Buildings consume 70 percent of the electricity and create
most of the landfill waste in the U.S. Some cities are looking at “green building” methods to lessen the burden on the environment. The mayor of one major city has set “green” standards for all new buildings, using a mix of mandates and incentives. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Robbie Harris reports on the economic tug of war over building green:
Buildings consume 70% of the electricity and create most of the landfill waste in the U.S. Some cities are looking at “green building“ methods to lessen the burden on the environment. The mayor of one major city has set “green” standards for all new buildings, using a mix of mandates and incentives. Robbie Harris reports on the economic tug of war over building green.
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Last year, the first green police station opened in Chicago. It will use 20% less energy, and 30% less water than a typical police station. It’s built of recycled and locally available materials. But it looks pretty much like the other newer police stations you see around the city. Officer Jeffrey Bella who has worked here since it opened, says most people have no idea this is what’s known as a “high performance green building.”
“…and the fact that nobody talks about it and nobody notices it is pretty much a testament to how well it does work.”
This is the first police station in the country to earn a LEED Silver rating from the US green building council. LEED – that’s L-E–E-D- for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a rating system that awards points for features such as energy conservation, site usage, indoor air quality, light pollution reduction, even proximity to public transit. Levels range from basic certification to silver, gold and platinum.
Last spring, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley announced every new building built by the city, must meet basic LEED standards. Private developers aren’t required to meet LEED standards but they must meet the less stringent city Energy conservation code.
Even that has the development community concerned about higher costs. The Mayor had this to say at the Building and Design conference in February.
“Here in the city of Chicago we have to really educate architects, and engineers and I mean you talk about challenges, that alone – and contractors- because they look at money. Money is the source of their profession, like any other profession. How much money… developers, engineers, archiects, contractors, and subcontractors …so green technology to them means money, it doesn’t mean the technology that maybe you and I think about.”
Even the mayor wouldn’t dispute that most LEED certified construction costs more up front. Washington D.C. economist Greg Kats puts it at roughly 2 percent more. Kats ran a performance study of 40 LEED-certified buildings around the country and found higher initial costs were offset ten fold by a variety of benefits.
“And those benefits pay back very quickly in the form of lower energy costs, lower water costs lower operations and maintenance costs, better building operations. And frankly, people are more happy, they’re more productive, kids’ test scores go up, asthma and allergy problem, which is a real concern for a lot of parents like me, tend to go away in green builings.”
On February 14th, one of the city’ largest real estate firms, LR Developers broke ground on what will be the first LEED-certified luxury high rise in Chicago. LR’s Kerry Dixon says, they built green to differentiate themselves in the luxury condo market, and although they’re not required to be LEED certified, they knew it would please the Mayor. But Dixon says it hasn’t exactly been an important selling point.
“We’re not getting feedback from the marketing and sales staff that yeah, everbody’s interested in it.”
If most condo-buyers are not showing much interest in green buildings, more and more large corporations that want to project greener images are.
“We are one of the nation’s largest energy producers. We are by far the nation’s larger operator of nuclear power plants. Some love us for that, and some are skeptical because of that.”
John Rowe is the CEO and chairman of Exelon. The company is looking to consolidate 3 corporate offices into one location and Rowe was fascinated with the idea of building a new green headquarters.
“But it basically worked out so that it would probably be cheaper. And that if we worked on being green we could probably get just as much credit for using an existing building as a new one.”
That’s because the U.S. Green Building Council also certifies commercial interiors. When it’s finished in 2007 Rowe is confident Exelon’s new corporate headquarters will qualify for LEED’s silver rating. He’s hoping it even makes gold.
For now, the Daley administration has chosen to LEED by example – and hope the private sector follows.
For the GLRC, I’m Robbie Harris.