Green not a passing fancy

Filed under: Contributed Columns |

The main topic of today’s issue of the Colorado Springs Business Journal is “Go Green for Green.” One growing area of interest is the concept of green building, which people also call sustainable construction.
Green building is the design, construction and operation of buildings in order to minimize environmental impacts. Green building not only can help save the environment, but can save money for those owning or operating a building. This fact is especially true in the current economic climate where energy costs continue to remain high.
There are many different methods available in order to build green, which methods one can incorporate into the design, construction, renovation or operation of a project.
For example, the installation of certain features may reduce energy consumption. Some ideas include installation of skylights, light tubes, light shelves, multi-paned windows, energy efficient appliances and light fixtures, and the use of lighting controls. Carefully orienting windows or the use of awnings or other shading devices can reduce the need for artificial lighting as well as reduce cooling and heating demands.
Reductions in energy use can decrease the ongoing operational costs of a structure.
Additional aspects may reduce the use of other natural resources, such as the installation of low-flush toilets or waterless urinals, and planting of native species of plants instead of more water consuming landscaping. The installation of bike racks near the building to encourage people to bicycle to work or locating projects along public transportation routes may reduce single person car driving and its energy consumption. Each of these types of decisions will reduce energy and other utility demands by the building and its occupants (and also save money).
Proper design may reduce waste in the construction process, thereby saving space in landfills. The use of certain materials that are quickly renewable may have a lower environmental impact. Some builders may even use more locally available materials in order to minimize transportation (which also reduces energy use in moving the supplies).
Green building also encompasses the environmental aspects of indoor work areas, with the desire to construct a more healthful working environment. Therefore, certain choices, such as using low volatile organic compound paints and glues or natural fiber carpets or other non-toxic materials, help in this area. Careful consideration of the indoor work environment may help to boost worker productivity and reduce the likelihood of “sick building” syndrome.
Government can foster green building by providing incentives or by imposing regulations. Boulder and Aspen are two Colorado communities that have recently imposed mandatory environmental criteria on some types of projects.
Some municipalities in the United States have implemented programs to encourage, rather than require, development in this area though. Such incentives might include reduced permitting fees, tax credits and expedited development review processes for green projects.
Voluntary activities undertaken by building owners or operators also foster green projects.
A building owner may want a building to have less environmental impact in order to attract potential tenants or purchasers or to reduce operational costs. Those paying the utility costs of a building’s operation have an economic incentive to reduce energy and other resource consumption.
For example, a tenant may value space in a green building more if the landlord can demonstrate that the utility costs will be lower than in a traditionally built structure.
In order to show that operation or construction of a building meets certain environmental criteria, an owner might seek to have an independent agency evaluate the building. This will help substantiate environmental claims.
Obtaining environmental certifications may make a building more marketable and allow spaces within the building to command higher rents compared to conventionally built structures. Although there are many different voluntary rating systems available, two of the more common areas of evaluating the environmental aspects of buildings are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Energy Star” program and the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating program.
The EPA will award the Energy Star designation to certain categories of buildings meeting certain energy efficiency criteria. The LEED program, short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, evaluates buildings in different areas, awarding points for meeting certain requirements and awarding the following designations: Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum. According to each agency’s Web site, Colorado Springs is home to about 15 buildings certified with the Energy Star designation (four of which are high-rise office buildings downtown) and four LEED certified buildings or projects.
While one might debate the desirability of waterless urinals, most would agree that reducing energy and other resource use is a worthwhile goal. Because of environmental concerns and energy costs, green building is increasing in popularity.
As energy costs are not likely to decrease dramatically in the future, this trend is likely to continue, not just nationwide, but here in Colorado Springs.
Evan Randall is an attorney at Holland & Hart LLP. He can be reached at elrandall@hollandhart.com.