December 31, 2005
Fourth in a series of four panels that looked at New York City's high performance buildings.
The December 6, 2005 panel brought together key environmental, architectural, public and economic development policy makers, the "practical visionaries" who are transforming the City's built environment.
NYC HPB Report (4)
The four panelists, Ashok Gupta of the Natural Resource Defense Council, Randy Croxton of Croxton Collaborative Architects, Hillary Brown of New Civic Works, and Patty Noonan of the New York City Partnership all focused on the drawbacks, benefits, and possibilities of integrating high performance buildings into the “new normal”.
Ashok Gupta, Director of Air and Energy Programs at the Natural Resource Defense Council spoke directly to the energy issues associated with high performance buildings. Gupta explained the relationship between the energy efficiency of the built environment and greenhouse gas emissions. Said Gupta, “The cheapest way to reduce emissions is through energy efficiency”. However, energy consumption patterns are also closely related to land use, transportation, and brownfield redevelopment policy. Gupta noted that many of these smart growth issues are being handled regionally and at the state level because very little is occurring on the national front. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a prime example of a sub-national collaboration where seven northeastern states (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine) are developing a greenhouse gas emission reduction policy in lieu of federal efforts. Another source of inspiration for regional initiatives is California’s car emissions regulations, which are stricter than federal guidelines. Gupta cautioned that energy efficiency is about more than pollution, it’s also a global warming, affordability and economic competitiveness issue.
For Gupta, high performance buildings should go beyond energy efficiency and become net zero carbon-emitting structures. On-site and distributive power generation can lessen the burden on centralized energy production, especially when many of the nation’s power plants are old and run at 30 percent of maximum efficiency. Gupta conceded, “There have always been solutions created through technological advances, but the question is how to get that new technology out into the market”. He contended that a two-part approach of setting standards to raise the floor and creating incentives that bring the technology into the marketplace is necessary for a sustainable energy future. A big hurdle in this struggle is the current set of energy utility regulations. At the mention of reconfiguring energy regulations, Hanrahan asked Gupta what he thought would be the appropriate change in the status quo. Gupta replied that energy utilities are already regulated monopolies and that revenue caps should replace price caps. Price caps encourage energy consumption by creating a need to sell more energy to recoup the cost of discounted rates, but a revenue cap would remove this need but still allow for a profitable business. Said Gupta, “The idea is to get utilities on the same side as its customers by removing the reward for selling more energy”.
Randy Croxton, principal at Croxton Collaborative Architects, began his presentation by reminding participants that before the Natural Resource Defense Council’s headquarters and the National Audubon Society’s building were constructed, the high performance building movement was fractured between the clean air and energy efficiency camps. Said Croxton, “It was these two projects that broke this trend and brought the two components together”. Once these buildings defined the sustainability movement by demonstrating an integrated approach, high performance buildings became quantifiable. This integration was solidified with the formation and subsequent popularization of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. However, Croxton asserted, “We must back off the nuts and bolts of high performance buildings, and take hold of the true intentions of sustainability”.
Croxton acknowledged that the very power and success of the LEED program is its ability to be highly focused on third party, quantifiable measurements. When questioned about LEED, he explained, “The outcome of a building should not be an ‘X’, but the maximum effect you can achieve within the restrictions of your site, budget, and time”. Quality architecture is high performance building. No matter what you score on LEED, Croxton insisted that no one can claim to be designing green buildings until there is an international consensus on carrying capacity and the goals of sustainability. Said Croxton, “Sustainability can not be done one building at a time”. New buildings are only a fraction of the built environment, and more attention is needed on the renovation of existing structures as well as the ecological context and the human condition.
For Hillary Brown, principal of New Civic Works, the purpose of her presentation was to explore the fit between governance and building green. For her, both must place a premium on effectiveness, over mere efficiency. Both should be outcome-focused, emphasize transparency and stress accountability for performance. Creating local, dynamic and collaborative tools to promote civic environmentalism is imperative to her work. Brown explained that her focus “Is not a top down approach, but the idea of going from a pyramid to a circle structure of organization”. She pointed to mechanisms and opportunities for government to facilitate a transition to sustainability – public education, funding more demonstration projects and collaboration with other organizations.
