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Green Building Materials and the New Administration

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2017

By Robert J. Kobet, AIA


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The torrent of executive orders and proposed legislation emanating from the new Republican-controlled administration has brought two building-related issues into the national spotlight. The first is environmental stewardship versus corporate financial interests. The second is the green building movement and high performance green buildings per se versus existing applicable codes, regulations and ordinances.

All early indications are the majority of cabinet and federal agency appointments, executive declarations and congressional actions do not bode well for sustainable design and development of energy (especially renewable energy), material and resource efficient buildings.

At this time much of what has transpired with the new administration remains preliminary.

capitol hill
© iStock.com / Zodebala

Among recent developments that give me pause: Republicans have introduced a bill that would terminate the Environmental Protection Agency by the end of next year.

Executive orders have not been fully implemented, the president’s cabinet appointments and staffing of federal agencies are not yet complete, and the guidance that must eventually accompany legislation proposed by Congress have not yet been processed.

Pause-Worthy Proposals

But enough has transpired to give pause about where building related governance is headed and what it may mean to the nature of our buildings and the cities and towns in which they reside.

On a macro level, President Donald J. Trump supports pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, promoting fossil fuels, limiting the power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and undoing President Barack Obama’s work on the Clean Power Plan. His proposed energy policies may gravely impact the environment, including the built environment. See: “What Trump’s victory means for the environment (it’s not good).”

At the federal level the president has vowed to repeal Obama’s EO 13693, "Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade" which expands on the energy reduction and environmental performance requirements for federal agencies identified in EO 13423. Further, the goal of EO 13514 is "to establish an integrated strategy towards sustainability in the Federal Government and to make reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) a priority for Federal agencies."

Also at the federal level, Trump has signed H.J. Res. 41 eliminating a Securities and Exchange Commission rule that oil, gas and coal companies must report all royalties, fees and other payments made to governments. Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act commands the SEC to draft such a rule. But in support of the Congressional Review Act repeal, Republicans labeled it another "onerous" Obama-era regulation hamstringing energy development.

As if on cue House Republicans have introduced a bill that would terminate the Environmental Protection Agency by the end of next year. H.R. 861, sponsored exclusively by southern state Republicans, only contains one sentence: “The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018.” The bill is currently awaiting action in the House Science, Space, and Technology committee. The bill does not specify what will happen to the wealth of knowledge and research produced by the EPA over the last several decades, or how the multitude of rules in place to safeguard land, air, and water from pollutants will be enforced, if at all. The legislation also doesn’t mention what will happen to the EPA’s $8 billion budget or its more than 15,000 employees.

Potential Impact on Green Materials

All of this begs the question of what impact these sea changes will have on the market for green building materials, including those that comprise building envelopes, paints and coatings.

green building materials
© iStock.com / severija

The DoD and GSA fully understand superior interior air quality resulting from nontoxic interiors using benign paints and coatings contributes directly to the health and well being of service personnel.

In the “Green Building Materials Market by Product Type, Application - Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2014-2022,” Research and Markets Senior Manager Amy Cole reports global green building materials market is expected to grow at a Compound Average Growth Rate (CAGR) of 11.9 percent from 2016 to 2022 to reach $377 billion by 2022 from $171 billion in 2015.

What happens to green building material markets outside the U.S. is beyond my comprehension, although my experience working internationally suggests they will continue to grow. In the U.S., there are several scenarios that could unfold, influencing the green building materials market in a number of ways. Among these are:

  • Much of what has been proposed will not come to fruition, and much of our current building practices will survive based on their own merits and valuable lessons learned about the economic and human factors benefits of green building. The current political climate is volatile, and public opposition to many of the administration’s appointments and policies may manifest itself in moderating legislation and the attendant negative impacts on the built environment. In the best case, federal state and local building will continue to support sustainable communities and energy, material and resource efficient buildings.
     
  • Proposed legislation, the repeal of regulations and the possible elimination of the EPA have more to do with limiting renewable energy development and supporting fossil fuel and other extraction based industries than intervening with those associated with green building materials. Global market forces will continue to drive the demand, or lack there of, for coal and fossil fuels. Private industry is now familiar with the benefits of high performance building envelopes, effective daylighting and superior interior air quality on operating and maintenance costs, and working productivity. Therefore, demand for these building qualities and attributes will remain strong.
     
