All Water is Greywater - So Don't Ban Greywater in Your Plumbing Code

As governments across the country enter the triennial building code cycle, including adopting the 2015 International Plumbing Code, it is key that they not ban greywater use.

Codes are usually adopted by local government legislative bodies, often with the advice of boards comprised of retired or senior members of local trades (e.g., the Plumbing Board) many of whom may not be conversant in sustainability and new innovations in green building. Many, if not nearly all, local governments alter and amend national codes for their own purposes. A prime example is that many local governments adopted the 2012 International Plumbing Code or 2012 National Standard Plumbing Code amending the national standard codes to remove the provisions that authorized the reuse of greywater (i.e., most by simply deleting 2012 IPC Chapter 13 Gray Water Recycling System).   

Water, including rain (i.e., storm water) other than toilet waste, draining from a building is greywater and suitable for reuse as nonpotable water. Reusing greywater serves multiple purposes: it reduces the amount of potable water needed to supply a building, it reduces the amount of wastewater entering sewer or septic systems, and it provides an alternative for storm water management, etc.

Plumbing codes now specify how systems must be designed, installed, and maintained to prevent cross contamination of drinking water and nonpotable water. That toilets are flushed and lawns are watered with drinking water is crazy.

But clinging to the past, many local governments today ban greywater. In 2010 the Maryland legislature was forced to enact a state law mandating “a county may not adopt or enforce a provision of a local plumbing code that prohibits a greywater recycling system.”

Banning greywater use is silly because arguably, all water on the planet has been reused. Earth came into being with all of its water about 4.4 billion years ago. No water has been added or subtracted. Scientists tell us that over the last 50,000 years over 100 billion people have inhabited the Earth and let’s assume a conservative 30 year life span with a typical person needing to consume 3 quarts of water a day (although today the average American uses 1.9 gallons a day). So that is more than 858 trillion gallons of water consumed by people. And that doesn’t include animals that outnumber people by over 1000 to 1. An elephant may consume 40 gallons a day. Paleontologists tell us the bathtub size depression found south of La Junta, Colorado “is the first recognized evidence of urination by dinosaurs” proving that about 150 million years ago a dinosaur stopped and peed 300 gallons. And there were millions of dinosaurs, all drinking water and peeing. So, easily creatures have had inside their kidneys and peed thousands of times all the potable water available on the planet. At this point it is all greywater.  

Drinking water is among the most pressing environmental issues facing the planet. But because potable water is so cheap in most Western countries, it is given short shrift in many sustainability efforts. 

In a potable water constrained world, local governments should not delete 2015 IPC Chapter 13 Nonpotable Water Systems when adopting plumbing codes this year.

Indoor Marijuana Growing Accounts for Over 1% of all Electric Consumption in the U.S.

In 2015, when vaping is out and Marley Natural Weed is in, the largely unrecognized and surging use of electricity associated with marijuana must be considered. 

Indoor marijuana growing operations accounted for over 1% of all electric consumption in the U.S., according to a 2011 study by Evan Mills, a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researcher. In California, marijuana production accounted for about 3% of electric use, according to the study. The methodology of the study, self-recognizing the difficulties in tracking an activity that was illegal, only considers the indoor cultivation of cannabis, which is a small segment of what is the nation’s largest crop by value. 

The growth since the data gathering for 2011 study has been significant with marijuana legalized for recreational use in four states and medicinal use in 19 states.

Energy use at the reported magnitudes is very real, and the growth since 2011, when combined with the expected growth of electricity demand in this fast growing sector confounds energy forecasts and risks obscuring savings from energy efficiency policies and programs.

Although non legal marijuana growing is hard to calculate, the association with high energy use has been accepted for decades. A sharp increase in electrical use in a house has been used by police as probable cause to issue a search warrant for illegal marijuana cultivation.  On a square foot basis, the energy used in marijuana cultivation facilities exceeds that of hospitals and data centers. 

Print media accounts in Colorado have estimated that electricity costs are now 50% of the wholesale cost of the emergent industry of indoor cannabis production.

Boulder County, Colorado has responded with a regulatory requirement that each Medical Marijuana Optional Premises Cultivation or a Retail Marijuana Cultivation Facility must “directly offset 100% of the electricity consumption through a verified subscription in a Community Solar Garden, renewable energy generated on site, or equivalent.”

