DJC Green Building Blog

What can we learn from D.C.’s green building law?

Posted on February 4, 2013

The following post is by Danielle Rodabaugh:

It’s no secret that decisions made in Washington, D.C., frequently lead the way for progressive industry regulation overhaul. This time, however, the overhaul only affects the district’s construction market rather than the national industry — at least for now.

Photo courtesy of Architect of the Capitol

D.C.'s green building law may have ripple effects elsewhere in the U.S.

The district’s Green Building Act of 2006 was a revolutionary piece of legislation that changed the expectations construction professionals in the district must meet. Since its enactment, construction professionals working in Washington, D.C., have been adjusting to more stringent green building regulations that apply to a wider range of projects than ever before.

The GBA didn’t fully go into effect until Jan. 1, 2012, however, and industry stakeholders continued to scrutinize it through December 2011. Before we delve into how the GBA could affect the future of green building across the country, let’s review the history of this controversial law and take a look at its current state.

The GBA requires that all non-residential buildings within the district larger than 50,000 square feet be built to meet LEED certification standards. Before the GBA, various state and local government agencies across the nation had required that certain publicly funded projects be LEED certified. For example, Colorado has required LEED certification on all state buildings since 2005.  However, the GBA extended to include privately funded projects as well.

The U.S. Green Building Council developed Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines as a way to identify practical and measurable green building strategies. LEED guidelines focus on design, construction, operations and maintenance. Developers, owners and construction professionals can submit their projects for LEED certification, which verifies that a building, home or community was designed and built using techniques aimed at achieving high performance in certain areas of human and environmental health.

The most controversial aspect of the GBA was that it originally included a stipulation requiring contractors to purchase a performance bond guaranteeing their intention to comply with LEED. To put it simply, the bond would hold the contractor financially liable for building a structure that met the minimum LEED standards.

Although performance bonds are commonly required for construction projects, both public and private, the “green performance bond” type required by the GBA simply was not feasible.

Based on the GBA’s initial wording, if a structure failed to meet LEED certification standards, the government could make a claim on the bond to collect money that would be put in a district fund. Construction professionals, surety providers and contract lawyers began discussing how to best handle the new, strange bond requirement. Ultimately, surety providers argued against it.

Because so many parties are involved with any one construction project, surety professionals asserted that the blame could not solely be placed on the lead contractor. As such, they made it clear that the risk associated with such a bond would be far too great for them to back. The state of the GBA remained in limbo for years as rumors and speculation ensued. Finally, less than a month before the GBA was scheduled to go into full effect, the council passed the Green Building Compliance, Technical Corrections, and Clarifications Act of 2012 as an amendment to the GBA.

With the amendment in place, contractors can now choose one of four ways to guarantee that structures will meet LEED certification standards:

• deposit cash in an escrow account (in a financial institution within the district) and name the district on the account

• provide an irrevocable letter of credit from a financial institution authorized to do business in the district

• provide a surety bond secured by the applicant to ensure compliance

• submit a binding pledge that the applicant will fulfill the current LEED standards for commercial and institutional buildings at the certified level within 2 years of receipt of the certificate of occupancy

No matter which option contractors choose, they guarantee that their structures will meet LEED standards. If they fail to do so, they’ll be held accountable for the consequences, financial and otherwise.

When sweeping changes are made to construction standards, a ripple effect frequently follows. Contractors across the country should keep their ears open for discussions about new LEED certification requirements in other areas. As a construction professional, the best way to plan for the future is by learning from the past. Such is the case with the GBA.

Whether you agree or disagree with the GBA, I encourage you to make sure you’re informed of similar changes that could affect your local construction industry. Then, make sure your voice is heard. Those who spoke out against the initial wording of the GBA were successful in arguing their cases.

Knowledge is power; the more informed you are about green building expectations, the better prepared you’ll be to deal with the inevitable changes.

Danielle Rodabaugh is the director of educational outreach at SuretyBonds.com.

 

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Got a green building start-up idea? Here’s help

Posted on January 15, 2013

The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:

For innovative, entrepreneurial types, green building is a perfect field. It's not business as usual, and although some folks are claiming that green building is now mainstream because many new (and more and more existing buildings) have LEED plaques on them, sustainable building is not the norm. Not even close. Do you have a big idea you'd like to operationalize to help this movement along?

