Chapters Capitalize on Stimulus Funding
The February 2009 passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is a tremendous opportunity for the advancement of green building. The states, counties and cities that are awarded this money have many opportunities to spend their allocations on strategies that reduce reliance on fossil fuels, encourage energy efficiency and support economic, environmental and social sustainability. Some of USGBC’s chapters have already made great strides in directing the U.S. government’s $3.2 billion in Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant dollars. The experiences of the Idaho and Minnesota chapters demonstrate that existing networks can be key contributors to the successful pursuit of these funds.
Sheri Brezinka, Minnesota Chapter executive director, reported that her chapter’s ongoing effort to influence stimulus spending in Minneapolis was initiated through a successful commercial real estate program, which precipitated a strong relationship with the city government. When Minneapolis officials recruited a group of advisers to help dedicate block grant dollars, Brezinka was invited to the table along with chapter leaders from the advocacy and commercial real estate committees. Almost $4 million in energy retrofits will be spread over three building categories: city-owned facilities, revolving loan funds for small and large businesses, and revolving grants for residential properties.
The Minnesota Chapter is focusing its resources on city-owned buildings, which are set to receive 50 percent of the funds. Furthermore, the chapter already has a willing audience in this arena: Brezinka reports that Minneapolis’ director of property services, a key decision-maker in the city, is a LEED AP. The Minnesota Chapter team is advocating primarily for the adoption of LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance, with ENERGY STAR certification as a possible alternative. Brezinka says she is grateful for the opportunity to work with a city that is “on the ball” in terms of distributing grant money, and she advises other chapters pursuing such funds to focus on one city within their territory that is similarly well-governed and invoke it as a model for any future efforts.
Bruce Poe, founder of the Idaho Chapter and current West Regional Council representative, is a veteran of state-level advocacy for green building. For years, USGBC Idaho has been actively engaged in shaping green building legislation in Boise through Poe’s leadership, so the group was approached three years ago to advise on an energy bill, and Poe testified in support of LEED. The bill, however, was defeated. The next year another legislative opportunity arose, and USGBC Idaho pushed for green building in more general language, but this bill was also defeated.
Poe and others knew they had to present a stronger front. Having also co-founded the nonprofit GreenWorks Idaho, Poe and the Snake River Alliance leveraged their environmental networks to form the advocacy group Idaho Energy Collaborative, which enabled more than 20 like-minded environmental, business, government and other organizations to coalesce around a legislative cause. In addition to USGBC Idaho, the GreenWorks organization, Snake River Alliance, Sierra Club and Idaho Conservation League are also partners. The coalition’s letters to the governor and the Office of Energy Resources on stimulus spending were signed by a diverse group of green building and clean energy advocates.
Their united effort garnered attention from legislators and secured them an audience with the Idaho Office of Energy Resources director, who oversees the program through which stimulus dollars are being funneled. Although most of the funds were allocated to infrastructure projects such as road maintenance and bridge construction, the coalition helped ensure a substantial focus on key projects such as energy audits and weatherization. Poe is proud of USGBC Idaho’s increasing leadership in legislative affairs over the past several years and lauds advocacy committee chair Leif Elgethun’s efforts in ushering this evolution.
Although the federal grant application deadline has expired, USGBC Government Sector Manager Melissa Gallagher-Rogers emphasizes that there are still opportunities to influence the direction of these dollars at the local level. She encourages chapters to explore the six free webinars on the subject, offered by USGBC as part of its Green Economic Recovery Resources at www.usgbc.org/economicrecovery. An additional resource for chapters hunting for ideas is the “Top 10 Ways to Use Recovery Funds for Green Building.” Other questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on state-level activities, please visit recovery.gov.
Heart of Florida Chapter Guides The Greenerside Project
Eighteen months ago, a small group of Eastside High School (EHS) students in Gainesville, Fla., had much larger ambitions for their junior year than driver’s licenses and school crushes. They have since made quite a name for themselves on campus and in the community with the assistance of the Heart of Florida Chapter.
In a town where college students generally get most of the publicity – Gainesville is home of the University of Florida Gators – it’s the students of Eastside High School who have recently stolen the spotlight. After inefficiencies in water and energy were pointed out by a science teacher, a group of students, led by Jordan Goldberg and Sophia Cacciatore, began to take more of an interest in greening buildings and how they could make their own high school (built in the 1970s) greener.
In conversation with her father, Cacciatore learned that her father knew Bahar Armaghani, chair of the USGBC-Heart of Florida Chapter. Cacciatore and Armaghani met to discuss greening Eastside High School, and the partnership unfolded from there.
