Philadelphia Event Alert--DVGBC Legislative Breakfast on June 4

On Friday, June 4, 2010 from 8:00 - 10:00 am, the Delaware Valley Green Building Council is hosting a green building forum with Pennsylvania state Senator John Rafferty to discuss proposed legislation aimed at promoting more efficient use of energy, water and natural resources through the use of green building standards for state owned and state funded green buildings.

The meeting will provide an opportunity to learn more about House Bill 444 and
Senate Bill 728, which will require that high performance green building standards be
implemented in most new or remodeled building projects owned or funded by the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

I have attached the flyer here, I would love it if GBLB readers in the Philadelphia area would join me at this great event!

The Can't Do Attitude

I had a stimulating (if decaf) coffee with my friend the Green Skeptic this afternoon.  Conversation drifted to how Philadelphia managed to avoid being too overbuilt in the real estate bubble.  Everyone here always complains about how the archaic and endless zoning process and the expensive union labor force hamstring development in Philaldelphia.  And there is no doubt that these factors preclude easy and rapid development and redevelopment of Philadelphia's urban core. 

But, we speculated, did Philadelphia's "Can't Do" Attytood (as they say here) have the unintended benefit of preventing too much over-development that has been seen in places like Phoenix and Miami?  [Today's New York Times even had a story about how Bloomberg's emphasis on development and streamlining permitting may not even have benefited New York. ]

What does all of this Starbuck's infused musing have to do with green building? It stands as a cautionary tale--how fast is too fast?  

In St. Louis, Missouri's "First Green Development" was razed to the ground due to foreclosure:

five banks have started foreclosure proceedings on the project, which was started in August 2006 and appeared to be abandoned during construction.  

Expedited permitting processes for green buildings are an increasingly common non-financial incentive for green buildings, especially for cash-strapped municipalities that can not offer financial incentives or tax credits.  As we seek to encourage green development, does it make sense to ensure that the regulatory process is deliberate enough to prevent overbuilding? Or is that not the appropriate role for building regulation? 


International Day of Climate Action in Philly--This Saturday! has organized an event on Independence Mall (at the Bourse in case of rain), at People's Plaza at the corner of 5th and Market Streets for the International Day of Climate Action. is an international campaign dedicated to building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis.  Their mission is to inspire the world to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis—to create a new sense of urgency and of possibility for our planet.

For the Philly event:

12:30 Event sign-in will begin. All attendees are required to sign in. When you do so you'll be assigned to a number: 3, 5, or 0. If we exceed our target number for the formation, additional people will form a border around the 350. If you really want to be part of the numbers, please arrive on time. First come, first served.

1:00 Event Introduction
Katherine Gajewski, Director of the Philadelphia Mayor's Office of Sustainability. Katherine's talk will be followed by a keynote address by Ray Anderson, radical industrialist and environmental heavyweight.

Human Graphic Formation. The 3-5-0 formation will start immediately following the speakers! We foresee getting into formation taking about 30 minutes. We'll then photograph our amazing formation from the top of a neighboring building.

3:00 Ray Anderson Book Signing. Joseph Fox Bookstore is hosting a book signing for Ray Anderson's new book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose--Doing Business by Respecting the Earth, on the main level of the Bourse Atrium - located across 5th Street from Independence Mall. You can't miss it.

3:00-5:00 Afterparty! We'll be heading over to Triumph Brewery on 116 Chestnut, for some great local brews to celebrate!

Come out and support a healthy and sustainable world!

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.

Real World Road Rules--The Realpolitik of Green Building Policymaking

I am involved in getting green building legislation passed in Philadelphia.  Basically, the bill would tie a 10 year tax abatement to LEED certification.  The greater the level of certification, the higher the tax abatement.  The bill is modelled on many other cities' incentive systems, and certainly does not go as far as Boston, Washington DC or several other cities in requiring green building practices.

What has been interesting about the process of shaping this bill and lobbying for its passage is the Realpolitik which comes into play when trying to get legislation done.  This is one of my favorite topics--where the real world intersects with theory.

In theory, everyone should be on board with green building practices.  Save the environment, save money in utilities, get federal, state and local incentives and have a great marketing tool.  In addition, most studies now report that the cost of green is down, in some cases not costing any additional resources beyond standard construction costs. 

But the reality of policymaking is a whole different ballgame.  Turf battles exist even where all the participants are supportive of green building.  Who created the legislation and who will get credit for its passage will effect whether a piece of legislation passes or dies in committee.  Special interest groups, like the affordable housing community, residential developers, mixed-use advocates and others come out  either because of cost considerations or inapplicability to their building typology.  Finally, the best bill may not be the ultimate bill that is passed--compromises made for political reasons will effect the content of the ultimate legislation. 

What is the solution? 

1. Understand the Realpolitik aspects of the process going in.  We do not live in an ivory tower, we live in a democracy with co-equal branches of government.  Engaging the power players in your jurisdiction will matter.

2. Reach out to interest groups early.  These groups should include the affordable housing community, residential developers, large development companies, contractors, the Building Industry Association if your area has one, etc. 

3. Build a coalition of supporters. Political supporters, industry supporters, academic supporters, etc.

4. Recognize that you will not please everybody.  Put in the strongest bill you can, with the best support you can.

5.  Finally, don't let the great be the enemy of the good.  Do not let the holy grail of a perfect bill supported by all constituencies stand in the way of getting something actually passed which  advances the agenda of benefitting the environment through green building practices. 

Building Green Value--Top Strategies For Green During The Downturn

On Wednesday, I was fortunate to attend the forum "Sustainable Energy: From Global Evolution to Local Execution" hosted by the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia.  I expected to come away with greater knowledge about local renewable energy initiatives in the Delaware Valley, which I did.  There were great presentations by Pennsylvania and New Jersey officials on the state's energy plans, which I will go into more detail about in a later post.  But what was far more interesting to me was the clever strategies that companies are using to promote green during the economic downturn.

John Gattuso, Senior Vice President of Liberty Property Trust, spoke about what Liberty (one of the leaders in green development on both the office and industrial side) was doing during the downturn:

Right now, we are looking at what the next set of buildings are going to look like.  People have the time to think and plan now.

Smart developers are using this time to plan their next projects.  It takes 12-18 months at least to get projects into the ground through land acquisition, approvals, design, etc.  Now is the time to be engaging urban designers and sustainable architects (not to mention land use attorneys) to create the next great places to live and work. If you wait until the downturn is over, you will be at the back of the pack, not the front.

David Stangis, the Vice President of Corporate and Social Responsibility for Campbell's Soup (headquartered in scenic Camden, NJ) spoke about the importance of honing the green business case. 

Where the business case makes sense in where change will happen.  Businesses are looking for the sweet spot in having sustainability initiatives make business sense.

Smart green companies, regulators and advocates need to use the downturn to hone the business case for sustainability.  Projects which were on the bubble in the boom times will not fly. in what I like to call the "money constrained economy." Energy efficiency, reducing travel, using fewer resources and collaboratively creating new value will.