Green Building: Energy Conservation from the Ground Up

Monday, April 9, 2007

Green Building: Energy Conservation from the Ground Up

Strengthening Communities

by J. Mijin Cha

Green Building: Energy Conservation from the Ground Up

A new United Nations report this week, backed by scientists around the world, confirms that not only is global warming real, but its effects are already here and getting worse.  And the hard fact is, the United States consumes far more energy than any other country, more than China and Russia combined. 

And while we often think about gas guzzling SUVs or industrial pollution as the main energy villains, there is a lesser known, more wasteful energy consumer that we don't hear much about, namely the every day energy use of our buildings.  As this Dispatch will highlight, states and local governments are moving forward with policies to construct a new generation of "green buildings" to sharply reduce energy use and help curb the energy-related emissions contributing to global warming.

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Strengthening Communities

Buildings' contributions to global warming

In fact, US buildings:

Curbing the energy and resource waste from buildings can result in real environmental and economic gains.

  • Saving one unit of electricity inside of a building saves three units of fuel at the power plant.
  • Making homes 50 percent more effiicent is an easily achievable goal and will save an estimated 56,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the course of 30 years.

  • Making one average home 30 percent more water efficient would avoid the creation of 766,200 gallons of wastewater over the same time period. 

Green buildings take a more holistic approach to construction and look to minimize waste and maximize efficiency.  Green building also takes into consideration the overall environmental effect of land use and siting to minimize environmental disturbances.

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Strengthening Communities

State Promotion of Green Building Standards: Public Green Buildings

Already several states require state-funded projects to be built according to standards that are set by the U.S. Green Building Council.  The Council uses a ratings system, known as the LEED system, to give credits for implementing green building measures, such as using solar energy or reducing water use.

In 2005, Washington became the first state to adopt green building requirements for their state-funded projects.  Their policy requires that state-funded projects over 5,000 square feet, including schools, be built according to LEED standards. Connecticut, Nevada, Rhode Island and Arizona also implemented green building standards for state-funded buildings.  Arizona's standard was implemented through an executive order from the governor.

Nationwide, momentum behind promoting green buildings is increasing and several states have active bills in their legislatures promoting the use of green building standards.

  • California AB 1337 would develop and adopt regulations for green building standards for construction and renovation of state buildings by January 1, 2008 and require all state buildings built or renovated after January 1, 2009, be designed and operated according to those regulations.  Unfortunately, even though it passed through the legislature, the bill was vetoed by the Governor.
  • California HB 898 would require state agencies responsible for proposing building standards to the Buildings Standards Commission to integrate green building elements into the standards that they propose.
  • Connecticut HB 5603 would apply green building requirements to new construction of state facilities costing one million dollars or more.
  • New Jersey has two green building bills this session.  SB 843 would require new state buildings to be designed and managed to meet LEED Silver certification. SB 2151 would require that affordable housing be constructed according to green building standards. 

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Strengthening Communities

Incentives for Private Developers to Build Green

In addition to mandatory green public buildings, there are many ways in which states can promote the use of green building standards for private developers.

Some states, like Maryland and Oregon, offer a tax credit as an incentives for developers to adopt green building standards. 

Other states, like Nevada, offer tax abatement for property which adheres to a specific LEED rating and offers tax exemptions for products or materials used in the construction of LEED Silver buildings.

In this session:

  • Hawaii SB 598 would provide a general excise tax exemption for buildings or facilities that conform to the LEED rating system.
  • Maryland HB 778 would allow green building tax credits to be transferred from one individual or business to another individual or business under specified circumstances.

Successful Incentives: New York State's Green Building tax credit has helped create incentives for green building. In New York City, famous for its sky-high buildings, construction has begun on a 55-story tower, the most prominent addition to New York's skyline in a generation.  The Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park will be the most energy-efficient, water-saving, and healthful office tower ever built.  The green skyscraper will also be the second-highest structure in the city. The building will have on-site energy generation, which will slash losses from long-distance transmission of power.  It will also eliminate about 40 percent of the fresh water a regular building would need by collecting rainwater and recycling non-tainted water, resulting in annual savings of 10.3 million gallons of fresh water.

Adding to the cost savings, the building will have floor to ceiling windows and maximize sunlight.  Cleaner air and more daylight have been proven to increase worker productivity. Better air quality decreases the incidence of illness.  It's estimated that a 1 percent reduction in employee-illness will result in a $10 million boost in productivity every year. 

New York City also hosts a Green Building Competition to encourage further development in green engineering and design.  The winning projects get displayed and ideas that come out of the competition are integrated into the city's green building principles.

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Strengthening Communities

Green Building Codes

As we highlighted a few months ago, the push for green building standards is expanding beyond public projects to requiring all private developers to adhere to the standards. In March last year, Pasadena, CA required all non-residential new construction over a certain size to adhere to green building regulations.  It also required mixed use and multi-family residential buildings of a certain size also be built according to green regulations.

