D.C. Moves to Become Pioneer In Forcing 'Green' Construction

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 16, 2006

The District is poised to become the first major city in the country to require that private developers build environmentally friendly projects that incorporate energy-saving measures.

By 2012, most large construction in the city -- commercial and city-funded residential -- would have to meet the standards, if the D.C. Council gives final approval to a new bill next month.

The era of "green buildings" would include devices such as low-flow shower heads and recycled materials and would require designing passageways that encourage walking, choosing drought-tolerant plants and improving air quality by reducing the need for artificial heating and cooling.

Although smaller cities, such as Pasadena, Calif., have adopted similar laws, the District would be the first large city to force private developers to meet the standards, said Cliff Majersik of the Institute for Market Transformation, a nonprofit environmental group that promotes green buildings. All 13 council members voted for the measure in a preliminary vote this week. "This is big," Majersik said.

In the country, 550 buildings have been certified as green by the U.S. Green Building Council, and more than 5,000 are awaiting certification, advocates say. Six buildings in the District have been certified as green.

Opponents say building green can add as much as 11 percent to construction costs. Supporters place the extra costs at 2 to 4 percent but contend it's worthwhile.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said in a written statement that the $611 million baseball stadium for the Washington Nationals is being built to green standards. "With this legislation I hope to see the District move into a position of national leadership in terms of demonstrating our commitment to the environment," he said.

The legislation defines a green building as one that is designed and built in a way that helps to alleviate the "environmental, economic and social impacts" of a building so that it's "energy efficient, sustainable, safe, cost-effective."

The District would use the standards established by the Green Building Council.

Under the bill, within two years all new District-owned projects, including schools, would have to meet the green standards, and in 2009, any building receiving more than 20 percent public financing would have to do the same. By 2012, every new commercial building over 50,000 square feet -- about the size of a medium-size retail store -- would have to meet the guidelines. The rules would also apply to affordable housing.

Enterprise Community Partners and GreenHOME, which promote the green building of homes for the poor, applauded the proposal. "It is the first that we're familiar with that is requiring, by law, that affordable housing use the green standards," said David Bowers, director of Enterprise's Washington office.

Lobbyists for some factions of the building industry are fighting to get communities to institute more lenient standards, said Bill Hall, a lawyer who represents building material manufacturers.

"Failure to include these other rating systems would be like the D.C. Council mandating that only Google's search engine can be used in the District to the exclusion of Yahoo and AOL because Google is the most widely used," Hall said.

The D.C. Building Industry Association supports the bill because it would phase in the standards so that developers would not feel the impact until 2012, said Charles K. Barber, the association's president.

"The way they have structured this has made it more palatable," he said.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company