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The Progress of Sustainable Governments



Posted by David Deal

When the USGBC began marketing their 2011 Federal Summit we openly wondered around the office if someone should attend this year’s summit. After all, we’ve been to a number of Greenbuild Conferences among others, but had never attended a Government Summit. As a firm, we’ve collaborated with both the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, worked on a handful of state grant proposals, and helped clients secure funding. Yet, in all–government work represents a surprisingly small portion of our portfolio; especially considering the recent news that one in four registered LEED projects are governmental buildings. These facts, coupled with an unprecedented government focus on greener operations, policies and development made this the year to attend.

So I went and spent a couple fascinating days in Washington DC at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. The sessions were interesting and thought provoking, the discussions over lunch lively and engaging, and although brief, the Summit was a well worth it experience. Here are some headlines and trends worth mentioning:

  • Cap and trade legislation may be derailed, but President Obama’s Executive Order 13514 has mandated our federal agencies pursing comprehensive sustainability planning and ghg reduction commitments in the interim. The Order has significant support from agencies ranging from GSA to the Navy.
  • American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding has had had a huge impact on agencies ready to apply for funding. Both the NYC MTA and Chicago Housing Authority deployed significant sustainability projects as a result of funds accessed.
  • LEED for Neighborhood development will likely help planners rethink zoning codes and may be a helpful bridge toward making ecodistricts a reality in the USA.
  • Small firms can provide value to governmental institutions but need to understand the various governmental procurement processes.

The Future of Green Governments

Governments who fail to see the value in green policy creation will not attract the best development opportunities, streamline government operations and save taxpayers money, or provide taxpayers community and health benefits that accrue as a result. In a quickly changing sustainability landscape, a region can be leading one year and lagging the next. The use of sustainability metrics and measurement are changing our world in the in the same way IT did a decade ago.

Our local governments have played a significant role in changing the negative perceptions long associated with our region. Common first time visits evoke statements such as “Oh, I had no idea Pittsburgh was so (literally) green and beautiful or friendly for that matter.” As such, we’ve the Pittsburgh region has become synonymous with great universities, leading edge technology and healthcare companies, and an emerging green scene.

That said, there much we can learn from other cities, regions and the federal government. Green building projects and riverfront parks cannot represent the sum of our efforts. Especially not when others are taking actionable steps toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions through comprehensive planning processes, retrofitting city-wide building portfolios, or adopting legislation that allows for implementation of the International Green Construction Code as standard practice.

So while we’ve come a long way, we can and should do more. And who better to lead the way our elected officials?