After attending a number of the USGBC-Heart of Florida Chapter’s board meetings, Goldberg and Cacciatore formally cited their concerns about the inefficiencies on their school’s campus and presented their ideas for improvement. The pair, along with the help of staff and faculty at EHS, organized those concerns and ideas into what is known today as The Greenerside Project.
The EHS students’ official proposal, completed in January 2009, sought to “promote, as well as assist in improving the energy efficiency, indoor air quality and sustainability of our school.” The proposal continues, “The USGBC-Heart of Florida Chapter expressed interest in making energy efficiency improvements at EHS one of its legacy projects. The Heart of Florida Chapter has assisted the high school students in assessing the needs of the school, in devising cost-effective improvements and in educating the students about the principles of building science.”
Getting the project started and making plans has thus far proved to be the biggest hurdle; the students wanted to ensure their time would be well-spent and that their efforts would be aligned with the interests of other students who perhaps weren’t as involved in The Greenerside Project. They opted to focus on one aspect of the project at a time. Their first – and current – focus is water management and conservation. After evaluating where most water waste occurs, the students adopted a “save one bathroom at a time” aim and targeted their energy toward the acquisition of waterless urinals. Since January, students have received a donation of two waterless urinals for the school and $1,500 in grant money. To date, that’s five waterless urinals. With over 20 students now involved in the project, the next step is a fund-raising campaign, which will include sending letters and e-mails to community members asking for project support.
Goldberg and Cacciatore admitted that one of the biggest challenges they faced was having to be so patient; there was a lot of waiting and planning involved, and results didn’t happen overnight. Their passion and enthusiasm were both determining factors in their perseverance, and they hope those same attributes are shared by younger classmen presently involved.
Throughout the year, the Heart of Florida Chapter’s Green Schools Advocate, Robert Chronic, has been meeting with the students to support and guide them in their objectives. Chronic acknowledges that one of his many lessons learned was that, as a board member, he must be patient too. While the students have remained somewhat autonomous in the undertaking, Chronic said that the most important role Heart of Florida Chapter Board members have played is that of door-openers for the students so they can make connections throughout the community, ensuring that their proposed objectives come to fruition.
Goldberg and Cacciatore hope that this will be an ongoing effort, a kind of legacy. While they graduate in the summer of 2010, they’d like The Greenerside Project to continue even after their departure. Gainesville community members can be thankful for the dedication of Goldberg and Cacciatore. For more information and to contact those involved with The Greenerside Project, visit the Heart of Florida Chapter.
Los Angeles Chapter Gives Back With Conservation Efforts
What started off as an events committee visioning session to add “value and variety” to the calendar became the impetus for a series of conservation-focused Give Back events that bring the Los Angeles Chapter back to nature. With the success of tree-planting and wetlands preservation activities, members eagerly await upcoming dates to tend to school gardens and to lead restoration events in underserved communities throughout the South Land.
The kick-off event in May paired 23 volunteers with Tree Musketeers, a youth organization from El Segundo, to lend a hand maintaining roadside landscaping as part of Tree Care Day, raising $850 in donations in the process. After a successful afternoon of tree trimming, the Los Angeles Chapter was invited back for a tree planting event.
And just last month, dedicated volunteers spent a Saturday with the Friends of Ballona Wetlands after a chapter board member suggested the partnership. After a 20-minute presentation about the ecology of the sand dunes, attendees focused their efforts on removing non-native brush and trees that compete with indigenous plant life.
Los Angeles Chapter Communications and Operations Director Katy Robinson said, “Everyone did such a wonderful job pitching in and working as a team. The docent from Friends of Ballona Wetlands was pleased with our group’s hard work and welcomed us back for a tour of the site and another restoration event.”
Events Chair Dominique Smith stresses the relevance of such events. “The premise of some of the LEED NC certification points has to do with protecting or not building on these types of precious habitats. It is critical that we protect these wetlands in the State of California.”
The hands-on opportunity to give back in a tangible way is a huge draw for volunteers. Give Back Coordinator Linda Niehaus notes that “there is such a feeling of satisfaction that you have done a little part to make our community a better place,” with the added benefit of working side-by side with fellow chapter and co-host organization members.
Niehaus encourages other chapters to follow suit because these shared events practically plan themselves. “Since we are partnering with other nonprofit organizations in our community, the amount of preparation for these events has been quite easy. Simply put, these organizations have their programs together and our organization has the numbers and interest in participating. It’s a win-win situation!” The chapter’s Give Back series successfully combines education with the opportunities to make a real-world environmental impact and to network with like-minded peers.
