It's Not Easy Being Green

LEED -- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design -- is all the rage now. It is the go-to measuring stick for green building. It measures site sustainability, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation and design process.

A building is assigned points for criteria in each category -- for example, a project can earn one point for diverting construction waste (sustainable sites) and another for using green power (energy and atmosphere). Certification is measured by a local chapter of the standard's governing body, the United States Green Building Council.

Them's the facts. And while LEED unquestionably has led the way in pushing green building certification across the country, critics claim it's not the only path to sustainable development. Its high cost of certification, sometimes-nonsensical weighting of criterion and overall favoritism of new construction versus rehab leave some developers going green on their own terms.

Metromode decided to explore the topic from three perspectives: environmentalism, design and funding. In other words, who cares, who knows what to do and who's going to pay for it.

The Treehugger

Diane Van Buren Jones gets around. She works with WARM Training and Zachary & Associates on multiple green initiatives -- one prominent one was spearheading the American Institute of Architects' Sustainable Design Assessment of Detroit back in September of 2008.

With a background in urban planning and work experience in funding development projects, Jones can see all sides of the story. She feels strongly about green building, and sees some good in LEED, but also some serious flaws.

First, the good: "LEED is helpful as the standardization of objectives to help architects, owners and city officials see where opportunities for greening buildings can occur -- and some benchmarks for performing these," she says.

Where she sees some issues is with certification cost and weighting of points.

"There are other ranking systems like Green Globes and Earth Advantage that could also certify a building as green without the expense of a LEED certification -- which could be up to five percent of a project cost," she says. Much of that cost is due to the requirement that a LEED-accredited professional prepare and submit all relevant paperwork to USGBC.

At some point, as with all certifications, rankings and grades, someone has to make a call as to what gets a point. And that is yet another shortcoming of LEED, in Jones' eyes. "The multiple categories don't necessarily favor energy efficiency -- so points for bike racks, low-emitting carpet systems, etc. can outweigh points for energy efficiency, making that priority seem high cost with a longer payback," she says.

In other words, if a developer is looking to get a point and has to choose between installing a geothermal heating and cooling system (which can initally cost upwards of $40,000) or a bike rack...well, what's the incentive to go geothermal? And not to knock bike racks, but which of the two ultimately has more of an impact?

Jones definitely sees a place for LEED, but urges flexibility. "The more important way to start a green project is to plan a well-designed project and use a friendly system for your project," she says.

The Architect

Brian Hurttienne recently joined Detroit-based Hamilton Anderson Associates after nine years of running his own firm, BVH Architecture. BVH designed the restoration of the Kales Building and a six-unit Crosswind rowhouse project in Brush Park among other projects, primarily in the Midtown, Downtown and Corktown areas of Detroit.

Hurttienne sees the role of the architect as always having been to push a green agenda. "It's new to everyone else, but to architects, we've been doing this forever," he says. "The principles of architecture are so in tune with the nature of materials, the environment, site and landscaping…it's hard to change that."

The stopper, from his viewpoint, has historically been the client. While an architect might suggest better materials up front that will, long term, save in maintenance, operations and energy costs, one look at the upfront cost was enough to send them scurrying back to drywall and drivet, single pane windows and a flat black roof.

Now, things are changing. "All clients want to save money," says Hurttienne. "Capital, upfront costs might be more expensive to go green -- but if the payback is within two to three years, they might go for it."

And it's not just money, it's awareness as a whole that has changed. "We can't write a proposal now without knowing that we're going to have sustainable issues and design issues to review and go over with our clients," he says.

Hurttienne sees that currently, most clients going green are those who reap a tangible benefit by doing so -- and that is typically larger ones, like banks, insurance companies such as Blue Cross Blue Shield and huge corporations like Ford Motor Co., who transformed the venerable Rouge Plant in Dearborn into an international model of a green industrial facility.

He explains why this is so: "Clients are on board but, well, they don’t necessarily get funds…they don't get a prize -- it's more about a good image. So therefore, the clients that want that image go for it. It does improve their image, which improves their bottom line."

