HOW YOU CAN HELP "GREEN" MARYLAND'S BUILDINGS
We all know that “going Green” is good. Regardless of your position on global warming or your political affiliation, everyone generally agrees that being kind to the environment and its resources is beneficial. But most of us do not really know what “Green” means beyond placing our glass bottles and aluminum cans in the recycling bin and remembering to turn off the lights. While any effort to divert waste from landfills and to conserve electricity is a worthy endeavor, nothing will so quickly advance Maryland's future like voter support for state and local Green legislation.
There are hosts of ways in which the state and local governments can legislate toward a greener and more sustainable Maryland. It is a subject too large to tackle in this one article. But because emissions from buildings are one of the largest threats to the environment, this article focuses on the common sense initiatives identified by the Maryland Chapter of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC Maryland) that may be introduced in the state and local legislatures this upcoming term. Such initiatives are designed to slow or reverse the deterioration of the environment and energy supplies and may even stimulate a greener economy in Maryland.
Lest there be any doubt about how buildings contribute to the demise of Maryland's environment or energy supply, consider that buildings annually consume more than 37% of the total energy used in the United States and annually consume more than 67% of the electricity used in the United States. In 2006 alone, the commercial building sector produced more than one billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is more than a 30% increase from levels in the 1990s. Moreover, construction of buildings draws 40% of the raw materials globally, which is about three billion tons annually. The EPA estimates that 136 million tons of building-related construction and demolition debris is generated in the U.S. in a single year. Once built, a typical North American commercial building generates approximately 1.6 pounds of solid waste per employee per day and it is estimated that five billion gallons of potable water are used each day solely to flush toilets. Overall, buildings use 13.6% of all potable water, or 15 trillion gallons per year.
Though these realities paint a dismal future for our environment, we can collectively solve these problems through enacting common sense state and local green building legislation. But, to get these bills passed, each one of us needs to actively and vocally support such initiatives. USGBC Maryland has recently launched an Advocacy Committee, of which I am proud to say I am a part. This committee is comprised of individual volunteers hailing from various disciplines in the construction industry. Upon consensus, the committee has selected from a long list of important green building initiatives the most recession-friendly and instrumental agenda items to advance during the Maryland state legislature's 2010 legislative session and to local governments. These agenda items are largely no cost or low cost initiatives that are easy to implement, but would have the effect of immediately slowing the deterioration of Maryland's environment and energy sources.
Here are the five (5) initiatives that the Advocacy Committee of USGBC Maryland has deemed to be most important for this upcoming 2010 Maryland legislative session:
1. Expand the Exiting High Performance Building Act
The High Performance Building Act must be expanded so as to require all state-funded new construction or major renovations projects—regardless of the amount of state funding—be built to a minimum green building standard of LEED Silver or equivalent. Currently, the High Performance Building Act requires only newly constructed and major renovation projects that are wholly funded by the state be subject to the Act. USGBC Maryland seeks to give the High Performance Building Act some real teeth by making it applicable to all new construction or major renovation projects that are, in any amount, funded by State dollars.
Because many buildings are constructed with some amount of State funds, this amendment to the High Performance Building Act would cause it to have far wider applicability. Thus, a considerably larger percentage of new construction or major renovations in Maryland would be built green, which, in turn, would reduce building operating costs, increase occupant health, and further the State in its energy and carbon emission reduction goals.
2. Require that All New and Replacement Roofs on Government Buildings Be Green Roofs and Incentivize Private Sector to do the Same
As discussed above, Maryland's High Performance Building Act mandates that newly constructed or majorly renovated government buildings be constructed to meet a minimum green building standard of LEED Silver or equivalent. Maryland must go one step further and require all newly constructed government buildings, and any roof replacement on existing government buildings, have no less than 50% green roof coverage. Green roofs—which consist of a vegetated surface or a highly solar reflective surface or both—provide a variety of significant benefits to buildings in which they are installed, including reducing energy usage, storm water runoff, and heat island effect. Further, green roofs may be implemented without any additional cost over traditional roofing.
Additionally, Maryland must authorize its counties and municipalities to grant incentives to private building owners for incorporating green roofs into their new construction or major renovations. Such incentives encourage further use of green roofs and thereby multiply the benefits to the environment and Maryland's energy supplies. Such incentives might include, but need not be limited to: a streamlined approval process when green roofs are employed, a reduction in permit fees when green roofs are used, counting the square footage of a vegetated green roof twice for the purposes of storm water management, and not calculating a green roof within the area of impervious surface for the purposes of Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas.
3. Impose Green Building Standards of LEED Silver or Equivalent for
New Maryland-Funded Health Care Facilities
Because health care facilities are particularly costly to operate and put a huge demand on limited resources—including energy supplies, water, wastewater treatment, and landfill space—USGBC Maryland urges Maryland to require all newly‐constructed, state‐funded health care facilities be constructed to meet a minimum green building standard of LEED Silver or the Green Guide for Health Care (a voluntary standard providing guidance for operations and maintenance of health care facilities). Greener health care facilities better ensure the safety and health of occupants, lower operating costs and alleviate demand on resources and utilities. Also, such facilities further the State's objectives to reduce carbon emissions and energy and water consumption.