Brown concurred with Randy Croxton’s analysis in her belief that sustainability needs to be addressed in a holistic manner. In order to address city government’s sustainability concerns, Brown advocated for improved cross agency communication and coordination. This means looking at a city’s services and infrastructure. “We need to fundamentally change the entire process - from procurement to construction”. She recommended a mission driven, democratic and collaborative process that recognizes the organizing principals of urban ecology. We also must recognize that the urban environment is a product of complex interaction between constructed and natural systems.
When asked who will lead a regional effort in New York City, Brown explained that the level of involvement and leadership is determined by the problem being addressed. For example, while water quality is a regional issue, building codes are a local matter. “We just need to set the wheels in motion, we need leadership, and we need to coordinate across all of our various agencies”.
Patty Noonan, Vice President of Economic Development at the New York City Partnership, began by positing the value of sustainability from the business leader’s perspective. “Sustainability is a crucial part of the city’s competitiveness because it makes the city more accessible for all”, said Noonan. She cited the need to attract workers, to generate affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy, and to diversify the city’s economy as factors that contribute to the city’s business retention and generation capacity. As the world financial and securities capital, she believes that New York City is in the position to lead the nascent emissions credits trading industry. Said Noonan, “The clean technology sector is an emerging economy that New York City has the ability to be at the forefront of”.
With the general benefits of sustainability understood, implementation of these principles and encouraging companies to do the right thing is the real challenge. Speaking for the private sector that she represents, Noonan explained, “We don’t like mandates, but we like incentives a lot”. Concerning development, Noonan admitted that there are currently very few incentives to build green. Noonan considers the greatest incentive for any developer is simply more space. In a business where time is money, simplifying the permit process and expediting green projects through the Department of Buildings (DOB) pipeline are additional incentives to make building green economically viable.
The remainder of the panel revolved around a set of freewheeling questions and answers.
Q: How will New York City really deliver and implement Local Law 86?
A: This new legislation is a tremendous opportunity, and the entire city should bend its procedures around this. In order to fully implement this law and make sure that buildings are in fact green, the city needs to create the management capacity to first recognize these high performance buildings, and then verify their implementation during construction.
Q: The school construction authority will probably benefit and be affected most from Intro. 324. Who is responsible for ensuring that the new law is implemented and that construction is truly green?
A: Leadership is key. Ideally we want to see the Mayor or Governor show some leadership. Since this is a new law and a new initiative for all of us, we must remain flexible and inventive at each stage of the process. In a sense, the law was a gift to the high performance building movement, but it is not a priority for anyone. We must make it a priority by demanding that it is implemented correctly and effectively.
Q: Why was housing left out of Intro? 324?
A: By including housing in Intro. 324, you would limit affordable housing construction by increasing up front costs with the new requirements for green construction. The way that this particular law was drafted would have made it hard for affordable housing, but this is a first step. We can continue to develop standards that are simpler than LEED and then look at new incentives to increase the supply of affordable, green housing. Right now it is a marginal issue, and only when it is centered will the appropriate incentives and regulations become implemented as they should.
Q: The city should eliminate cost over runs on affordable housing projects and use this cost savings for high performance building standards. Why does this not happen?
A: Most affordable hosing is privately financed with a city guarantee. Oversight is important, and could be better at reducing cost over runs. Additionally, lower operating costs in terms of sound construction do matter when developing green, affordable housing. Ultimately what is needed is the finance community to change its lending formulas to reflect the long-term monetary benefits of building green.
Q: Why is the New York City Partnership not taking a leading role in this movement?
A: It is not the Partnership’s responsibility to take the lead, but we are working with other non-profits to advocate this agenda. The key is getting the right people appointed to the right positions in the non-profit world and on places like the school board to begin to effect change in policy.