The local Colorado electricity utility, Xcel Energy expects to roll out a rebate program for the marijuana growers by early summer, according to Gabriel Romero, the utility spokesperson. Xcel is already offering rebates on a case-by case basis using existing lighting incentive programs, but the new rebate will encourage growers to replace their older lighting equipment with more efficient LEDs and the like.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council, considering the impact of legalized cannabis production in Washington State, and based on new hard data from Colorado, estimates an increase in future electricity demand of over 160 megawatts. As other states implement newly enacted Marijuana laws and more states consider decriminalizing pot or legalizing it for medical or recreational use, it is clear that energy use in this sector will increase dramatically.

The impact of the emergent legal cannabis industry is widespread, including that among the most read of my blog posts last year was, Marijuana Smoking is Allowed in LEED Buildings.

Noting that growing pot is today not very green, an article in the Portland Business Journal last week anticipated the increase in energy use by Oregon’s new recreational marijuana industry asked, “is it time for LEED weed?”   

Pennsylvania is First State to offer Tax Credit for Passive House

Pennsylvania is the first state to offer tax credits for low income Passive House building.

Applications submitted under the PennHOMES and low income housing tax credit program are scored and ranked in accordance with a numerical criteria. By way of example, up to 30 points are awarded to developments located in areas with high poverty rates or large numbers of senior citizens eligible for affordable housing.  

Up to 25 points are awarded for green building, including up to 5 points for redevelopment of a brownfield site, and up to 10 points for an adaptive reuse of a vacant building.

What is unique in the applications due by January 30, 2015 is that up to 10 points may be awarded to those developments which meet Passive House certification requirements (national or international). Actual Passive House “certification” from PHIUS or the Passive House Academy is not required. At construction completion, all third party test results and verifications required by Passive House, including blower door testing and commissioning reports, are submitted to the state and the project must be Passive House “certifiable.”  

For the uninitiated, the Passive House green building rating system uses a set of design principles to attain a rigorous level of energy efficiency. “Maximize your gains, minimize your losses” summarize the approach. A Passive building is designed to employ continuous insulation through its entire envelope without any thermal bridging and that building envelope is ‘extremely airtight’ preventing infiltration of outside air and loss of conditioned air. It employs the use of high performance windows (typically triple-paned) and doors.

An issue may be that while worldwide Passive House reports more than 40,000 buildings meet the standard, today there are only 130 Passive buildings in the United States, and only 11 of those are multi-family or commercial.

The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency reports that it is aware of at least one eligible building. “We may get 130 applications and we are going to fund about 40,” said Brian Hudson, executive director of the Agency, so the points available for Passive building would be key in the highly competitive tax credit process.

No points are available for LEED projects.

But, recognizing the limited efficacy of a program tied only to the very little used Passive House, Pennsylvania will also incentivize low income green housing with the $1 Million in tax credits when 10 points may be awarded for green building to projects achieving Enterprise Green Communities Criteria optional 25 points for new construction and 20 points for substantial or moderate rehabilitation properties. At construction completion, written certification must be submitted describing which Green Communities criteria were achieved.

An architect working on a housing retrofit in Pittsburgh observed, the State of Pennsylvania may have singlehandedly moved Passive House from the radical fringe to mainstream green building.

© picture-alliance/ dpa Passive Hose building in Darmstadt-Kranichstein, Germany

Dunkin' Donuts Green is a Hot Trend in Green Building

While you were busy enjoying their new “Cronut” croissant donuts, earlier this month Dunkin’ Donuts announced the goal of 100 new DD Green™ certified restaurants by year end 2016.

DD Green is a green building certification program that will assist franchisees build sustainable, energy efficient restaurants. 

To be recognized as a DD Green restaurant, a franchisee will follow a five stage program during the planning, design and construction of a store. The five stages of the DD Green program include Site Development, Store Efficiency, Healthy Indoors, Sustainable Operations and Innovation and Community. Each stage of the DD Green strategies provides a synopsis of the strategy goal, specific educational information, guidance and metrics to achieve with the design and construction team. Each stage focuses on securing sustainable strategies and practices for restaurants, including the mitigation of construction pollution and waste recycling, installation of energy efficient LED light fixtures, mechanical units and water saving plumbing fixtures, implementation of healthy environments with indoor air quality management and use of zero VOC paints, and sustainable building operations training for employees.

Franchisees can achieve two different levels within the program, DD Green, where stores meet minimum sustainable requirements, and DD Green Elite, where stores reach beyond requirements, and achieve additional sustainable goals.

The company announced the grand opening of the first DD Green certified Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant at 5560 E. 7th Street in Long Beach, California.