  • The Trump administration and the Republican-led Congress will achieve their goal of deregulation, repealing policies focused on sustainability and dismantling federal agencies responsible for environmental stewardship, air and water quality. I believe the impact of this scenario on green building material suppliers will depend on the short and long term political fallout of these gestures, and the extent to which private sector interests support green building with or without anything that equates to a federal mandate or help from previously supportive federal agencies. A good example of this is the Better Buildings Challenge, a program where local government partners champion major energy efficiency measures that drive significant performance improvements and provide models for other city action across the country. Cities include Denver (Energize Denver), Los Angeles (Mayor’s Sustainable City Plan), Orlando (Building Energy and Water Efficiency Strategy) and my home town of Pittsburgh (building benchmarking legislation). These programs, and others like them, are built on strong, local public and private partnerships, the spirit of friendly competition, civic duty and the knowledge that sustainable design and development and green building has multiple benefits to their communities. I do not believe those involved will bend willingly to having their work compromised or undone.
  • The elimination of federal agencies and implementing new policies aimed at weakening green building interests, directly or indirectly, will be countered by those who have embraced the tenets of sustainability and green buildings. There are many ways this can occur. For instance, the EPA’s Energy Star and Water Sense efficiency standards are in widespread commercial application. American consumers now look for these programs’ rating information on everything from heat pumps to dishwashers. They are also referenced in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification process. LEED now enjoys global recognition. If the EPA is eliminated or effectively gutted, their standards could still be used without official recognition of the EPA. Other well established, non-federal green building material advocacy groups such as GreenGuard, the Green Building Advisor, Building Green and many others now serve as green building industry resources to a mature green building constituency.
     
  • Other sectors of the government will continue to work on green building. The Department of Defense and the General Services Administration have accrued decades of benefits and lessons learned from inter-agency participation in green building initiatives, including those led by the EPA. The DoD has declared climate change and continued dependence on foreign oil as threats to national security. I have participated in numerous USGBC LEED workshops for the Pentagon and NAVFAC groups in Washington DC, Norfolk, Jacksonville and Guam. The military program officers I worked with know their effort to make military bases more secure and independent by reducing energy consumption, using renewable energy technology, harvesting local water resources, getting off the grid and building healthy buildings translates directly to any small town or American city. The potential to create jobs by combining environmental stewardship with economic opportunity is legion. For the last two years I have been part of a team conducting water conservation workshops for the Federal General Services Administration (GSA). Over the last 15 years the GSA has embraced a number of programs that promote energy, material and resource efficiency, smart building technology, living roofs, superior air quality and a number of other green building initiatives. DoD and GSA fully understand superior interior air quality resulting from nontoxic interiors using benign paints and coatings contributes directly to the health and well being of service personnel.  Everyone I have met is extremely proud of what they have accomplished. They have worked diligently and successfully within a bureaucracy that is not conducive to rapid change. The results have been scores of highly successful projects recognized internationally as such.

Looking Ahead

There are other scenarios that can occur. What impact the Trump administration and the Republican-led Congress will have on the green building movement remains to be seen.

During his campaign, Trump ran on a claim he will rebuild the U.S. infrastructure to create jobs. The benefits of green building are well known. I cannot fathom spending billions of dollars on infrastructure based on fossil fuels when so many other countries are moving away from them. Nor can I see ignoring the efforts of the DoD and the GSA to lower operating and maintenance costs while increasing operational readiness and improving the health and productivity of government workers and our service men and women.

They say elections have consequences. Only time will tell what they are.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER

Robert J. Kobet, AIA

Robert J. Kobet has worked with clients on five continents for more than 35 years to create innovative places to live, work and learn. As an architect, educator, speaker, former chair of LEED for Schools, primary author of LEED for General Contractors and Construction Managers, and president and CEO of The Kobet Collaborative, Bob is working to make his vision for a green building era a reality. Leaning Green explores that reality. Contact Bob.

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Tagged categories: Bio-based materials; Building design; Building materials; Carbon footprint; Coating Materials; Conservation; Design; Environmental Protection; Environmentally friendly; Government; Green chemistry; Green coatings; Green design; Greenhouse gas; Low odor; Public spaces; Sustainability

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