How Cities, States and the Feds are Making Buildings Greener

By Lane Wesley Burt, USGBC for

Image: U.S. Navy photo of the Marine Force Reserve headquarters building under construction in New Orleans by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Mark O'Donald.

At USGBC’s 9th annual Government Summit last week it was as clear to all in attendance that governments at every level are leading by example in building sustainability.

Among the signs of progress was Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announcing an increased commitment by the U.S. Navy and Marines to build to LEED Gold, up from their previous LEED-Silver commitment. We also saw USGBC confer the 2011 Federal Green Building Leadership Award to both Department of Energy Deputy Assistant Secretary Kathleen Hogan and the Energy Star program. And, attendees received an update from the White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley on the President’s Better Buildings Initiative.

The fighting spirit of our government employees as they look to meet the challenge of building energy efficiency and sustainability was plain to see, in sharp contrast to the attitude displayed a mile away at the Capitol.

Perhaps most uplifting was the closing plenary, which featured world-changing energy efficiency scientist, advocate and former California Energy Commissioner Art Rosenfeld and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who also is a former mayor of Baltimore.

The timing and content of their presentations drove home a point that often gets lost in the everyday noise of politics — that government, when advised by science, can be effective in everything from reducing energy consumption to fighting violent crime, and can be open and accountable to the people they govern.

Rosenfeld told the story of testifying in California in the late ’70s, where he made the then-revolutionary claim that energy efficiency could stop the ever-growing need for more power plants and more fossil fuels.

The truth of this claim is plainly evident today, as California’s per capita energy consumption has been maintained from that point forward, while doubling in the rest of the country. This is a clear example of a state government honestly assessing the direction in which it is heading and acting on the science that’s clearly presented in order to change course.

Rosenfeld then explained a new opportunity to change course — this time at the global level — by presenting his most recent research on the global cooling capacity of white roofs.

By reflecting light (and thus energy or potential heat) back out of the atmosphere, every thousand square feet of white roof can offset greenhouse gas emissions to the tune of 10 tons of CO2. Rosenfeld added that the CO2 emissions from half the cars in the world could be offset for 20 years if all urban flat roofs worldwide were white.

O’Malley offered examples of how Maryland is responding to the state’s needs by using GIS [global information system] technology to deploy resources where they are most needed.

O’Malley demonstrated the concept with a map showing the change in violent crime patterns in Baltimore and you could see how the city became safer every year. Maryland is now applying this approach across the state, from the cleaning the Chesapeake to encouraging green buildings.

Real results will trump partisan bickering every time, and in the case of Maryland we can see these results in the green building world, as the state has more than 28 million square feet of certified commercial space. We expect this success to continue, as the day before the summit, O’Malley signed a bill that made Maryland the first state to enable the adoption of the International Green Construction Code as a minimum building code.

The idea of accountable, results-based government is certainly a breath of fresh air in today’s political climate. I’d venture to guess that the standing ovation that followed these presentations demonstrates that the Government Summit attendees felt the same way. Next year, when many of these same folks gather together at the 2012 Government Summit, there certainly will be more green building dots on the map and many more positive results to celebrate.

This post originally appeared on the U.S. Green Building Council’s Blog and is reprinted with permission.

Image Credits — U.S. Navy photo of the Marine Force Reserve headquarters building under construction in New Orleans by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Mark O’Donald. Inset images via the USGBC Blog.

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