As part of its corporate social responsibility, the company, more than two years ago focused on sustainability and began a move to cage free eggs and gestation crate free pork. Paul Twohig, President, Dunkin’ Donuts U.S. and Canada, and Dunkin’ Donuts & Baskin-Robbins Europe and Latin America, said, "We are committed to building greener restaurants, and this new program is designed to reduce our overall environmental footprint and improve operating costs for our franchisees."

DD Green is an example of sustainability initiatives by an increasing number of U.S. companies. While some pursue third party certification of their real estate as green through the U.S. Green Building Council, others find LEED is not an ideal option and create their own program. This law firm has worked with more than four score and seven organizations creating their own green building programs. And we regularly provide third party validation of green including “opinions of counsel” that specific projects are “certifiable” or otherwise in compliance with specific green building requirements.

Curious here, is that UL Environmental is competing head to head with the USGBC when it says that it “audits and certifies sustainability programs” including DD Green.

Proprietary corporate sustainability programs, including green building certifications, are growing by leaps and bounds. With more than 11,000 restaurants, Dunkin’ Donuts will soon be a leader in sustainability including in green building.

Arlington County is the First to Adopt Incentives Tied to LEED Version 4

While hundreds of governments throughout the United States have adopted programs incentivizing green building, many tied to the LEED rating system, Arlington County, Virginia is the first to tie incentives specifically to the new LEED version 4.

Arlington first adopted its very successful voluntary Green Building Incentive Program in October 1999 offering up to 0.25 floor area ratio (FAR) bonus density in exchange for obtaining a LEED Silver certification. 

The program has been popular with developers in Arlington. Since the first LEED bonus density project was approved, 96 buildings have been approved by the County and of those, 56 have agreed to achieve LEED certification. The voluntary density bonus is so valuable in the suburban DC market that in the last 4 years, all but one building approved committed to LEED certification.

On November 15, 2014, the County Board of Arlington County enacted a new policy enhancing and upgrading the green building density incentive program, effective immediately, but projects accepted by the County before September 30, 2015 may continue to use the LEED 2009 and continue to receive the existing less generous incentives. The key enhancements to the County’s program include:

In exchange for a commitment to achieve LEED Version 4 Silver Certification or above, projects (commercial and residential) may request up to 0.25 FAR bonus for LEED Silver certification; 0.35 FAR bonus for LEED Gold certification; and 0.50 FAR bonus for LEED Platinum certification. All commercial office projects earning bonus density must also agree to earn Energy Star building certification within 4 years of occupancy.

Projects earning bonus density are also eligible to request an additional 0.025 FAR for achieving one of eight Arlington priority credits. Credit will be given for up to two Arlington priority credits, for a total additional bonus density of 0.05 FAR. Those priority credits include: Optimize Energy Performance (9% above the LEED baseline), Additional Optimize Energy Performance (12% above the LEED baseline), Envelope Commissioning, Renewable Energy Production (1% of building energy from renewables), etc.

Projects designed and constructed to achieve at least LEED Gold certification plus two Arlington priority credits plus Net Zero Energy Building certification through the International Living Futures Institute, may earn additional bonus density above 0.55 FAR.

In order to facilitate the construction of high performing “green” affordable housing units, the Program provides that affordable housing projects receiving State tax credits are allowed to earn bonus density using the Earthcraft green building rating system in lieu of LEED for projects designed to achieve the Earthcraft v4 Gold and Platinum certifications.

Arlington’s increase in bonus density tied to LEED v4 is no doubt based on the large success of the prior 15 years of voluntary green building incentives, but make no mistake, this new policy is a huge commitment to greener building in a marketplace that demands all new building be green. 

179D Tax Deduction Brought Back to Life in the Tax Extenders Bill

Last night the 113th Congress passed the Tax Increase Prevention Act, better known as the tax extenders bill, when H.R. 5771 passed the Senate 76 to 16. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law later this week.  

And while this legislation is significant, it should be lost on no one that the bill expires 14 days from now on December 31, 2014, and, as such is only applicable to the 2014 tax year. Each of the tax provisions in the bill had previously expired at the end of 2013.

For those interested in green building, the most important tax provision extended in the bill is the 179D energy efficient commercial building deduction that had expired on December 31, 2013. The bill retroactively brings the deduction back to life, simply providing:

SEC. 158. EXTENSION OF ENERGY EFFICIENT COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS DEDUCTION.

(a) IN GENERAL. - Subsection (h) of section 179D is amended by striking ‘‘December 31, 2013’’ and inserting ‘‘December 31, 2014’’.

