Toronto's Mandatory Green Roof Bylaw--How effective are green building mandates?

On May 27, Toronto adopted a mandatory green roof bylaw, requiring green roofs on commercial, residential and industrial property. In summary, the bylaw requires

Up to 50 per cent green roof coverage on multi-unit residential dwellings over six storeys, schools, non-profit housing, commercial and industrial buildings. Larger residential projects require greater green roof coverage, ranging anywhere from 20 to 50 per cent of the roof area.

The mandatory nature of Toronto's green roof law kicked up a storm of controversy, with many developers objecting to the increased costs.

According to the Globe and Mail

Steve Daniels, a development planner with the Tridel Group, said a green roof can cost $18 to $28 a square foot on a typical tall condominium building, meaning an extra $200,000 to $400,000, plus maintenance costs.

The question remains: how effective are green building mandates in improving environmental outcomes like improving energy efficiency, water use, etc. ? Are they better than incentives? Less effective? To date, there is no study available on the regulatory effectiveness of green building mandates.  Such analysis needs to be undertaken soon before more requirements--which may or may not be the most effective means of acheiving environmental goals--are enacted.

Green Roofing--Landscaping? Roofing? Controversy!

Non-unionized workers on a green roof project in Minneapolis have filed a claim with the NLRB, arguing that they are being paid as landscapers, not roofers, making $20 less an hour than their roofing counterparts.  Moreover, they claim that proper safety precautions are not being taken. 

An attorney for the workers this month filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging that Stock retaliated after they complained and tried to unionize.

The president of the Frindley Company, according to  the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

He defends paying them landscapers' wages, saying a lot of green roof work is landscaping.

Like unions refusing to install waterless urinals, there are a lot of potential labor relations questions which emerge with new green building techniques.

Does Green Regulation Really Scare Away Development?

The New York Times reported that Toronto was mulling a mandatory green roof by-law.  Developers in Toronto objected to the green roof mandate, arguing:

 that it would scare away investment due to the high cost of green roofs. Saying green roof installation should be voluntary, building industry representatives told The Globe and Mail that such add-ons could increase construction costs by $18 to $28 a square foot.

In Philadelphia, City Councilman Curtis Jones proposed tying an already existing  ten-year property tax abatement to green building requirements.  Building Industry advocates and Mayor Nutter's office made the same argument that the Toronto developers put forward:

"Restricting the abatement program . . . would likely have the effect of inhibiting development when we need it most," Andrew Altman, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, told Council this month. 

The trouble with these arguments is that they are exactly that---arguments with no basis in fact.  The problem? No facts.  There is no study which can be pointed to, no analysis which has been done which attempts to quantify the effect of green building regulation on development.  Do green building regulations inhibit development? Do they encourage green development? No one really knows for certain. 

In this "money constrained economy" it may be easier for critics of green building regulations to wave the red flag of inhibiting development to prevent further strictures from being put in place.  To effectively counteract this argument, a study needs to be undertaken which compares the development rates in comparable cities which have green building mandates (like Boston or Washington DC) with those that do not.  Controlling for other factors (population, pre-regulation development rates, etc.), it would provide a solid factual foundation for policymaking in this area.

Part 4 of the Regulating Green Series--Do We Need Stricter Green Regulations?

Guest post contributed by Holly McCarthy, who blogs at Organic Coupons. She invites your feedback at hollymccarthy12 at gmail dot com

Although the economy has taken a turn for the worse in recent months, one thing is for sure: the world will continue to see construction and development in all corners for many years to come. As the population continues to grow, new areas will need to be developed and old ones will need to be renovated or razed to make room to build up. At any rate, stricter laws must be enacted in the United States if we hope for the world to follow suit.

The US has gone through many building booms and continues to grow and develop in areas of highly concentrated populations. As we continue to build bigger and better we must keep in mind that uses sustainable resources and materials is the right way to go.

Plenty of products are now being developed and produced that will not leave a heavy carbon footprint or fail to decompose once put in a landfill. Recycled materials are being used and considered for use in a variety of building applications and energy efficiency is a key factor in the design of new buildings.

Cities and states have long made sure that builders and contractors are doing their part to maximize space without making a significant impact on the surrounding areas. It only makes sense that we look at the world through the same lens. Why would we want to build something—even if it’s beautiful—if it’s going to make a huge mess for someone else to clean up?

It is time to call for action regarding the production of building materials and enact laws that will make sustainability something that is finally considered when the blueprints are being drawn, not when the building is being scrapped.

Rejuvenation of cities is also possible through green roof initiatives, where owners of buildings are offered incentives for helping to reduce temperature and carbon dioxide levels in major cities by encouraging the growth and cultivation of ecosystems atop the large and small buildings. A simple solution can definitely yield some positive results.

Green building standards will one day be the norm; they are quickly becoming something that tenants and investors are looking for as well. Now all we need are the laws that will make what we know is that right to do mandatory.