Michael "Luni" Libes

Being a smart innovator doesn't necessarily mean you don't need help mapping out a business to take your idea to market. I recently chatted with Michael "Luni" Libes, author of "The Next Step: Guiding You From Idea to Startup." Luni calls himself a "serial" entrepreneur with six start-ups himself, primarily focused on hyper-intelligent data gathering and mobility products and services — he founded GroundTruth, Inc., Medio Systems and 2WAY, for example.

After years of being asked how he "did" it, he decided to write a book about it. The book takes two "socially" responsible product ideas through their traces, from ideation to business launch and beyond: Bird Watch, a set of tiny radio tags to measure wildlife behavior, and Concrete Battery, an energy storage technology using low-tech flywheels. The book isn't philosophical, it assumes you have an idea that is socially conscious and you wish to bring it to market. As a social entrepreneur myself, it's a delight to see the process so clearly laid out.

The book was just the first step for Luni, as he is now an instructor in social entrepreneurship at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, and the Entrepreneur in Residence Emeritus at UW's Center for Commercialization. His current "start-up" is aptly named Fledge, which he says is a "conscious company" incubator aimed at helping create companies "fill the unmet needs of conscious consumers." He also organizes social entrepreneurship weekends — he held two in 2012. These are fast-paced idea competition events. They are similar to the "slams" held at recent Living Future Conferences but longer and more intense and definitely more serious about testing ideas generated against the kind of real-world criteria that real-world start-ups have to face.

With the passage of state HB 2239 last year, it became legal to incorporate a for-profit that prioritizes its social or environmental mission over the conventional priority of shareholder profit. In a sense, it expanded the definition of "shareholders" to include all stakeholders (humans and otherwise), not just those who own a piece of the company. This legal basis, and the savvy to take a truly "good" idea to market provided by organizations like Fledge could make a difference for those of us in the green building field. We have long understood that green building can be good business, but some of us would appreciate help turning that philosophy into long term financial sustainability. (If I knew then, what I knew now...)

Kathleen O'Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was "cool." She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. She continues to provide consulting on special projects for O'Brien & Co., the firm she founded over 20 years ago, and provides leadership training and mentoring through her own conscious start-up: The Emerge Leadership Project.

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Light recycler helps businesses dispose of fluorescent lights

Posted on January 7, 2013

The following post is by DJC staff:

People and businesses in Washington are now required to recycle fluorescent light bulbs and tubes. The new law covers residences as well as government, commercial, industrial, office and retail facilities.

Fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) save energy but each light contains a small amount of mercury that can be harmful to humans and wildlife if it is not disposed of correctly. The mercury content in fluorescent tubes ranges from 3.5 milligrams to 8 milligrams or more for older lamps.

You can't throw these away now.

The most common types of lights that must be recycled include CFLs, fluorescent tubes and HID (high-intensity discharge) lights, such as mercury vapor, sodium vapor and metal halide lamps. It is now illegal to knowingly place mercury-containing lights in waste bins or landfills. All mercury-containing lights must be placed in a recycling container specifically designed to prevent the release of mercury. Mercury inside a light does not pose a concern while the light is in use and unbroken, but during disposal and waste handling, lamps are broken, releasing mercury vapor and potentially exposing waste handlers or others to mercury.

Mercury in the atmosphere is ultimately deposited back to the earth, rivers and lakes, where it can enter the food chain and accumulate in fish, which humans and other animals eat.

EcoLights was created in 1996 to recycle mercury-containing lights and both PCB and non-PCB ballasts. The company said it is a licensed “final destination” light recycler in Washington state.

Ecolights said almost every component of a fluorescent lamp can be recycled, including metal end caps, glass and the mercury phosphor powder. When lamps are recycled properly, they are crushed and the materials are separated under a continuous vacuum filtration process.

Glass, aluminum and phosphor powder are captured and recycled. Mercury phosphor powder is sent to a mercury retort for recovery of the mercury and rare earth metals in the powder.

EcoLights sells a pre-paid box for recycling. The company ships the box, protective inner bag, and instructions to users, who fill the box with lamps, and return it to EcoLights for recycling. EcoLights then e-mails a certificate of recycling to the user. The company said currently there are no fines or other legal consequences associated with non-compliance.

“EcoLights is committed to being a resource for helping businesses throughout the region understand and comply with the new law,” says Craig Lorch, EcoLights founder. “We want to make sure everyone is prepared for the transition.”

Information about the new law is available on the state Legislature website or at EcoLights.com.

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