(b) EFFECTIVE DATE. - The amendment made by this section shall apply to property placed in service after December 31, 2013.

Using the 179D deduction, building owners and tenants who make expenditures to cause new or renovated commercial buildings to be more energy efficient will again be eligible for a significant Federal tax deduction, an immediate one time depreciation deduction of up to $1.80 per square foot.

Significantly, with the LEED 2009 prerequisite of a 10 percent improvement in the proposed building performance rating for a new building compared with the baseline in Appendix G of ANSI Standard 90.1-2007, many if not most LEED 2009 certified buildings may be eligible for this tax deduction. It is curious that despite the benefit to green building, the U.S. Green Building Council and others in the environmental industrial complex had throughout the year lobbied, unsuccessfully, to have the deduction replaced with some performance based tax credit. Those efforts were not supported by real estate interests. And the valuable deduction has now been extended, without modification, just as it has existed.

You can review the text of H.R. 5771 for the list of 54 other tax extenders which might affect you.

Others may offer commentary on the efficacy of tax policy by extenders a year at a time, but the purpose of this blog post is to make you aware that a bipartisan effort by Congress has greatly advantaged green building by extended the 179D energy efficient commercial buildings deduction.   

ICC 700 Authorized by National Defense Authorization Act for 2015

While many have focused on the funding to fight the Islamic State terrorist group or the 1 percent boost in military pay, the National Defense Authorization Act for 2015 makes a major change in green building across this nation when it authorizes use of the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard

Congress has passed and this week President Barack Obama is expected to sign H.R. 4435 which is the comprehensive legislation to authorize the $584.2 Billion budget authority of the Department of Defense.

To appreciate the impact that the Department of Defense has on the real estate industry, of that budgeted amount over $20 Billion will be spent on housing in 2015. And the military directly impacts green building. This time last year, I wrote a blog post Defense Authorization Act Lifts Ban on LEED Gold and Platinum.

This year, on page 694 of the 786 page bill, section 2802 Residential Building Construction Standards, provides,  

All residential buildings funded, planned, remodeled, or authorized by this Act that will be designed and constructed to meet an above code green building standard or rating system may use the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard, the LEED Green Building Standard System, or an equivalent protocol which has been developed using a voluntary consensus standard, as defined in Office of Management and Budget Circular Number A–119.

Presumably that language also authorizes the use of Green Globes.

The National Association of Home Builders and the International Code Council partnered to create the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard. The ICC 700 can be used by any builder for their individual project as a rating system (including third party approval), or be the basis for a government residential green building code.

The Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy and other instrumentalities of the Department of Defense are the largest owner of residential buildings in North America. So, this is good news for green building, but maybe not such good news for the U.S. Green Building Council that will see the market share of its already beleaguered residential systems shrink in 2015 and beyond.   

2015 IgCC Has Been Approved

On November 14, the International Code Council announced that the 2015 version of the International Green Construction Code had been approved.

News of the approval has not circulated widely, likely in part because the announcement was a bit cryptic when the ICC press release reported “the 2014 Group C code development cycle results.” 

Following a nearly two year voluntary consensus process, the updated IgCC includes those items that were raised at the Committee Action Hearings held in Memphis in April of this year. Each proposed change from the 2012 version of the green code was again considered at the Public Comment Hearings held in Fort Lauderdale in early October, which was followed with the first ever ‘online’ governmental consensus vote that concluded at the end of October. And the final action in the process was announced two weeks later when the ICC Validation Committee certified the vote results.

Those approved changes from the 2014 code change cycle will be published as the 2015 IgCC.

For those who cannot wait for the print of the 2015 IgCC that will be available in February 2015, click here for a comprehensive list of each change from the 2012 edition that was the final action.

The 2015 IgCC creates a regulatory framework for new and existing buildings, establishing minimum green building requirements for buildings and complementing voluntary rating systems, like LEED. The 2015 version of this form code ratchets up, significantly, the energy performance requirements from the current version. And with the delays associated with LEED v4, observers have suggested that a building constructed to this new code will be greener than a LEED 2009 building.  

The 2015 IgCC acts as an overlay to the existing set of International Codes, including provisions of the International Energy Conservation Code and ICC 700 - the National Green Building Standard; and incorporates ASHRAE Standard 189.1 2014 as an alternate compliance path.

