This year, May 13–20 is Infrastructure Week—a national week of advocacy and education that brings together business, labor and elected leaders to spotlight the need to revitalize, modernize and invest in infrastructure. At USGBC, we understand the impact that infrastructure has on every person, every day.
At its best, smart infrastructure provides cleaner water, healthier environments and access to technology and electricity across socioeconomic groups. When neglected, poor infrastructure leads to increased poverty, crumbling and unsafe buildings, and devastation in the aftermath of natural disasters.
Great work is being done across our industry, but infrastructure in the U.S. is still in need of dire attention. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2017 Infrastructure Report Card reveals that America’s infrastructure is failing. In particular, areas of the building sector including schools, drinking water, energy, waste water and transit receive failing marks.
The green building community continues to lead in developing innovative ways for buildings to support infrastructure solutions and to make sure those solutions are as sustainable as possible, but we need to be doing more to drive home this connection. USGBC’s recently released Living Standard research shows that while people want to live in a healthy environment, they don’t typically associate green buildings with being part of the solution.
Better public buildings
In just one example, USGBC’s State of Our Schools: America’s K–12 Facilities report shows that investment in school infrastructure across the nation is dwindling, with a projected annual shortfall of $46 billion in school funding, despite significant effort on the part of local communities. The analysis found that the federal government provides almost no capital construction funding for school facilities, and state support for school facilities varies widely.
This means that individual school districts and communities are left to bear the heaviest burden in making the investments needed to build and improve school facilities. These buildings are centers of their communities and need to be prioritized. USGBC recommends shining a light on these issues at the local and federal levels and leveraging public and private resources to extend a community’s investments, incorporating a new generation of structures, funding streams and partnerships.
This isn’t a partisan issue. More than 79 percent of voters think it is extremely important for Congress and the White House to work together to invest in infrastructure. USGBC supports legislative action to help improve America’s infrastructure and public buildings.
- USGBC supports the “Rebuild America’s Schools Act,” which would provide important investments through the creation of a competitive school construction grant program while restarting and making improvements to the Quality Zone Academy Bond (QZAB) program. Major modernizations or newly constructed facilities covered by the bill would be built and certified to a high-performance green standard. We believe that some changes to the bill passed by the House Education and Labor Committee—such as clarifying that funds can be used on a project to cover hazard mitigation activities and explaining the use of codes, standards and ratings—will help ensure that taxpayer funds are well spent and that schools are efficient and resilient.
- USGBC also supports broader financing options to fund school facilities. The “Public Buildings Renewal Act” would expand the use of Private Activity Bonds (PABs) to authorize public buildings as an allowable use. These bonds allow public and private entities to work together to build and maintain public infrastructure over the lifetime of a project. A 2017 study from the Beacon Hill Institute for Public Policy of similar legislation from the last congress found that these changes would yield an increase in real GDP of $8.285 billion and create 43,200 jobs in the first year.
- USGBC supports the creation of a Qualified Infrastructure Bond. Congress should enact legislation to establish a new "Qualified Infrastructure Bond” program, which would provide taxable bonds as an alternative to tax-exempt bonds, to help the private sector finance state and local investments in public infrastructure. Qualified Infrastructure Bonds would be issued by state and local governments (such as states, cities, counties, territories, Indian tribal governments or any political subdivision thereof). The federal government would provide these entities with a direct payment that would result in a significant leveraging factor in the ratio of public versus private capital investment. It would attract private financing for energy infrastructure—including, but not limited to, utility conservation projects in buildings, facility renewal, energy generating assets, distributed generation, microgrids, and advanced energy and water systems.
- USGBC supports policies that fix multiple facets of infrastructure. For example, there is an immense opportunity to incorporate green infrastructure practices into our nation’s traditional concrete infrastructure. There is a growing body of evidence that building with green infrastructure is both cost-effective and beneficial for both people and the environment. Incorporating green infrastructure as we improve the condition of our public buildings can provide a multitude of benefits to communities, including enhancing their resilience to extreme weather events, allowing cleaner air, improving community livability, and saving costs in stormwater management..
Across industries, USGBC’s member companies are creating new infrastructure solutions that focus on sustainability. In the spring issue of USGBC+, our member magazine, we explore the impact that Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) can have on improving infrastructure through projects like the Westmont Solar Energy Project in Los Angeles. In this project, GAF Energy supplied 5,000 rooftops with materials so it could feed electricity directly into the grid, giving the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power a predictable distributed source of electricity.
Another example, also featured in USGBC+, are Intel’s water management solutions, which are a part of the company's ambitious sustainability goals. Intel currently directly restores 80 percent of its water use around the world and through collaborative partnerships supporting water restoration infrastructure projects. It aims to directly return or restore 100 percent by 2025. Also, USGBC member Autodesk relies on the power of automation and machine learning to create software that maps out a world with smarter, better infrastructure.
While you are commuting to work, filling up your water bottle, turning on the lights and walking into your child’s classroom, do not take for granted your access to paved roads, clean water, updated electricity and internet, and safe and healthy buildings. Let’s continue to advocate, innovate and do the hard-won work required to create cleaner and greener solutions—because better, more sustainable infrastructure needs to be a human right, not a privilege.