City Dollars and Sense
, Go Green
July 29, 2014 |
There’s been a flurry of discussions this summer with City Council regarding LEED certification for the new Police Building. The more I listened, the more I had a sense that a little clarification might be helpful.
In honor of Kent’s longstanding commitment to sustainable practices, City Council adopted a policy a couple of years ago stating that new City buildings will be LEED certified. The LEED certification was viewed as the “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval for energy efficiency and the City policy was a way to publicly demonstrate the City’s commitment to sustainable building design and performance.
Fast forward a couple of years to this spring when we began doing interviews to hire an architectural firm to design the new Police Building and three different architectural firms mentioned that over time LEEDs has become yesterday’s news and most building codes and architectural design practices have incorporated LEEDs standards — to the point where the official LEEDs certificate had become little more than an expensive piece of paper.
Hmmm. We knew the Police Building was on a tight budget so we figured it was worth raising this question to City Council since their LEEDs policy explicitly stated that the LEEDs policy would be considered on a case by case basis.
Based on the architects comments, the question we began to wonder whether it was a “more sustainable” practice to take the $50,000 to $75,000 that it would likely cost in paperwork to get the LEEDs certification and invest those funds in higher environmental standards in the building itself? That was the question we took into City Council.
City Council and the staff are proud to have been a pioneer in pushing forward with a sustainability agenda going back 2 decades, long before it was trending the way it is today, so any perception of back-peddling was unacceptable. The question was whether this was a step back or the maturation of the sustainability movement that made the policy unnecessary.
With issues like this it’s easy to oversimplify the discussion and let it become some sort of flash point for whether you’re pro-environment, pro-sustainability or not. That was not intention behind the question – the issue is which path advances sustainability the best in the new City building?
It was clear in the Council discussions that everyone is proud of Kent’s sustainability heritage — both environmentally and financially — and to a certain extent this issue rubs those two values up against each other. I see this as a case where there is no wrong answer, it’s more a matter of where Council wishes to land along the spectrum of two important community values.
We started this discussion because multiple architects told us that the certification element may be unnecessary today since most of the LEEDs elements have been integrated into building codes and best practices. Architects do this for a living and they make the same money (maybe even a little more thru LEEDs certification) so we felt we were getting honest professional advice and we owed it to Council to raise this issue and ask the question. After all, our policy explicitly references case by case exceptions.
Despite some of the difference of opinion aired during Council, I still have get the sense that everybody is on the same page — we all want to continue to be viewed as a leader in sustainability, the question is how is that best served?
Is that best achieved through a 3rd party verification process or are we comfortable having our Architect manage that for us? It will likely cost a little more administratively to get 3rd party verification and like anything we buy we have to determine if the value is worth that price. Likewise, if we trust our architect we’ll spend less on verification and perhaps a little more on extra green items that might otherwise be outside the project budget.
The City’s Architect was ask to refine the numbers on the cost of LEEDs versus the value of LEEDs — and that should help help Council members gauge their position on the value vs. price question – but I don’t want to get too hung up on the exactness of the numbers; it’s still an estimate and at the end of the day paying for LEEDs is not a budget breaker nor is the extra money spent in the building a green game changer
Hopefully we can keep our perspective — it’s an important discussion because these are core values that mean something to us but this shouldn’t be an issue that we let become divisive since the end result will essentially be the same either way and should be something we can take all take pride in for upholding both of these community values.
A little healthy debate in Council Chambers on things that matter to this community is a good thing and it helped draw attention to the fact that the City works hard to promote sustainability in everything we do and as a result of our sustainability efforts over the years we’ve saved tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars.
So all of us are pro-green, no questions asked. In this case we’re just trying to dial in on what’s the best way to honor our green — both financially and environmentally.