The earlier versions of the IgCC were not widely adopted. Only very limited number of jurisdictions mandate new construction and renovation of both private and public buildings must be green. And after the 2014 mid-term elections, many of today’s newly elected conservatives appear to believe that a voluntary, non-mandatory approach to environmental protection is the best hope for stewardship of our planet. It is that same belief that has led to the broad brand and wide market share acceptance of LEED as a voluntary green building rating system. So, the future of a mandatory IgCC remains in question.

This may also be the last time the ICC utilizes a voluntary consensus process for drafting the IgCC. In August the ICC, ASHRAE, the American Institute of Architects, the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, and the U.S. Green Building Council announced the signing of a memorandum to collaborate on the development of future versions of the IgCC. And while that coterie of groups collaborated in the past, there is concern that future agreements between the groups, including agreements to exchange money, may color future versions of this green code.

ASHRAE 189.1 - 2014 Green Building Standard Is Now Available

Last week the 2014 version of the ASHRAE 189.1 Green Building Standard was published and became available for use. 

ANSI/ASHRAE/USGBC/IES Standard 189.1-2014, Standard for the Design of High-Performance, Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, addresses site sustainability; water-use efficiency; energy ef­ficiency; indoor environmental quality; and the building’s impact on the atmosphere, materials and resources. 

Standard 189.1 is an alternative compliance option of the International Green Construction Code. When Baltimore City adopted the IgCC last week, its enactment expressly described that buildings designed in compliance with Standard 189.1 were exempt from compliance with the IgCC. Given the timing of the enactment, Baltimore adopted the December 2011 version of 189.1.  

The 2014 standard incorporates 67 addenda, reflecting changes made through the public review process since the standard was last published in 2011. Appendix H gives brief descriptions and approval dates of the addenda included in this new edition.

According to ASHRAE, major changes in the 2014 edition include:  

  • Energy: Significant updates are included to reflect the publication of Standard 90.1-2013, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, including revised building envelope provisions. Fenestration orientation requirements were updated based on new research, as well as changes and updates made to equipment efficiency tables, ENERGYSTAR references and continuous air-barrier requirements.
  • Energy Performance, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, and Renewables: Changes and clarifications are included to reflect changes to Standard 90.1. Carbon dioxide emission factors for different energy sources are updated.
  • Indoor Environmental Quality: Lighting quality is added to the scope of this section, and requirements are added for lighting controls in specific space types. Requirements for air sealing of filtration and air-cleaning equipment are clarified, and new requirements for preoccupancy ventilation and building envelope moisture management are added.
  • Site Sustainability: All site requirements are now mandatory, with prescriptive and performance options moved to the mandatory requirements. Requirements for stormwater management are enhanced, and new requirements added for bicycle parking and for preferred parking for low-emission, hybrid and electric vehicles. New requirements are added for predesign assessment of native and invasive plants.
  • Water: More stringent water use requirements are included for toilets, clothes washers, dishwashers and green roofs.
  • Building Impacts on the Atmosphere, Materials, and Resources: Requirements are updated for areas to store and collect recyclables, including batteries and electronics. Requirements also are updated for construction waste management and for life-cycle assessment. New requirements are added for multiple-attribute product declaration or certification and for maximum mercury content levels of certain types of electric lamps.
  • Construction and Plans for Operation: Requirements related to environmental impacts associated with idling construction vehicles are updated. New requirements are added to reduce the entry of airborne contaminants associated with construction areas.

To appreciate the importance of a republished ASHRAE 189.1,  note that the Department of Defense, the largest owner of buildings in North America, that is also the owner or more green building and more LEED certified building than anyone else, based its Unified Facilities Criteria 1-200-02 High Performance And Sustainable Building Requirement on 2009 version of the Standard.

This may also be the last time the ASHRAE publishes 189.1 as an independent standard. In August the International Code Council, ASHRAE, the American Institute of Architects, the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, and the U.S. Green Building Council announced the signing of a memorandum to collaborate on the development of future versions of Standard 189.1.

To order Standard visit www.ashrae.org/bookstore

International Green Construction Code Now Mandatory For All Building in Baltimore

Last evening the Baltimore City Council adopted the International Green Construction Code 2012 as an overlay to the City’s building, fire and related codes.

Baltimore, the 26th most populous city in the country, was among the first jurisdictions, in 2007 to mandate that all “newly constructed, extensively modified non-residential buildings” .. “achieve a Silver rating in the appropriate LEED rating system or satisfy the Baltimore City Green Building Standard” (a LEED-like local enactment). That mandatory law had some efficacy with new construction but almost no market impact on renovations as building owners strived to avoid the enactment. 