4. Energy Labels on Government Buildings
Because buildings use more than 67% of all electricity in the United States, Maryland's Department of General Services is seeking to raise consciousness about energy reduction through an initiative whereby it will compute and publish information online concerning the power and water consumption of state buildings. USGBC Maryland believes Maryland must go further by actually posting Energy Star rating on the front door of each respective building. While the online database will provide a baseline for the state's utility use, thereby tracking progress under Governor Martin O'Malley's EmPower Maryland goal of 15% reduction in energy use by 2015, having the information available at each building's front door will provide a more accessible means for the general public to discern a government building's overall energy usage.
Though making government energy use available online is generally good, posting that same energy usage at each building's front entrance is an even better way to reach the public, raise consciousness about the energy usage and may even encourage the private sector to follow suit. Such an initiative can be implemented without any cost.
5. Renewable Energy Credits
Under current law, 20% of Maryland's power must be derived from renewable sources by 2022. USGBC Maryland proposes that Maryland mandate that at least 20% of the Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) overall and at least 25% of the solar RECs be derived from sources located within Maryland. Title 7 of the Public Utility Companies Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland provides that RECs may be derived from a source that is either located in Maryland or within 16 other states. The revised law would require that at least 20% of RECs using Tier 1 fuel sources be derived from a source located within Maryland. In addition, the revised law would mandate that at least 25% of the solar RECs be derived from a source within Maryland.
This initiative would encourage development of renewable energy sources within the State of Maryland, which would boost Maryland's economy and distinguish it as a leader in the renewable energy industry.
Below are the three (3) USGBC Maryland's Advocacy Committee agenda items for local governments and municipalities. These items are every bit as important in forwarding Maryland's environmental and sustainability goals, if not more so.
1. Create Clean Energy Loan Programs as Permitted by the 2009 General Assembly
Because the 2009 General Assembly's HB 1567 authorizes counties and municipalities to establish a Clean Energy Loan Program within their respective jurisdictions, each county and municipality must be urged to do so. Currently, the initial costs of installing renewable energy systems create a significant obstacle to their regular use. The sooner each county and municipality implements a Clean Energy Loan Program, the sooner residential and commercial property owners will incorporate renewable energy systems into their facilities and, thereby, reduce demands on Maryland's power grid. Such programs will provide loans on favorable terms to residential and commercial property owners for the financing of energy efficiency and certain renewable energy projects that do not exceed 100 kilowatts and can be repaid through the respective property's tax bills. Further, the creation of Clean Energy Loan Programs will encourage the creation of green jobs in Maryland
2. Authorize Graywater Recycling Systems
Currently, many local governments in Maryland do not permit the use of graywater, which is defined as non-potable water generated by roof drains, clothes washing machine, showers, bathtubs, and the like. Because groundwater is depleted in some areas and water treatment facilities are overburdened in others, USGBC Maryland proposes that local governments enact legislation expressly authorizing the use of graywater Recycling Systems for toilet flushing, landscape irrigation, supply water for ornamental ponds, make up water for cooling towers, and other like uses. In addition, new storm water management regulations will soon be implemented that rely upon micro-scale practices, including rainwater harvesting and other alternative measures for use of rainwater. Thus, further the need for counties and municipalities to permit the use of graywater recycling systems.
3. Amend Master Plans to be Consistent with LEED-ND
Because local government land use master plans are no longer simply a guide to zoning and subdivision approvals, each local government master plan must specifically incorporate the principles of the USGBC's LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) rating system in order for LEED ND to be implemented. LEED-ND integrates the principles of smart growth, urbanism and green building into the first national standard for neighborhood subdivision design. It is anticipated that it will become a national standard (much the way LEED certification has become “the” accepted standard for green building) and it is critical that residential building and development throughout Maryland be able to participate in this nationwide movement that seeks to protect the overall health, natural environment, and quality of life within our neighborhoods.
Each of these state and local initiatives are instrumental in Maryland's movement toward environmental stability and energy sustainability. With your fervent and vocal support, all Marylanders will receive a direct benefit from the passing of these initiatives. For instance, because people spend 90% of their time indoors, and the concentration of pollutants indoors is typically higher than outdoors (sometimes by as much as 10 or even 100 times), green buildings have been shown to increase the productivity of its occupants. Besides saving the environment, improving indoor air quality for occupants, and reducing demand on Maryland's energy grid, owners of green buildings will enjoy an average resale value 16% higher than traditionally constructed buildings. The average rent for green building space is 6% higher than traditionally constructed buildings. Typically, green buildings use 30% less energy than conventional buildings. Compared to conventional buildings, green buildings have lower electricity peak consumption. Compared to conventional buildings, green buildings are more likely to generate renewable energy on-site and are more likely to purchase grid power generated from renewable energy sources (green power and/or tradable renewable certificates.) As you can see, green building can go a long way to forward Maryland's environmental, energy and economic goals. Going green is easier than you think and, if you push for the passing of the above initiatives, you can effectuate change in Maryland far beyond recycling your aluminum cans. True green change is something from which we can all benefit.
Claire E. Buchner is the founder and principal member of the Law Office of Claire E. Buchner, LLC in Annapolis where she practices commercial and construction litigation as well as green and sustainability advising.