projects and its green building program.

The city of Austin, Texas, was another early adopter of sustainable design principles, starting in the early 1990s. It has a formal Green Building Program, which offers a credit of up to 100 percent of the development and infrastructure fees, as well as utility charges, for projects that comply with its Smart Growth Criteria.

Austin also offers rebates for efficient irrigation and rainwater collection systems.

Part of the city’s motivation to encourage sustainable design is to protect its sole-source water supply aquifer from contaminates such as pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Austin operates a walk-in green building resource center with reference materials and referrals to technical experts; it also publishes the widely used Sustainable Building Sourcebook. Austin has an excellent website (, which includes the Sourcebook, as well as product information, relevant articles, and other publications.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino appointed a Green Building Task Force to recommend ways to expand the city’s green building activity. Additionally, the Boston Redevelopment Authority established a grant program to explore green building technologies during early-stage feasibility studies conducted by developers.

This seed money will encourage consideration of sustainable design principles by developers who ordinarily would not consider features with long-term return on investment, but that offer significant environmental benefits.

The Boston area has several outstanding examples of green architecture, including the Genzyme world headquarters in East Cambridge, and Manulife Financial’s headquarters in the new Seaport District. Both of these projects feature glass facades with double walls, which allow for air circulation within the faade to help with heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. Additionally, both buildings have full-height atriums to bring in natural light, as well as vegetated, or green roofs to reduce the heat island effect and to provide an amenity for building occupants.

Additionally, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently built high-profile green buildings.

Harvard’s 240-unit graduate student dormitory complex at One Western Avenue in Boston has an Energy Star roof; it used locally-sourced and environmentally friendly materials; and it has a heat recovery exhaust system. The startling MIT Stata Center, designed by the unconventional architect Frank Gehry, is noted for its highly efficient HVAC system and its rainwater collection system for toilet flushing.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley vowed to make his city the greenest in the country. He put a green roof on the city hall and is strongarming developers to follow suit on their buildings. Daley has a similar fondness for solar power, encouraging the installation of photovoltaic panels on downtown buildings.

Chicago’s Center for Green Technology features rubber floors made from old tires and uses vegetable oil instead of hydraulic oil in its elevator.

Pittsburgh, known in the past more for its pollution than green progress, boasts the largest number of green buildings in the United States.

Its newly opened convention center, the world’s largest green building, is LEED Gold certified.

Impressive features include stunning natural light, a highly efficient HVAC system, and a system that purifies greywater from sinks to recycle it for toilet flushing and irrigation.

Pittsburgh hosted the 2003 U.S. Green Building Council annual meeting, which drew almost 7,000 participants.

New York City is home to a dramatic example of the private market’s response to green buildings. The 27-story Solaire project in Battery Park City, a residential complex of 293 units in lower Manhattan, was rented out in record time, even with most units going for 4 percent to 5 percent above market rates. The project incorporated and promoted a number of green building features that clearly distinguished the project in the marketplace. For instance, the building uses 67 percent less energy at peak times, which saves money and reduces demand on the grid. New York City also has a significant green roof initiative, called Greening Gotham, which is led by Earth Pledge, a nonprofit organization.

Portland, Ore., also is a leader in green building measures. The city’s stormwater management bylaw requires a reduction in impervious surfaces on building sites and mandates the use of best management practices for stormwater. Those implementing sustainable stormwater management techniques are given a discount on applicable fees.

Interestingly, Portland initially started collecting information on stormwater management alternatives to save money . Eventually, the research effort grew to include other sustainable design practices.

The city’s Stormwater Management Manual can be found on its website at

Portland established an Office of Sustainable Development to keep requirements consistent across the community. It offers direct reimbursement of up to $20,000 of first costs for those commercial projects seeking LEED Silver certification and provides rebates for energy and water conservation efforts. Portland also offers a great green roof incentive – an extra 3 square feet of building for every 1 square foot of green roof with a total coverage of 60 percent or more of the whole roof area.

The city shines in how it makes information on green building technologies broadly available. Its comprehensive website ( offers valuable project data, including current research on green roofs, the costs of green building features, and links to other sites.

In 2002, Los Angeles began requiring that all municipally funded buildings larger than 7,500 square feet be LEED certified. Nearly 2 million square feet of projects are presently being developed under this requirement, including 18 fire stations, seven animal care facilities, five police stations, two bomb squad facilities, and police headquarters. While Los Angeles is demonstrating a significant commitment to green buildings, it is not to be outdone by its neighbor to the north, San Francisco, which also has adopted a Green Building Ordinance.

This decree, which became effective in September, requires that all city-owned facilities and leaseholds achieve at least a LEED Silver rating. The city council was motivated to enact the requirement to reduce future building operation costs, as well as to improve city worker health and productivity. The Bay Area already is home to a number of notable green buildings, including the headquarters for The Gap and a Pottery Barn retail outlet.

Even Dallas – better known for cowboys, oil wells, and J.R. – has demonstrated a commitment to sustainability. The city has replaced its incandescent traffic signals with light emitting diodes, saving 3.6 million kWh annually.

Additionally, Dallas runs a fleet of alternative fueled vehicles, mostly using clean burning, compressed natural gas (CNG), and has established a system of some 22 public-access CNG refueling stations.

Further, city officials revised Dallas’ zoning and building development codes to offer expedited review of building permits and certificates of occupancy for green building projects. It established a new Office of Environmental Management and published a public resource guide on Green Dallas Initiatives. In addition to these outstanding examples of sustainability in action, Dallas requires all new municipal buildings larger than 10,000 square feet to meet LEED Silver certification.

Conclusion Nationwide, grants and tax policies are providing incentives for green buildings. For example, during California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s State of the State address, he announced the creation of a Green Bank of loan guarantees to support the retrofit of existing buildings for energy efficiency. New York Governor George Pataki sponsored a green building tax credit to encourage design and construction of buildings with greater energy efficiency, better indoor air quality, and reduced environmental impact. It provides for a 7-percent credit for buildings larger than 20,000 square feet if both the base building and tenant space use green building technology.

Portland, Ore.’s grant program helped to spawn 44 green buildings – totaling 4 million square feet – and encouraged a well-established, sustainable design ethic in the community.

Currently, nearly every municipal green building program in the United States offers incentives to encourage property developers to participate, such as grants to study the feasibility of incorporating green design features, increased project density, or expedited project permitting. Municipalities promote green projects in their communities, and use the media to educate and inform.

For instance, hosting the U.S. Green Building Council’s annual conference is a great way to showcase progress in green buildings; it has been held in Austin and Pittsburgh. This month, it is being held in Portland, Ore. Most municipalities also offer educational resources, including access to information and technical advice, but the financial incentives appear to be the most persuasive.

The leadership demonstrated by a number of municipal officials in promoting sustainable design and green buildings is encouraging. It shows a commitment to citizens by reducing environmental impacts, improving the health and productivity of building occupants, and saving money through the efficient use of energy and other resources. Through these efforts, municipal leaders are making a difference as they work to improve the quality of life in their communities.

Leo Pierre Roy, AP, is the director of the Massachusetts Environmental Services Group of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. He can be reached at 617-924-1770, or via e-mail at

Posted in Uncategorized | January 29th, 2014 by

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