What’s next for the Los Angeles Chapter? They look forward to partnering with Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay, which works to improve environmental conditions at Southern California’s treasured beaches. Their three-date Hermosa Beach clean-up commitment takes place Aug. 22, Sept. 19 and Oct. 10 from 9 a.m. to noon.
Driving Social Equity in New Orleans: Historic Green 2009
After the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association of New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward committed to carbon neutrality by 2020 and climate neutrality by 2030. In an area where 85 percent of buildings are listed in the national or local historic registries, the USGBC-sponsored Historic Green program was a welcome effort.
The aim of Historic Green is to revitalize communities through heritage conservation and sustainable action in a 100 percent volunteer effort. The second annual event was held March 10-20. Volunteers engaged the community in the construction of rain gardens to control run-off, installation of radiant barrier insulation, education sessions on money savings through energy conservation, sustainable deconstruction of buildings beyond repair, and the incorporation of recovered materials into new buildings, among other projects.
Spearheaded by leaders from USGBC’s Emerging Green Builders national committee, the volunteer team doubled from the inaugural year in 2008 to 400 in 2009 – some $600,000 in donated labor. An estimated savings of 752,540 kilowatt hours (or $87,860) was delivered to residents this year. In addition to USGBC, Historic Green also received support from the Make it Right Foundation, Preservation Resource Center, CSED and The Salvation Army.
The program is scheduled for March 9-20 next year and is expected to expand in scope. Ryan Evans, EGB representative to the Chapter Steering Committee, writes, “Our plans call for another 10 years of projects in the most devastated, historic neighborhoods of the city. And we will keep planning if you will keep coming. See you in 2010!”
Cascadia Documents the Value of Going Green
The Cascadia Green Building Council, in collaboration with the Vancouver Valuation Accord and Cushman & Wakeman, has recently released a study that documents the value of green buildings. The study uses three high-performing green buildings, located in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, B.C., to show how green features and systems can positively affect a commercial building’s cost, savings, investment income, and capital value.
The value proposition for each of the three buildings is as follows:
200 Market Place in Portland, Ore. (LEED for Existing Buildings) – This property leads by example with its green retrofit. It has competitive rents and higher levels of occupancy than its non-green competitors. The building also has declining operating expenditures after certification.
- Alley24 East in Seattle, Wash. (LEED for Core & Shell) – This building had a comparatively quick absorption period (how quickly a building leases), attracted and retained high-quality tenants, achieved competitive rents, and now has higher-than-average levels of occupancy.
- Vancouver Centre in Vancouver, B.C. – This project achieved a 19 percent return on investment from undertaking an energy-efficient retrofit, as well as the potential for higher rates of return through the use of a different lease structure.
This report can be used as a tool to help clearly state the link between green buildings and financial communities. This investigative study is part of a larger Northwest regional effort conducted by a coalition of nonprofit, private-sector and local government organizations. Included in this group’s reports is a study on the superior market performance of third-party certified homes over non-green homes.
Chicago Honors Sustainable-Design Leaders
The Chicago Chapter held its Fourth Emerald Gala in May to celebrate local sustainable-building leaders. Executive Director Doug Widener commented that the event “was a great success in promoting green building in our region and the chapter. Even in a tough economic climate, the Gala met its fund-raising goal and was attended by over 530 green building professionals.”
Hosted at Swissotel, the whirlwind event featured a silent auction, scrolling local project case studies, a sit-down dinner and dancing, as well as an appearance by Sen. Roland Burris.
Natural Leader Awards recognized stand-out contributions in sustainable design, construction or operations. The Environmental Law & Policy Center worked to draft and to pass more energy-efficient building codes at the state level, yielding significant consumer utility bill savings, as well as assisted in shaping policy within the City of Chicago’s Climate Action Plan, while Saint Xavier University took action to reduce the carbon footprints of its students and faculty after completing a greenhouse gas audit.
Honoree and local principal Vincent Iturralde spearheaded the first LEED-certified Chicago Public School and continues to encourage local school children to engage in environmentally conscious community initiatives. The fourth recipient, north-side restaurant Uncommon Ground, earned accolades for its 2,500-square-foot roof-top garden and pair of beehives that yield ample produce and honey for on-site use, in addition to the solar panels that heat the majority of the restaurant’s water.
Widener notes that “these leaders are on the forefront of ensuring a sustainable future for our region, and we were proud to recognize their accomplishments formally at the Gala.” Between the Natural Leader Award winners and the crowd's enthusiasm, attendees left the event inspired to take their own sustainable contributions to the next level.
Greenbuild 2009: Phoenix
Green Building Events