Council Bill 14-0413 repeals that existing law and commencing April 1, 2015 expands its scope and breadth with a new Baltimore Green Construction Code to apply to all new construction and “all repairs, additions, or alterations to a structure and all changes of occupancy” with very few exceptions (.. one or two family dwellings, etc.).

Significantly, the new Green Code does not apply to: structures that achieve a LEED Silver rating; residential and mixed use buildings of five stories or more that comply with the ICC 700 at the Silver performance level for energy and Bronze level for other categories; and, to structures that comply with ASHRAE standard 189.1. The new enactment allows the Code official to accept third party certification of compliance with these alternative compliance paths; and our law firm will provide those certifications.

There is an exemption process where the Code official may, in unusual circumstances and upon a showing of good cause, grant an exemption from any specific requirement of the Code.

Sensitive that the port of Baltimore, founded in 1729, is an already built-out older industrial city that has shifted to a service economy, the new Green Code alters the form IgCC with 32 pages of edits, including that it requires “at least 50% of the total building materials used” in a building of 25,000 square feet or greater, must be recycled, recyclable, bio-based or indigenous (within 500 miles), where the form code threshold is not less than 55% of buildings of all sizes.

And the enactment corrects some of the industry bias in the form IgCC when, in pursuit of heat island effect mitigation, Baltimore permits the use of “porous asphalt pavement” in addition to pervious concrete. The form code all but bans asphalt pavement in favor of concrete products (i.e., when the IgCC 2012 mandates heat island mitigation for not less than 50% of site hardscape with material as having a solar reflectance value of not less than 0.30 [.. think light colored concrete and not dark colored asphalt]).

In a first for any American city, buildings are now mandated to have renewable energy systems.

Both with the sunsetting of the Baltimore City Green Building Standard (the green standard that most residential projects pursued in recent years) and that this new Green Code applies to all repairs and renovations (not subject to the prior law), whichever compliance path a builder pursues, will be a sea-change.

While there are co-sponsors, the bill is all but the singular and Herculean effort of Councilman James Kraft. It is rare that a code enactment is not an executive branch bill. And the Councilman’s commitment to the environment is further evidenced by the fact that last evening the City Council also had before it his bill to ban plastic bags.

As progressive as this bill is, it should not be lost that Baltimore is representative of a very limited number of jurisdictions mandating new construction and renovation of both private and public buildings must be green. After the 2014 mid-term elections, many of today’s newly elected conservatives believe that a voluntary, non-mandatory approach to environmental protection is the best hope for stewardship of our planet. It is that same belief that has led to the broad brand and wide market share acceptance of LEED as a voluntary green building rating system. But Baltimore has had a mandate on the books since 2007, so, while there are not 50 shades of green, with alternative compliance paths for achieving green building, this bill is being viewed favorably.

Mid Term Election Results Superb For Green Building

Election Day 2014 in which Republicans made big gains in Congress and statehouses across the country portends huge business opportunities for green building.

As more conservative legislative bodies look to enact environmental and energy policies while driving up growth without enacting new mandates or imposing new taxes, enabling voluntary green building is positioned to be part of the new legislative agendas. 

The newly elected Republicans are not 1960s Barry Goldwater environmentalists who favored “federal intervention with regards to the environment.” To the contrary, most of today’s newly elected conservatives believe that a voluntary, non-mandatory approach to environmental protection is the best hope for stewardship of our planet. And that is the same belief that has led to the broad brand and wide market share acceptance of LEED. Many believe that burdening business and land owners with yet more government mandates is wrong and will not be efficacious.

The broad failure of the IgCC to be enacted anywhere suggests a building code that goes far beyond life safety is going too far. Further, the fact that ASHRAE 189.1 has only been implemented by the U.S. military is equally damning. Mandatory green codes and green standards will not be popular in conservative legislative bodies.  

Additionally, attempting to mandate that a private land owner must build a LEED or Green Globes certified structure misuses the voluntary rating systems. David Gottfried, the USGBC co-founder who unabashedly believes “all building should be green” said in a recent interview, “LEED was designed as a voluntary standard” acknowledging that “some governments have grabbed onto it.” And Jerry Yudelson, the President of GBI (the Green Globes folks), makes clear he does not advocate mandatory green building laws for private building and he sees “a benefit of allowing the freedom of the marketplace to control this rapidly changing field, where performance counts.”

