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Cover Story - February 2007

Mandating Green

New Laws Push Sustainable Design into Regulatory Mode

States, municipalities, and local development authorities across the region are expanding green design and construction into the public policy realm.

Various public entities are mandating green building or creating incentives in the form of expedited building permits, density bonuses, and reduced permitting fees.

While New York City’s recent enactment of Local Law 86, which mandates green building for many city-funded construction projects, is the highest-profile example in the region, moves are also afoot in other municipalities and at the state level in Connecticut and New Jersey.

Such moves by public authorities are likely to expand the use of sustainable design beyond bigger firms, many of which have been receptive to green techniques, to the smaller end of the market as well. That’s good news to Scott Chrisner, principal at the Chrisner Group, a green building consultant in Hamilton, N.J.

“There is a lot of education that needs to happen with the smaller contractors,” Chrisner says.

Not all contractors are thrilled with the move toward more green building, largely because of concern about higher costs, says Jason Kliwinski, director of sustainable design and operations at the Prisco Group, an architect in Hopewell, N.J.

“The perception is that green building codes will increase the cost of doing business,” he adds. “It actually costs the same or less.”

Similarly, a developer in Babylon, N.Y., had resisted green techniques out of fear it would cost 10 to 15 percent more, says Steve Bellone, the town supervisor, who helped pass a local law mandating green construction methods.

“We need to convince them that the cost may not be as great as they anticipate,” Bellone says.

Government mandates may actually be less effective in spreading acceptance of green design than other techniques, such as developing incentive programs, says Robert Ceberio, executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission in Lyndhurst, N.J., which oversees planning and development of the 30-sq-mi Meadowlands district. Incentive programs can encourage developers to try out the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

“Sometimes you get resistance when government comes down and says, ‘You have got to do this,’” Ceberio says. “It is better to lead by example.”

But Kliwinski says mandates are the only sure technique to spread green methods.

“I am a big fan of mandates,” he adds. “No one is doing it voluntarily, particularly when there is a perception that it costs more. You need to codify it.”

Despite the differing views on how to expand green design and construction, it’s clear the practice already has strong roots. Turner Construction of New York has almost $1 billion in current or recently completed LEED projects in the New York region, says Michael Deane, the company’s East Coast manager for sustainable construction. It has another $1 billion worth of LEED projects in preconstruction.

The firm estimates that the New York region overall has $4 billion worth of green development in the pipeline.

“Almost 20% of our business is green buildings,” Deane adds.

New York City Forges Green Path

On Jan. 1, New York City joined the ranks of cities such as Austin, Chicago, and Portland in mandating green building on many city projects.

Under the new law, adopted in 2005 with a delayed enactment, city-owned construction and renovation projects valued at $2 million or more, as well as projects receiving more than $10 million or at least 50% of their estimated construction budgets from the city, must achieve the equivalent of a LEED silver or higher rating. The law stipulates that publicly funded school and hospital projects need only attain the equivalent of “certified” status, because such facilities are deemed to have less flexibility to pursue LEED points.

While modeled on LEED, the new law is more stringent, requiring buildings costing more than $12 million to be 20% to 30% more energy efficient than state energy code requirements, says Deborah Taylor, executive director for special projects and for materials and equipment acceptance at the New York City Department of Buildings. The law also requires major boiler, lighting, and HVAC installations and replacements to result in a net reduction in energy consumption and plumbing projects valued at more than $500,000 to reduce potable water usage.

The city has been finalizing regulations that will codify the law, though the LEED-equivalent rules are already in effect.

According to New York City Council estimates, the law will change the rules for roughly $12 billion worth of construction over the next 10 years.

The new law “is critical because it impacts a variety of issues that are important for a sustainable New York, among which are climate change and global warming, energy conservation and efficiency, air quality, and water conservation,” says Robert Kulikowski, director of the city’s Office of Environmental Coordination.

The law should help transform the market, says John Krieble, director of sustainable design for the city’s Department of Design and Construction. “We will educate a lot of designers and contractors for the city about what LEED is, what it stands for, and how it works.”

The private market is bound to change with the law, says Turner’s Deane.

“It is going to affect builders, and they are going to take the knowledge and the expertise to the private sector,” he adds.

The city is also in the midst of a massive overhaul of the municipal building code, a four-year effort set to culminate later this year. The draft version that the City Council will review this winter and spring will add sustainable design to city building rules for the first time, Taylor says.

The proposed code is expected to incorporate measures such as permit fee rebates for projects achieving LEED certification and the city’s first-ever green roof standards. Meanwhile, proposed changes to the city’s plumbing code would open the door to water conservation plans that incorporate brown and black water treatment systems and waterless urinals.

The local law has sparked the need for individual agencies to create green building rules for their own construction programs. The city’s Department of Education and School Construction Authority joined to create a team of consultants that revised the SCA’s new construction, modernization, and renovation guidelines.

Dattner Architects of New York, DVL Consulting Engineers of Hackensack, and New York’s Viridian Energy & Environmental created the New York City Green Schools Rating System, which establishes standards equivalent to a LEED-certified or higher rating and incorporates new energy and water conservation goals. It covers site, water, energy, materials, air quality, lighting, and acoustics design.

