Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fayetteville, Arkansas, LEED-Certification, and Energy Efficient Municipal Buildings

According to the USGBC, “LEED initiatives including legislation, executive orders, resolutions, ordinances, policies, and incentives” are found in 384 cities and towns and 58 counties across 45 states. 

One of those initiatives – and, at least according to the USGBC’s online database, the only municipal initiative in Arkansas – is City of Fayetteville Resolution 176-07.

Entitled, “A Resolution Establishing An Energy Efficient Building Policy for the City of Fayetteville,” Resolution 176-07 passed on October 2, 2007.  It provides, in its entirety:

Section 1:  That the City Council of the City of Fayetteville, Arkansas hereby requires all new, city-owned buildings in excess of 5,000 square feet to achieve a minimum certification of LEED-Silver as issued by the US Green Building Council provided a favorable cost-benefit analysis is provided by a private architect or engineer and require all exempt building designs to include a LEED checklist with an emphasis on energy and water efficiency.

Resolution 176-07 does not carry the force of law.  It is best considered a statement of public policy.  Unfortunately, as a statement of public policy, particularly one with a national profile, Resolution 176-07 is undermined by a significant ambiguity: what, exactly, is a “favorable cost-benefit analysis”?  Indeed, what if even though the cost of building to the LEED-Silver status is not disproportionately more expensive than building to a conventional standard, the architect or engineer in question concludes that the cost-benefit analysis is unfavorable because the proposed project will not result greater energy efficiency?

The incorporation of LEED standards into land use law has generated significant and spirited debate, and one of the frequent debate points is that the empirical data does not indicate that LEED-certified buildings are, in fact, better performing buildings.  Henry Gifford asserted this very point – that the USGBC promoted LEED as resulting in more energy efficient buildings even though a study commissioned by the USGBC indicated that this was not the case – in his now dismissed lawsuit, Gifford v. USGBC.  Similarly, the authors of the 2009 National Institution of Building Science Report on Building Rating and Certification in the U.S. Building Community observed, “[t]here is very limited data that correlates verifiable improvements in building performance with building rating/certification system requirements.  Many people view the few data sets that do exist as controversial in terms of methodologies and conclusions drawn from them.”  The study concludes that “[t]here are growing concerns that the implied guarantee of building energy performance emanating from the building rating/certification/labeling systems may confuse or mislead policy makers and the public.”

Thus, Resolution 176-07 runs the risk of failing to achieve the very cause it advances.  One way to improve Resolution 176-07 would be to add a provision requiring the collection and analysis of data from new municipal buildings built to the LEED-Silver certification standard.  This, it would seem, encourages not only the energy-efficiency conscious green building practices embodied in the Resolution, but also results in the creation of green jobs.   

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