As transition teams for newly elected officials look for environmental and energy policies that will be no cost to government and not burden business, the environmental industrial complex needs to advocate for government policies that allow and incentivize sustainability and green building (including the resultant reduced electricity use, savings in potable water, less solid waste, eliminating toxics, and more). It is time to stop ridiculing people, who are now in control of Congress and many state legislatures, as climate change deniers (making it a moral issue equating them with Holocaust deniers). And it is time to reconsider the abject failure to of the green building community to articulate the advantages of building sustainability that has resulted in green building no longer being the cool kid.    

Not only is green building a solution to many of the environmental impacts arising from human activity, but from an economic perspective it is clear that green building is profitable. There is nothing wrong with making a profit while saving the planet.

These elections have presented an opportunity for the green building industry to thrive.

Green building policies that promote innovation and create an environment rich for investment in real estate can save both mankind and its current way of life; and we all can get wealthy building green. 

FTC Warns 15 Businesses that their Biodegradable Claims May be Deceptive

The Federal Trade Commission made public that its staff sent letters to 15 businesses last month warning that their biodegradable claims related to “oxodegradable” plastic waste bags may be deceptive. 

Oxodegradable plastic is supposedly made with an additive intended to cause it to degrade in the presence of oxygen. Most waste bags are intended to be deposited in landfills, however, where not enough oxygen likely exists for oxodegradable bags to completely degrade in the time consumers expect. Contrary to the marketing, these bags may be no more biodegradable than ordinary plastic waste bags when used as intended.

“If marketers don’t have reliable scientific evidence for their claims, they shouldn’t make them,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Claims that products are environmentally friendly influence buyers, so it’s important they be accurate.”

The FTC staff notified 15 marketers that they may be deceiving consumers based on the agency's 2012 revisions to its Guides For the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (the Green Guides). Based on studies about how consumers understand biodegradable claims, the Green Guides advise that unqualified “degradable” or “biodegradable” claims for items that are customarily disposed in landfills, incinerators, and recycling facilities are deceptive because these locations do not present conditions in which complete decomposition will occur within one year.

The FTC says it advised the businesses that buyers understand the terms “oxodegradable” or “oxo biodegradable” claims to mean the same thing as “biodegradable.” Staff identified the 15 businesses as part of its ongoing review of green claims in the marketplace.

The businesses are requested to respond to the warning letters and tell the staff if they will remove their oxodegradable claims from their marketing or if they have competent and reliable scientific evidence proving that their bags will biodegrade as advertised.

Despite that the information in this blog post was provided by the FTC, the staff is not disclosing the recipients of the letters.

The FTC expressly noted when providing this information that businesses who did not receive a letter should not assume that their claims are fine. The FTC has since the 2012 release of the updated Green Guides stepped up enforcement of environment claims from the use of renewable energy to VOCs in coatings, and more. 

LEED v4 Delayed, Again

The U.S. Green Building Council has announced that projects will still be able to register under the current LEED 2009 through October 31, 2016.

News of the extension of LEED 2009 began circulating yesterday and is being heralded and widely supported as positive across the environmental industrial complex. 

This is arguably the third extension of the date when projects must use the new LEED v4. The date is an extension from the close date of June 1, 2015, announced in summer 2102 when the vote on “LEED 2012” (now LEED v4) was delayed.

In USGBC’s announced 3 year cycle for updated LEED, 2015 would have been the third year and next version of the green building rating system was expected. Instead, USGBC continues to work on v4 and in particular on the v4 Materials and Resources credits.

It is important to appreciate this delay in the context of what else is going on in green building. In early 2015 the new and 2015 International Green Construction Code will be available, an updated ASHRAE 189.1 will be published, the new ICC 700 National Green Building Standard will be approved, and there will be a 2015 Enterprise Green Communities Criteria. 

Recall USGBC announced in July 2013 that LEED v4 had been approved by an affirmative vote of more than 86% of those in the consensus body of members. v4 officially launched in November 2013 at the USGBC Greenbuild Conference and Expo in Philadelphia and projects have been able to register under v4 since that time.

And while there are over 57,000 commercial projects participating in LEED, comprising more than 10.5 billion square feet of construction across 50 states and 149 countries, data available from GBIG shows there are only 253 registered LEED 4v projects across all the ratings systems and only 9 certified v4 projects.

There remains uncertainty over the still pending several appeals from the vote approving LEED v4 and this extension no doubt had a lot to do with that.

A great deal of attention was garnered at Greenbuild last week by the announcement of a new USGBC Supply Chain Optimization Working Group (with the members to be announced later, .. likely in early November) that will strive to perfect the LEED v4 Materials and Resources credits as part of the USGBC and American Chemistry Council joint initiative. Much of the chatter at Greenbuild was that the EPDs and HPDs were too far out in front of good science and that a step back was necessary. There is much speculation that it is the contemplated overhaul of the Materials and Resources credits that are driving this v4 delay.

