In a step toward meeting one of the goals of the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement approved by City Council in October 2006, the Evanston Environment Board reread at the Oct. 20 Human Services Committee meeting the proposal for a green building ordinance for the City they first submitted in July.

Human Services decided to hold the proposal in committee until December, pending further information from the Environment Board about costs and the reaction of local builders.

At the Oct. 20 meeting Environment Board member Elizabeth Kinney read a letter from the Board urging the Committee to act on the proposed green building ordinance in order to give “meat to the goals of the Climate Protection Agreement objectives … a significant step toward achieving our greenhouse gas reduction target.”

The proposed ordinance would require that new buildings over 10,000 square feet – and interior renovation or build-out improvements of more than 10,000 square feet – build to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a designation by the U.S. Green Building Council) standards. Commercial buildings would be expected to achieve silver LEED status and City-owned or -financed buildings of the same size, gold LEED certification.

Environment Board chair Leonard Sciarra told the Committee a score of 33, which is common, falls into the silver category. The silver category requires 33-38 points and gold, 39-51.

At the July 7 meeting the Committee asked Ms. Kinney and the Board to provide a spreadsheet estimating the increased costs to builders that might result from ordinance requirements and what their carbon footprints would be.

On Oct. 20 City Sustainable Programs Coordinator Carolyn Collopy provided the committee with a memo containing data on potential cost increases and several other concerns affecting builders.

“There is a perception that designing and constructing green buildings costs more,” with various studies estimating increases at 5 to 10 percent, said Ms. Collopy. She said, and Mr. Sciarra agreed, that “for some, the initial costs may be slightly higher to build to LEED certification due to the cost of certification and the lack of experience.”

However, Ms. Collopy continued, “Several studies have shown the benefits of a green building outweigh upfront premiums … [with] an 8-9 percent decrease in operating costs, a 7.5 percent increase in building value, and a 6.6 percent improvement in the return on investment … .”

Mr. Sciarra, pointed out that previously higher green building costs have decreased 3-5 percent as designers become more familiar with green building requirements. He said the proposed ordinance “needs to be part of the building code” to be effective.

Aldermanic Discussion

Mr. Sciarra responded to several of the Committee’s questions and concerns regarding penalties and costs.

The proposed ordinance states that the penalty for non-compliance “may be revocation of the certificate of occupancy (COO).”

The certificate of occupancy is issued by the City after an inspection of the completed building to ensure that all building codes have been met and certify that the building is ready for occupancy. Several of the Committee members wondered how revocation could be enforced after the building is occupied.

At issue is the time between building completion and LEED certification, which can be up to a year. The time issue brought a comment from Alderman Steven Bernstein, 4th Ward, who asked, “Is there a way to speed that up? Is there a method of auditing along the way?”

Others agreed that revoking the COO was not a realistic penalty. Mr Sciarra said some audits are in the design even before the building starts. He suggested conducting LEED audits as the building progresses so implementation of the agreed-upon features can be verified. With this process in place, he said, compliance is assured, as is certification.

Mr. Sciarra suggested monetary penalties, with the proceeds to be deposited in the Sustainable Evanston Fund.

Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, favored such incentives as reduced permit fees instead of penalties. He agreed to monetary fines, as well.

Although as proposed, the ordinance requires compliance from all types of buildings, Ald. Moran said green standards should “not apply to affordable housing.”

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, and Mr Sciarra agreed that those in affordable housing would benefit most by living in a green building, for instance, by saving money on utilities. Ald. Moran suggested that those needing affordable housing would not have buildings to move into if costs were too high.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, requested that the ordinance be held in committee until more information could be provided. He requested input regarding costs and ease of implementation from contractors who have built green buildings with LEED certificates. He said, [I need] “a sense of what this ordinance would mean to them.”

Ald. Tisdahl cited the urgency of acting on the green building proposal and asked the Environment Board to bring a spreadsheet showing actual costs anticipated by local builders and their reactions to the ordinance to the December Human Services Committee meeting.