Why the D.C. Green Building Act is Fundamentally Flawed and a Solution

I can’t believe it has come to this.

We are just over four months away from January 1, 2012. On that date, the D.C. Green Building Act of 2006 requires that all new construction of non-residential buildings greater than 50,000 square feet be LEED certified. While there are many technical problems with the Green Buildling Act, the very premise of the law is fundamentally flawed. Thankfully, there is a very obvious solution to the Act’s flaws and technical deficiencies.

Why is the D.C. Green Building Act Fundamentally Flawed?

How can I make this claim? Because the D.C. Government does not understand what a LEED mandate actually entails.

I was recently reviewing materials published by the D.C. Department of the Environment (DDOE) regarding the Green Building Act (GBA). One slide caught my attention:

Do you see the problem with this slide? The DDOE views the Green Building Act LEED mandate as a “ceiling.” If the D.C. Government believes it has passed a ceiling then it truly does not understand how the Green Building Act and its LEED mandate will function.

A LEED mandate is not a ceiling. Rather, a LEED mandate is a floor. Because the GBA requires all buildings to obtain LEED certification, it functions as a quasi building code. In other words, LEED certification is a minimum requirement, the very definition of a so-called "floor."

Furthermore, the very premise of putting a "ceiling" on the green building industry is a terrible and nonsensical idea. A ceiling would actually prohibit buildings from being built to be greener or more efficient than LEED. The GBA requires buildings to meet LEED certification and yet there are numerous LEED Platinum buildings in Washington, D.C.. Does DDOE imagine that the GBA will serve as a cap and prevent future buildings from seeking LEED Gold or Platinum certification?

The Solution

The intent of the Green Building Act is to “raise the performance of the District's buildings so that they are environmentally sustainable, healthy, and more efficient to operate” and to “make the District of Columbia a national leader for green building.” The solution to the problems with the Green Building Act seems obvious to me and ensures the intent of the Act is satisfied.

First, the District needs more time to correct the many problems with the Green Building Act. The deadline for implementation of the LEED mandate should be extended to 2013 or later. It is very unlikely that all of the Green Building Act’s deficiencies, which will be discussed in a later post, can be corrected in the remaining four months.

Second, all of the D.C. government’s green building resources need to be applied to green building codes. The International Green Construction Code will be released sometime in 2012. D.C. can be one of the first cities to adopt a mandatory green building code if it starts reviewing IgCC public version 2.0 now. Adopting and implementing this code will raise the performance of District buildings and shine a spotlight on the city as the first to adopt the code.

For those of you interested in learning more about the D.C. Green Building Act, I would recommend that you attend a D.C. Green Codes Working Group meeting next Wednesday, August 24 at 9:30 am. The meeting is at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue in Room 412. Email if you need more details -- chris@greenbuildinglawupdate.com.

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