Observers should not overread this announcement. It is clear that LEED v4 will be a hugely positive advancement. And LEED is going to thrive.

Read the USGBC press release here.

In light of this 18 month extension, it is now necessary that developers and builders of projects planned to break ground through 2016 evaluate if that building is better registered under LEED 2009 or v4? And beginning immediately, green building industry contract documents must be modified to anticipate v4, and a rewritten and new series of Materials and Resources credits. 

Greenbuild: Designing the Perfect Green People

The USGBC’s annual Greenbuild Conference and Expo in New Orleans wrapped up last Friday and the question I am most asked is, “what was the highlight?”

My response is that the highlight at Greenbuild was the 17,507 ‘green’ building people in attendance. 

I was in an education session watching presenter on the LEED materials credits talk about ‘cradle to cradle’ while Bill McDonough (the author of one of the most important environmental manifestos of our time, “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things”) was leaning against the wall in the back of the room.

Bob Berkebile, principal of BNIM Architects and winner of this year’s Hanley Award for Vision and Leadership In Sustainability (a founder of AIA’s Committee on the Environment and founding member of USGBC) was in the halls and on stage admonishing us that “we are on the brink of screwing up 3.5 billion years of evolution.”

I listened to Jerry Yudelson (President of Green Building Initiative, the organization behind the Green Globes rating system) joined Tristan Roberts (LEEDuser editorial director), in a public conversation about Green Globes in the LEEDuser booth on the Expo floor among 552 exhibitors spread over 142,000 square feet.

I was pleased that so many clients and friends took me up on my offer and joined me early each morning for a cup of coffee, beignets and good conversation at Café Du Monde.

And thousands of other green people earned a total of 37,250 hours in continuing education credits attending more than 240 sessions about how the build, grow and monetize green building. It is clear that green building is thriving.

Arguably among the more important substantive discussions was at the session lead by Brendan Owens about the ICC, ASHRAE, AIA, IES and USGBC agreement to collaborate on the development of future versions of 189.1, the IgCC and LEED.

A lot of attention was garnered by the announcement of a new USGBC Supply Chain Optimization Working Group that will work to perfect the LEED v4 Materials and Resources credits as part of the USGBC and American Chemistry Council joint initiative.

And many attendees were interested in the several presentations on retail market penetration and the report LEED In Motion: Retail.

Scot Horst generated a lot of excitement throughout the conference talking about the LEED Dynamic Plaque.

And while we all know the use of LEED outside the U.S. continues to grow rapidly, we were told at the closing plenary session that an international project in being LEED certified every 8 hours. That is market transformation and business opportunity.

New Orleans was a great place for a fun conference. And it is clear Greenbuild 2015 in Washington DC will be the target rich environment for green people next year. I will see you there .. 

I have been trekking and mountaineering in Tibet

I am writing this blog post from the Yak & Yeti hotel in Kathmandu. As some regular readers of this blog have commented, there has been a brief hiatus in my postings. For the last many weeks I have been trekking and mountaineering in Tibet.

At the beginning of this wonderful adventure, I had an opportunity to meet with green building clients and friends in Beijing and tomorrow I will meet with clients in Delhi before making my way back to Baltimore. China and India each are huge markets for sustainable building.

Although admittedly, I spent most of the past month climbing on the highest and largest plateau in the world (.. and not working), surrounded by the Himalayan mountains in all directions. 

In 1981 the climber and writer Galen Rowell made his first journey to Tibet and the northern side of Mount Everest (.. the first time Americans had been allowed into the Tibetan backcountry). In his magnificent book “Mountains of the Middle Kingdom” Galen described seeing hundreds of snow peaks in all directions, a vision off the scale of human experience, .. “I saw distant peaks that looked Everest-sized. They rose on the horizon behind an ocean of lesser whitecaps, .. more miles of more jagged peaks, with a greater feeling of height, than anything I knew existed on the planet.”

In the last many days I also have been awed by those same views and the opportunity to experience both the spiritual nature of the place and stunning views of the planet’s highest mountains making clear why Tibet is referred to as the roof of the world.

Regular blog posts will resume in the coming days, and ..

I will be in New Orleans attending the USGBC’s Greenbuild convention and expo next week. As a reader of this blog, if you email me, I will gladly buy you a cup of coffee and beignet at Café Du Monde.