How to Start a Green Buildings Program: Part 2
Since 1996, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Green Buildings Program has used utility ratepayer and federal funds to transform new and rehabilitated commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings into environmentally responsible, economically viable, and healthier places in which to live and work. Craig Kneeland created the Green Buildings Program and was the recipient of 2005 USGBC Leadership Award in LEED category. In his first guest blog, he tells the story of how the Green Buildings Program began. This post explains how the program evolved and expanded alongside LEED.
The energy savings spreadsheet! I kept expecting someone to point out a fundamental error; instead it took on a life of its own. The conclusion (35 percent more efficient than code for less than a 1 percent increase in first cost) was the basis for the energy performance requirements in NYSERDA’s New Construction Program, the country’s first Green Building Tax Credit and NYS Executive Order 111, Green and Clean State Buildings and Vehicles. Rob Watson, then with NRDC, took the results to China when it was beginning its explosive growth. I was so glad when Greg Kats came out with his study on the costs and benefits of green buildings, which concluded that the incremental cost of a LEED Certified or Silver building was 0 to 2 percent.
LEED hits the streets
LEED 2.0, the first version available to the general public, hit the streets in 2000 and NYSERDA began using it immediately. The first LEED certified building in the state was the Department of Environmental Conservation Headquarters in Albany. It was a mighty struggle to keep LEED certification in the design because green building was new and different and, as is often the case, time and money were becoming scarcer. But greener heads prevailed and it was awarded LEED Silver.
The next LEED certified building I worked on with the Office of General Services, which also managed the Department of Environmental Conservation project, was the Regional HQ for the Department of Transportation. The Office budgeted for LEED Bronze but they finished ahead of schedule, under budget, and only two points short of LEED Gold. The project was awarded every point for which the design team applied, which was exceedingly rare. Had the involved parties known this, they said they would have pursued the points needed to be a LEED Gold building. I like telling this story because it demonstrates that LEED is achievable by a broader segment of the industry than most think. This project also addresses the cost of building green, which most people still maintain is beyond their budget.
Lessons learned as the demand for green building started to grow:
- Owners need to decide up front that they want the project to be green and then stay the course. If the owners waver, they can still get a green building, but it will be an ugly shade of green. The project will take longer, cost more, and leave everyone from the owners to the laborers with a bad taste in their mouths. They will share their experience with others. One of the ways to avoid this kind of experience is to have a green building champion, someone with a passion for green design who will not let mole hills turn into mountains.
- Keep an eye on what gets billed to the green building budget. I have seen things like the total cost of HVAC equipment or materials and products that have nothing to do with sustainability charged to the green building budget. Thus is the myth of the expense of building an environmentally responsible building perpetuated.
Green buildings are common sense buildings
When the USGBC started offering LEED training, I recommended that NYSERDA cosponsor sessions throughout the NYS. We did this for years, helping to spread the word about green buildings, creating a market for LEED and establishing a group of people who knew more about “green “ than how to spell it, to paraphrase a colleague. NYSERDA also co-sponsored lectures on LEED and green practices with the groups that eventually became chapters of the USGBC in New York City, Albany, Buffalo, and Syracuse.
To further strengthen NYS’s knowledge of green building concepts and practices, I began volunteering for USGBC committees. The ones I remember are, in chronological order, the State and Local Government Committee, the Board of Directors*, the New Construction Core Committee, and the Market Advisory Committee. The people on these committees always amazed me with their commitment to an ideal that was on its way becoming a reality. I invariably left meetings and conferences re-energized and inspired to continue building demand for green building.
By the way, although I often use the words green building and sustainability interchangeably, they are not synonymous. Sustainability is the long-term goal and green building are one of the ways to get there. After reading many others’ definition of green buildings and much consideration, the briefest definition of green buildings I came up with is that they are common sense buildings. But I also tell people that there is no black and white definition of green.
NYSERDA’s program expands and evolves
To promote the adoption of green building practices, NYSERDA began offering incentives for projects pursuing LEED certification. We and the customer shared the cost of creating an energy model and studying any credits in which they were interested. In this context, “studying” meant research, calculation, pricing, writing credit interpretation rulings and most other activities necessary to earn LEED credits. Our objective was to increase awareness of green building practices, so LEED certification was not required. NYSERDA offered a separate incentive to offset the cost of LEED registration and certification. Finally, if a building became certified, we increased the capital cost incentives. These incentives had been identified in the energy model and were offered to offset a portion of the incremental cost of Energy Efficiency Measures that would reduce the use of electricity. There was a period of time when a building could be LEED certified and be no more efficient than required by the energy code. We didn’t think that was good enough and made LEED incentives contingent upon earning at least two Optimize Energy Efficiency points.
As LEED became more common, NYSERDA’s green building program evolved. In 1996, there was no LEED and there were no LEED Accredited Professionals. We used the Steven Winter Associates team of Adrian Tuluca, Dave Lahiri, Catherine Bobenhausen, John Amatruda and Ian Graham for all green building projects because they had experience in energy modeling and materials’ analysis. We encouraged other energy efficiency experts under contract to NYSERDA to team up with people with knowledge of sustainable sites, water efficiency, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality. Thus was our pool of green building service providers expanded. For several years, NYSERDA would only pay for green building services offered by firms with which we had a contract. When LEED APs became more common, NYSERDA responded to the market by allowing customers to hire a consultant of their choice, with incentives contingent upon their buildings being certified by the Green Building Certification Institute.
We must have been doing something right because the USGBC named NYSERDA its 2005 Leadership Award in the LEED category. This is one of my proudest achievements in the green building industry. To learn about some others, read my next blog.
How to Start a Green Buildings Program