How to Start a Green Buildings Program
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 work. Craig Kneeland created the Green Buildings Program and was the recipient of 2005 USGBC Leadership Award in LEED category. In his initial guest post, Craig tells the story of how the Green Buildings Program began.
The epiphany: New York needed a green buildings program
It began in 1994, while I was working for the New York State Energy Office and they asked me to attend the Green Building Conference at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Flying was still fun in 1994, so I happily went off to Gaithersburg, Maryland, where I had an epiphany. I was stunned by what people were saying because so much of it was common sense. The conference was “aha moment” after “aha moment” for two days. The speakers included such green buildings notables as Ray Cole, Harry Gordon, Mike Italiano, Bill Browning, Bill McDonough, and Steve Selkowitz. There were these guys named Gottfried and Fedrizzi there too (along with Italiano, co-founders of the US Green Building Council). They opened my eyes to all kinds of opportunities to improve the environment in a comprehensive way. It was inspiring and motivating.
I returned to New York energized and certain that the state needed a green buildings program, and that is what I have dedicated my career to since then. While continuing to research green buildings, including programs in Colorado and Austin, Texas (my first encounter with Gail Vittori), I knew that funding was going to be critical. The EPA offered Pollution Prevention grants and Stacy Jedynak, a colleague at SEO, wrote a proposal that the EPA decided to fund. The project described in the grant fizzled, but I was still buzzing from the conference, so I went looking for an alternative.
I spent two years traveling throughout New York State trying to find someone interested in funding a green building. And then came Four Times Square. When the Durst Organization began construction, the green building world (and my own) changed. Here was a developer, constructing the first speculative office building in New York City in nearly ten years, and Fox & Fowle was using green concepts in its design! LEED may have been a twinkle in someone’s eye then, but it wasn’t released to the public for years.
Matching projects with funding and expertise
When New York closed its Energy Office in 1995, a few of us were offered jobs with NYSERDA. We brought some of the Energy Office programs, including FlexTech, which stands for Flexible Technical services. The program had twenty or so consulting firms under contract, each of which had areas of energy expertise and could provide services throughout New York State. As long as a project was energy-related and had a reasonable likelihood of being implemented, it was eligible for FlexTech. The way the program was set up, we were able start projects within days, instead of weeks or months. Responsive and flexible, what a concept for a government program! Thanks Rick Handley, wherever you are.
One of the FlexTech consultants was Adrian Tuluca, then with Steven Winter Associates, now with Viridian Energy and Environmental. Adrian’s team included John Amatruda, Catherine Bobenhausen, Dave Lahiri, and Ian Graham. Dave, Ian, and Adrian were experienced energy modelers; John and Catherine were materials and indoor air quality experts. So now I had the EPA money and expertise for green building services, but, alas, no projects.
At some point during my green buildings sales tour, I met Hillary Brown, then Assistant Commissioner of the New York City Department of Design and Construction. She, along with Joyce Lee of the Office of Management and Budget and Louise Woehrle of the Mayor’s Office had formed an inter-governmental group to promote green buildings in the City. Hillary was lining up potential green buildings projects, but had no funding for additional services or access to anyone with green building expertise. It was a perfect match: Adrian, Hillary, and I did great work in New York City for years - projects like the Administration for Children’s Services Intake Center, Rikers Island, New York Hall of Science, and the Bronx Criminal Court Complex.
One of our best projects was the High Performance Building Guidelines conceived and managed by Hillary Brown, released in 1999, and still available here.
“If you can’t count it, it doesn’t count.”
One of the things I learned early in my career with NYSERDA was that metrics were critical, or, as I like to say, if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count. For this reason, I started building a spreadsheet for my projects. The final version had 18 columns with headings such as construction cost per square foot, annual energy and energy cost savings, CO2 reductions and incremental cost. The main source of data was DOE 2.1E outputs from Adrian’s shop, which I spent hours studying. The metric that caught my eye and the ears of others was that a building could be designed to be 35 percent more efficient than required by the New York State Energy Conservation Construction Code (energy code), for less than a 1% increase in first cost. This figure was consistent regardless of the size, location, ownership or type of building: large projects, small projects; upstate projects, downstate projects; public sector projects, private sector projects. This was your basic “wow” result.
This data convinced the Program Director of Energy Efficiency Services, Brian Henderson to approve analyzing indoor air quality and materials (remember, this is before LEED), provided the majority of the cost of the FlexTech study was spent on energy analysis. Now I had the means and motivation to create and grow a green buildings program for New York State.
In his next guest post, Craig will describe NYSERDA’s support of USGBC and LEED.