For the rest of his clients, particularly smaller ones that cannot afford full LEED certification, Hurttienne finds ways to nudge them green in a cost-efficient way. Shade devices and insulation. Site positioning a new building in such a way that the maximum amount of natural vegetation is preserved. The installation of an air exchange unit -- as opposed to a typical exhaust fan -- to improve overall air quality.

A perfect example is his involvement in the design of two phases of affordable infill housing in Detroit's North Corktown neighborhood, the first in 2003 and the latter in 2006. As the architect for both infill projects, he saw his non-profit client, Greater Corktown Development Corporation, ask for more energy-efficiency considerations. Every home in the second phase, when built, will be Energy Star certified. To reach this standard, the homes are extra-insulated from basement to attic, have double-paned windows and use low-VOC carpet and paint. Hurttienne believes that, although it is not LEED, Energy Star is nothing to sneeze at. There's a lot involved, and it's all great stuff," he says.

His final thought: "You can follow LEED guidelines and not do LEED."

The Banker

John Schoeniger came to Detroit from Cleveland in 2007 to manage the loan fund of ShoreBank Enterprise Detroit (SED), a nonprofit affiliate of ShoreBank Corporation. He works primarily with small- and mid-sized developers, and money from the fund can be used for predevelopment and preconstruction financing as well as predevelopment work such as appraisals, environmental assessments and architecture and engineering.

Schoeniger is using his financial wherewithal to make lemonade (greener houses) out of lemons (the foreclosure crisis).

This is significant because one common complaint from developers of all stripes is that there is no financial incentive to go green at all -- let alone all the way to LEED.

Hurttienne's experience with the North Corktown housing was that funders wanted to see greener houses, but were not willing or able to help fund the extra work. To be fair, Jones has seen some that will. "Lately, a number of foundations, local government agencies and state have started to require that projects will receive a higher consideration for funding if the project is a 'green' project. A few, like the Kresge Foundation, go further with a requirement of LEED certification."

With that caveat, the reality is that many people would love to go green but just can't make the numbers work -- particularly in this economy. That's where Schoeniger and SED come in. "There's carrots and sticks, and we'd like to take more of a carrot approach," he says.

The program that he hopes to launch this year will pay transaction and closing costs and appraisal fees for responsible developers that purchase foreclosed homes and are doing some rehab work before selling or renting them. That's the carrot. The stick is that the rehab work would have to meet an established benchmark of improved energy efficiency.

"We will work with local investors to return these homes to the market responsibly," says Schoeniger. "Energy cost is often overlooked as a part of affordability."

He hopes to do a few of these rehabs to see what works -- "prove this model with an
experiment on a modest scale," as he describes it -- before launching full-blown later this year. "I kick the tires a lot -- I'm talking to a lot of investors," he says. "When we find something that works, then we'll do it over and over again."

Schoeniger has an interest in targeting his funds geographically. "Detroit's not done shrinking yet, and it has been abandoned chaotically," he says. "With our foreclosure response, [we want to ask] where will the neighborhoods of tomorrow be?"

He explains his reasoning by explaining that seventy energy efficient rehabbed and occupied houses in one neighborhood will have a greater impact than 70 scattered all over the city. And it's hard to argue with that point.

Regardless, Schoeniger sees his initiative as merely one piece of a bigger puzzle. "Foreclosure energy efficiency is one baby step towards overall greenness," he says. "There is an opportunity for Detroit to be one of the greenest cities ever."

Kelli Kavanaugh writes Green Space weekly for Metromode and is Model D's development news editor. Her last article for Mode was Let The Sun Shine In.


 - Rooftop Solar Panel and Wind Turbine
- Diane Van Buren Jones in front of WARM Training
- Brian Hurttienne recently joined Detroit-based Hamilton Anderson Associates

- North Corktown neighborhood

- Incandescent outdoor light

Unless noted, All photographs by Detroit Photographer Marvin Shaouni Marvin Shaouni is the Managing Photographer for Metromode & Model D.

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