The team tapped various existing resources, including the LEED program and the Collaborative for High Performing Schools program developed in California and modified by other states, including New York’s state government.

A major goal of developing the guidelines was to reduce the cost and complexity of installing green measures. Some architects, such as New York-based AKRF, are already designing projects for the SCA using the new green guidelines.

State-Level Activity in Conn., N.J.                            

In October, Connecticut state legislators also adopted a new green design mandate.

State officials passed PA 06-187, a new law mandating that all state facilities valued at more than $5 million comply with green building standards, though it exempts schools, parking garages, and maintenance facilities, says James Fleming, the state’s public works commissioner.

The law requires projects to meet or exceed state-drafted regulations that will be the equivalent of a LEED silver rating or two “Green Globes,” a green rating system licensed by the Green Building Initiative of Portland, Ore., that differs slightly from LEED in its methodology and data-gathering procedures.

The Low Down on Local Law 86

What is covered?

• All New York City-owned new construction or renovation projects that are valued at more than $2 million, except for schools and hospitals, must achieve LEED silver or higher ratings. Likewise, projects that receive more than $10 million or 50% of their estimated construction budget from the city also must meet the LEED silver standards.

• Schools and hospital projects meeting the above criteria are required to achieve LEED certified or higher ratings.

Energy Efficiency Requirements

• Projects costing $12 million to $30 million (excluding schools) must reduce energy costs by 20% beyond the New York State Energy Conservation Construction Code. Energy costs must be reduced by an additional 5% if the investment payback is seven years or less.

• Projects costing more than $30 million (excluding schools) must increase energy efficiency by 25% over the code. Energy costs must be reduced by an additional 5% if the investment payback is seven years or less.

• Schools costing $12 million or more must reduce energy costs by 20% over the code. Energy costs must be reduced by an additional 5 to 10% if the investment payback is seven years or less.

Installation and Replacement of M-E-P Systems on Other Projects

• Boilers costing $2 million or more and lighting systems costing $1 million or more must be at least 10% more energy efficient than the state code.

• HVAC comfort controls costing $2 million or more are required to reduce energy costs by 10% or more over the code.

• Plumbing systems costing $500,000 or more must reduce potable water consumption by 30% as specified by LEED credit WE3.2 or 20% if the city’s Department of Buildings does not approve the use of waterless urinals.

A task force is now drafting the regulations. Until those rules are adopted by the Legislature’s Regulations Review Committee later this year, projects must use existing green standards.

“We will require any project to be submitted using either LEED or Green Globes until that time,” Fleming says.

The law also requires projects to exceed the existing state energy efficiency code by a minimum of 35%.

Both Fleming and the Connecticut chapter of the American Institute of Architects say they now hope to foster legislation on green building standards for schools. The 2007 legislative package submitted by Gov. Jodi Rell has a bill that would replicate the wording of the law adopted last fall and apply it specifically to school construction, says Diane Harp Jones, CEO of the state AIA chapter.

In New Jersey, meanwhile, three bills promoting green building are working their way through the Legislature.

The State Senate is considering Senate bill 2146, which would require all state buildings larger than 15,000 sq ft to be LEED silver. Senate bill 2151 would require affordable housing to meet green building standards that would be developed by the Commissioner of Community Affairs. And bill 2152 calls for the creation of a green building subcode under the State Uniform Construction Code.

The bills all have a good chance of succeeding, says Sen. Bob Smith of Piscataway, a co-sponsor of the measures.

Municipalities Make Green Moves    

New York City isn’t the only locality setting higher green goals in the region.

The Meadowlands Commission, for instance, is employing incentives to promote green development projects within the Meadowlands district. Projects seeking LEED certification will receive partial refunds of zoning review fees based on certification levels, Ceberio says.

In addition to financial rewards, LEED projects will be able move on a fast track through the review and permitting process, and for residential developments, the LEED incentives will include density bonuses, Ceberio says. The commission is also considering initiatives aimed at encouraging stormwater retention and renewable energy.

 Meanwhile on Long Island, Babylon  officials adopted a law in December requiring industrial, commercial, and multifamily buildings larger than 4,000 sq ft to achieve LEED certified status. The town plans to offer density bonuses or less stringent parking requirements for projects attaining higher certification levels, says Bellone, the town supervisor.

The law will have a delayed enactment, allowing the building industry, suppliers, and town staff to get up to speed on green building, Bellone says.

“Green building is no longer a future goal or endeavor,” he adds.

In October, Syracuse issued a proclamation specifying that all construction and renovation of city facilities meet LEED certified status, with an exception for projects where the standard is proven to not be cost-effective over the long term.

New Jersey municipalities have also adopted green building measures. The Township of Cranford passed an ordinance in 2005 requiring all town-funded projects to be LEED silver. Town officials in Princeton, N.J., added language in 2005 to the municipal master plan that urges developers and builders seeking permits to comply with LEED goals. 

As these government-driven mandates and incentives take hold, it could bring the transformation that green advocates want, says Chris Gavin, an associate at New York-based Cook+Fox Architects and its affiliate, Terrapin.

“Local Law 86 will help transform the public sector and educate another segment of
architects, engineers, and owners,” he says. “It increases demand for products and
services, reinforcing that this is a long term trend and not a fad.”

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