A family member forwarded me a really provocative article from USA Today about LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and asked me what I thought of it.  The article reviews and examines LEED-certified commercial buildings and concludes that “thousands of ‘green’ builders win tax breaks, exceed local restrictions and get expedited permitting under a system that often rewards minor, low-cost steps.”  He and I have talked about LEED in the past and both shared our opinions and insights with each other on the topic. 

Read the article here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/10/24/green-building-leed-certification/1650517/.  This article is part of its Green Inc. Environmental for Profit Series


The article questions the effectiveness of the USGBC LEED rating system for buildings in driving real change and questions the fairness and utility of local tax breaks, expedited permit reviews and lifting of local public health regulations to drive changes in the marketplace.  I don’t disagree with many of the points raised in this article however; I think that the article could have been more complete if the author gave recongition to some of the benefits LEED has provided in his approach.  Throughout the article the author raises several issues without acknowledging some of the benefits achieved by this movement as well.


The author spends a great deal of time demonstrating how many project teams choose too many “easy” actions to gain points on their applications and improve their project rating.  For instance, he points out that a project team can gain a point just by including a LEED certified professional on the team or by adding priority parking spaces for hybrid cars.  Just including a LEED certified professional is not actually leading to any real environmental benefits.   The author also questions whether LEED actually results in real results because “LEED certification is awarded before occupancy.  Points for managing energy and water use are based on projects and not actual conservation.”   (Emphasis added). As he correctly points out, most buildings do not perform as well as design models and metrics predict.  Another issue raised by the author that compels a reexamination of the current LEED system is that several studies have demonstrated that “it is a common misperception that new buildings, even so called ‘green’ buildings are energy efficient.” 


As I said, I agree with all of these points.  However, I think that the article would have been better if some recognition was given to the fact that LEED, even with all of its shortcomings, has both raised public consciousness about conservation practices and led to some incremental improvements.  The author does spend some time acknowledging that LEED has sparked an environmental and conservation movement within the building industry and it has driven innovation in green products and transformed the design and construction industry.  But the author fails to give any recognition to the fact that LEED has also lead to incremental improvements.  


It is a good thing that some building teams choose to install solar panels instead of relying on conventional energy supplies.  It is a good thing for the occupants of these buildings that project teams are choosing to install a system that channels cooling system water to outdoor landscaping activities.  It is a good thing that project teams are using building materials with recycled content rather than virgin materials.  It is a good thing that project teams choose to use indoor paints; adhesives and flooring that protect building occupants’ health.  It is a good thing that the Federal, state and local governments are leading by example and striving to create a local environment where both economic development and sustainability can thrive. These are all extremely important issues that should lead to a thorough reexamination and possible revision by the USGBC of the current LEED system.  While some may consider these improvements small or incremental, we have to acknowledge that they are improvements.     Many small improvements will eventually add up to significant improvements.  


I also think the article would have been more balanced if the author also acknowledged the important role that tax incentives and other government initiatives have in driving market change.  Tax incentives and other breaks are good tools in driving economic development and driving innovation by governments.   While it is clear that some project teams have taken full and complete advantage of all of the breaks and incentives communities are offering to green buildings for their own benefit.  Businesses do not exist to drive social change or to protect the public interest.  They exist to maximize their resources and profits.  Moreover, how can they be faulted for taking full advantage of these breaks and incentives?  They were in place and there to be used.  If the incentives and breaks are leading to projects that are inconsistent with community goals or if community leaders believe that they are losing more than they are gaining, then community leaders can work to repeal or revise the incentives and breaks. 


Again, I thought this was quite a thought provoking article and in most cases agree  with the author.  What do you think? 


Listen to Kristel Riddervold, Environmental Administrator, City of Charlottesville, VA, talk about sustainable energy management and how public works contributes to creating sustainable communities.   Kristel explains what tools, strategies, and management systems that Charlottesville used to achieve significant energy savings and reminds viewers that sustainability is about more than just the environment. Sustainability is about the environment, economics and the community.  Watch the video and hear about how Charlottesville is leading by example and seeing significant payback. 



APWA 2012 Congress: Continuing the Conversation with Kristel Riddervold

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APWA, along with several partners including the National Leagues of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, and lead by the National Association of regional Councils, are pleased to share with you a new livability resources, Livability Literature Review: A synthesis of Current Best Practices.  This new comprehensive report describes how livability is understood, provides examples of livable communities in practice and adds context and clarity to several livability concepts.  The new report will help you better understand the resources available to create sustainable and livable communities. 


In June 2009, the Departments of Transportation (DOT) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) joined together to form the Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities.  The Interagency Partnership developed Six Livability Principles to guide its work.  The six livability principles are:


(1) Provide more transportation choices.

(2) Promote equitable, affordable housing.

(3) Enhance economic competitiveness.

(4) Support existing communities.

(5) Coordinate and leverage federal policies and investment. And

(6) Enhance communities and neighborhoods.



NARC convened APWA and tis other partners through a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration to identify and disseminate tools and practices that local governments can use as to bring sustainability and livability to their communities.  The final project will build upon the report released today by providing replicable case studies and tools for planners, local elected officials and public works professionals interested in creating livability programs in your communities. 


In order to add to our knowledge and the usefulness of this project we are seeking additional case studies from you.  We are looking for case studies that showcase the work that you are doing to help create sustainable and livable communities.  Consider submitting your case study today.  Submitting is easy – we’ve create a simple case study survey form for you to fill out!  Check it out today!


New Sustainability Resources from the Emerging Leaders Academy Class of 2012.

Each year a small group of public works professionals participate in a year-long Emerging Leaders Academy that provides intensive leadership and management training within the context of public works. The ELA program encourages professional growth through a strong network of peers, and offers an in-depth introduction to APWA at the national, chapter, and branch levels.

Each ELA class selects a topic to focus its class project on and the ELA Class of 2012 focused its work on determining how can APWA integrate sustainable thinking into the public works profession as well as into the culture of APWA?

The goals of the class project focused on increasing awareness of sustainability principals and methods to those in the Public Works profession. The project goals were determined to include the following:

  • Investigate currently available tools such as the Center's Framework for Sustainable Communities (http://www.apwa.net/documents/sust/framework_designFINAL.) and ISI's EnvisionTM sustainability rating system (www.sustainableinfrastructure.org)
  • Produce a packet of tools that can be distributed to Public Works professionals that would assist them in integrating sustainable practices and policies into their organizations and projects
  • Guidance for creating sustainability-focused RFPs
  • Sample Board/Council letters to implement sustainable policies into local ordinances
  • Video explaining what sustainability means in Public Works and the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure
  • Develop a pilot program
  • Develop a plan to distribute the packet to Public Works departments throughout the U.S.

The ELA Class of 2012 submitted its final project report in August and presented its findings during APWA Congress & Expo in Anaheim.  The final project report includes several helpful resources including sample council letters, sample RFP language, and an example of a project that used EnvisionTM to evaluate the sustainability of the project.  I encourage you to spend sometime reviewing these resources and thinking about how you can use them to bring more sustainable practices to your community.


APWA Center for Sustainability Leadership Group member and Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure Board of Directors member Vicki Quiram, P.W.L.F, discuss the latest developments in sustainability and public works from the APWA Congress & Exposition show floor.


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