Montgomery County, MD also adopted green building standards for public and private construction in the county.  County-built or funded buildings must achieve a LEED Silver certification and private nonresidential or multifamily buildings must achieve a LEED certified rating.  The new regulations will take effect no later than September 1, 2008.

Washington D.C. became the first major city to require private developers to build environmentally friendly projects that incorporate energy-saving measures by 2012.  The requirement applies to both new construction and significant renovations of old buildings.  To ease the transition for developers, the standards don't mandate specific features.  Instead, credits are awarded in categories, such as site selection, energy and water efficiency, and materials.  A building must then collect a certain number of credits to be certified.  The new Washington Nationals stadium is being built according to green standards and is expected to be the nation's first certified stadium.

Just days after D.C.'s announcement, Boston also announced that it would require adherence to the LEED standard as part of the private development review process.  Boston's provision requires that projects over 50,000 square feet meet a basic LEED certification.  The city already has a strong green building track record with several green building sucess stories, including John Hancock Financial's U.S. headquarters, Project Hope's headquarters, and the Artists for Humanity building in South Boston.  In addition to environmental gains, by implementing the new standards, the city also expects business growth and job creation.

Other efforts: The momentum behind green buildings is so strong that somtimes, even the discussion of mandatory private green buildings standards is enough to motivate developers to build green.  Tampa, Florida is exploring options on how to implement green building standards.  Tampa would join Sarasota, Florida, which currently requires all public buildings to be constructed with green standards and provides fast-track permitting and reduced building permit fees to encourage private developers to go green.

Just beginning the discussion has spurred a slew of green building in Tampa. Several green projects are underway, including the state's first LEED-compliant hotel, the Sandpearl Resort. The resort's air conditioning will used chilled water instead of Freon and the hotel's heat recovery exhaust system will capture heated air and reuse it. Developers and owners are recognizing the benefits to the environment -- and to cost savings -- of building green. 

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Strengthening Communities

Advantages to Building Green

In addition to the environmental advantages listed earlier, green buildings can improve human health. Buildings with good overall environmental quality can reduce the rate of respiratory disease, allergy, and asthma, thereby enhancing worker performance.  By using materials that are better for the overall environment, green buildings use materials that are in turn better for the inside, human environment.  Less toxic outside materials means less toxic inside air.

Green buildings not only save environmental resources, they are a huge cost savings.  On average, green buildings use 30 percent less energy than conventional buildings.  The reduced energy use translates into decreased operating costs and huge financial savings.

A comprehensive study released in 2003 entitled, The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Building, definitively showed the financial benefits of green building.  The study was developed by the California Sustainable Building Task Force and found that a minimal upfront investment of about 2 percent of construction costs typically yields life cycle savings of over ten times the initial investment.  For example, an initial upfront investment of $100,000 to incorporate green building features into a $5 million construction project would result in a savings of at least $1 million over the life of the building, conservatively estimated at 20 years. The cost savings in the study reflect energy, waste, and water savings, as well as emissions reductions. 

When you add in the cost benefits of increased worker productivity and better health, the savings from green buildings are more than a good investment, they are a necessity for our states.

More Resources



U.S. Green Building Council

The Green Building Initiative

Apollo Alliance, New Energy for the States (New Technologies to Conserve Energy)

Costs and FInancial Benefits of Green Building

Bank of America's Bold Statement in Green

State Promotion of Green Building Standards: Public Green Buildings:

Washington SB 5509

Connecticut SB 923

Nevada AB3

Arizona Executive Order 2005-05

Incentives for Private Developers to Build Green - Tax Credits:




Green Building Codes:

Pasadenda, CA

Montgomery County, MD

Washington D.C.

Boston, MA

Eye on the Right

The Institute for Justice -no seriously that's their name- recently put out a report about the "unintended consequences of campaign finance reform." Their stance is that contribution disclosure in issue elections like initiatives and referenda are "quite costly to privacy and First Amendment rights." The Institute feels the disclosure of name, address, and employer is too much a violation of privacy but has no problem with the contributions. So basically, they're looking for secret free speech, an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

Their solution: "voluntary disclosure." I suppose their ideal world one would have a constitutionally protected right to secretly shift pallets of $100 bills into fraudulent ballot campaigns. The best part of their report has to be the polling section which shows that 82 percent of people support mandatory disclosure. Instead they focus on the 24 percent who show concern about collected employer info being disclosed. I have a hunch a lot of that 24 percent wrote "lawyer" on their campaign disclosures and their day job involves taking legislators out to lunch.

If the last couple of years have shown anything it's that we should keep big money out of politics, and mandatory disclosure is the best tool in our belt, after all it's making these guys nervous.

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The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
Mijin Cha, Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Policy Specialist
John Bacino, Communications Associate


Please shoot me an email at if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

John Bacino
Editor, Stateside Dispatch


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