The Secret Life Of GBLB: Greenbuild Legal Forum 11/18

This Thursday I will be speaking at the Greenbuild Legal Forum about upcoming trends in green building law and policy with my fellow bloggers Chris Cheatham of Green Building Law Update and Steve Del Percio of Green Real Estate Law Journal

The panel will be held:

Thursday, November 18, 2010 – 8:30am-11:30am
Room 193AB, McCormick Place West



I will be covering lots of great substantive topics, with a focus on upcoming regulatory issues, including:

  • Stimulus
  • Impact of the 2010 Mid-term elections
  • Leaked White House documents on the future of renewable energy/energy efficiency loan guarantees
  • Ballot initatives
  • Utility regulation
  • PACE/DOE Home Energy Pilot Loan Guarantees

I will also give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse into my life as a green law blogger. Join us for a discussion that promises to be both informative and controversial. 

Living Up To My Green China: USGBC Opens LEED For Public Comment

My two and a half year old daughter likes conversations about pee.  She is not the only one in my life, apparently.  To my infinite surprise, one of the top rated posts on GBLB over the past year was the one I did in February on waterless urinal problems

Either we are about to see a wealth of suits related to waterless plumbing failures or it is representative of the trend where people ascribe old problems to failures of new technology.  New technology is not without its pitfalls--as any user of a new version of Windows is familiar with--but people also have heightened expectations of what new technology can achieve. 

For example, one of the main issues with waterless urinals is odor.  However, according to my husband, the smell of conventional urinals at the average sports arena is nothing to write home about. In addition, according to at least one report from

Rasmussen’s department also has fielded complaints about odors related to the units, but more often than not, the problem is related to housekeeping methods rather than the unit’s operation.

So, new technology has two potential pitfalls--the technology itself, and how it is used.

Like waterless urinals, the LEED system is not perfect, and some say they both smell funny. But the tools that LEED provides are only as good--or bad--as the people who use them.  In defining LEED, the USGBC states:

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED provides building owners and operators a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.

If you choose a difficult site, your energy model is lousy, your architect acheives points for slapping a bike rack on the project, and you value engineer out the shading on the windows, I can promise you that your building will not live up to green expectations, even if you get your LEED plaque.  A building team that doesn't use the LEED system, but still works hard to conserve energy, water and other resources throughout the building process will undoubtedly be more environmentally friendly than a conventional building, and even some LEED buildings. 

Many argue that because both of these scenarios are possible, LEED is a failure.  However, the point of LEED, and at some level its greatest triumph, is getting the whole building industry to think about five key areas of sustainability in the built environment--site, water, energy, air quality and materials.  It also gives any building team guidance and structure on how to move towards sustainability on each of these metrics.

More importantly, any new system must have the capacity to incorporate feedback (good or bad) and improve.  Keep the good, and make sure what is "bad" is really bad, and not just unfamiliar or the result of heightened expectations, and evolve.  In that vein, USGBC opened the new LEED systems for public comment today.  If you hate LEED, this is your chance to tell the USGBC that, and have a voice in changing the system. But when you criticize LEED, make sure what you are criticizing is about failures with LEED, and not about unachieveable expectations for what LEED can do. 

As my friend Mitch Swann once  told me, LEED will not make you taller or grow more hair, any more than the waterless urinals will help the situation in the men's rooms at Citizen's Bank Park.

PS: For the reference in the title of this post, please see here.


A Look Back, A Look Forward and Many Thanks

As my readers know, GBLB is on Maternity Leave until February 1, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take a look back at the last year in green building, look forward to the next decade, and give a shout out to a few people and resources that are important to GBLB.

 2009 In Green Building Law

What we saw...

Regulatory enhancement at the federal level--Through the Stimulus Bill, Executive Orders, administrative rulemaking and draft Climate Change legislation, the Obama administration and the 2009 Congress took action on green building regulation on the Federal level.

Regulatory degradation at the local level--From New York to London, localities which passed green building regulations have been scaling back their regulatory schemes due to economic distress.

Stimulation from the stimulus, but not as much as promised--Over $1.5 billion has been spent through the ARRA--also known as the stimulus bill--on green projects, but that is far shy of the total allocated funds, and much, much less than non-green spending.

What we didn't see...

More private lawsuits--We didn't really see a bumper crop of private litigation over green building projects.  With so many developers, architects, etc. in financial distress, litigation is not high on the list of business expenses--not to mention suing judgment proof entities is a fruitless exercise.  As the economy picks up, lawsuits may pick up as well.

2010 In Green Building Law 

What we will see...

Conflict over addtional green building regulation and enforcement of existing regulations--as local governments continue to suffer with economic woes, there will be continuing debate over whether green building incentives are affordable, and whether green building mandates are stifiling development.

Potential for national building code regulation--If Climate Change legislation is enacted, it may contain national energy efficiency building code regulation.  This will this be game changing for state and local green building regulation--the federal regulations may preempt state and local actions, and will also put new obligations on states and localities to develop and pass energy efficient building codes. Federal legislation on building codes may also open the door for a legal challenge regarding the federal government's authority to regulate this historically state and local area of regulation, especially if there are significant unfunded mandates regarding the development and enforcement of new building codes.

What we might see,..

More lawsuits--If the economy rebounds, and there is more money flowing in lending to real estate, more green buildings will be built, and that will lead to moe contracts, more defaults and more litigation.  But that is a maybe for 2010--the credit markets need to loosen considerably before this becomes reality.

International climate change targets--Obama's efforts at Copenhagen to get an international climate change agreement may bring some international requirements into fruition over the next year.  These would drive domestic policy changes, and green building policies will undoubtedly be a component of such regulatory schemes.

People We Loved In 2009

The GSA--The people at the General Services Administration were so open, cooperative and helpful in putting together our statistics for the Stimulus posts this year. 

Chris Cheatham at Green Building Law Update--We co-authored a chapter on Green Building Litigation together for a new book on Green Building Law. 

Professors Rob Fleming and Chris Pastore, co-directors of Philadelphia University’s Engineering and Design Institute, an interdisciplinary research center focusing on green materials, sustainable design and community outreach, and the hosts of a great radio show on sustianability, Ecoman and The Skeptic.

To my friends Scott Edward Anderson, also known as the Green Skeptic, Chris Hill atConstruction Law Musings, Stephen Del Percio at greenbuildingsnyc, Rich Cartlidge at Green Building Envirotrends,  Tim Hilll, at VAConstruction Law and Mitch Swann for inspiring great green building law conversations all year long.

Finally, a big shout out to our fabulous green building law blog community members.  Thank you for reading, commenting, and nominating us for the ABA Blawg 100. 

Wishing you a happy new year and a greener 2010!