State and Local Governments Tap into the Green Building Trend

May 3, 2006

Following an intense 2005 hurricane season, energy issues became even more important to state and local lawmakers as rising costs immediately impacted consumers across the country. In response, Georgia and Michigan temporarily eliminated gas taxes, while Pennsylvania designed workshops to help cities conserve energy resources. Energy conservation and green building standards are emerging as concepts to explore for other state legislators as they move further into the 2006 legislative session.

According to the Energy Information Administration, a statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Energy, commercial buildings in the United States consumed roughly 17 percent of the total energy used inside the American borders in 2000. U.S. commercial buildings total more than 4.9 million in number and comprise more than 71.6 billion square feet of floor space - which exceeds the total area of Delaware. The commercial real estate industry spends approximately $24 billion annually on energy and contributes 18 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Energy represents the single largest controllable operating expense for office buildings - typically, one-third of variable expenses.

Green or sustainable building is the practice of creating healthier and more resource-efficient models of construction, renovation, operation, maintenance, and demolition. Research and experience increasingly demonstrate that when buildings are designed and operated with their life-cycle impacts in mind, they can provide tangible environmental, economic, and social benefits. Elements of green building include: energy efficiency and renewable energy, water stewardship, environmentally preferable building materials and specifications, waste reduction, indoor environment, and smart growth and sustainable development.

In 2000, Seattle became the first city to formally adopt a sustainable building policy. The policy was one of the recommendations of the city’s Sustainable Building Action Plan developed through a public/private partnership of industry stakeholders, completed in April 1998. It calls for new and renovated city projects with more than 5,000 square feet of occupied space to achieve a Silver rating using the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System®.

Other states and localities have followed suit, requiring newly constructed public buildings to achieve LEED certification. For example, Albuquerque, NM, approved a mandate for all city-funded projects above 5,000 square feet to follow LEED-EB (Existing Buildings), LEED-CI (Commercial Interiors), LEED-CS (Core and Shell), and LEED-NC (New Construction); Houston calls for city-funded projects above 5,000 square feet to utilize the LEED certification program with the LEED Silver rating as its target goal. In 2005, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano signed an executive order requiring all state-funded buildings to achieve LEED Silver certification and all newly constructed state buildings to incorporate renewable energy. Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee signed a similar order, which also created a Legislative Task Force on Sustainable Building Design and Practices to review and advise on issues related to sustainable building design.

While most city and state ordinances focus on publicly funded buildings, some governmental entities are issuing regulations aimed at the private sector. Gainesville, FL, provides a fast-track building permit incentive and a 50-percent reduction in the cost of building permit fees for private contractors who use the LEED program. In Arlington County, VA, commercial projects planned to achieve LEED Silver certification are permitted to be developed in higher-density sites than other conventional projects. Maryland offers a tax credit for a portion of the project cost to businesses that construct or rehabilitate buildings conforming to standards intended to save energy and mitigate adverse environmental impacts. The business must be at least 20,000 square feet and used for non-residential purposes. A higher tax credit is given to a business that develops a property located in a priority funding area or a brownfield site.

At its 2005 annual convention, BOMA Intl. approved a policy position on green buildings and sustainability. The policy reads (in part): “Real estate owners and managers are encouraged to take an active role in implementing responsible consumption practices that are environmentally and economically sustainable, utilizing proven technologies and procedures. Where pro­ven to increase building efficiency, owners and managers have a social responsibility to utilize green technologies that provide a positive return on investment.” BOMA Intl. does not endorse any of the green certification or rating programs (such as LEED or the Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes program), but believes that there are several useful tools available for building owners and managers who want guidance on proven sustainable operations and management techniques.

BOMA Intl. has taken a leadership role in promoting energy efficiency since 2000 with its endorsement of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) ENERGY STAR® Buildings program, a voluntary energy-efficiency initiative for U.S. commercial and industrial buildings. Additionally, the BOMA Foundation has developed a new operational excellence program called the BOMA Energy Efficiency Program (BEEP) to educate the commercial real estate industry about the opportunity to reduce energy use and expenses with no- and low-cost solutions.

For more information on the issues discussed in this column, visit ( or call BOMA Intl. at (202) 408-2662.

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