Final Report: Place-Based Green Building: Integrating Local Environmental and Planning Analysis into Green Building Guidelines

EPA Grant Number: SU833566
Title: Place-Based Green Building: Integrating Local Environmental and Planning Analysis into Green Building Guidelines
Investigators: Retzlaff, Rebecca , Patel, Falguni , Sawant, Rajesh
Institution: Auburn University Main Campus
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: August 1, 2007 through March 31, 2008
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2007) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Sustainable and Healthy Communities , P3 Awards , Sustainable and Healthy Communities

Objective:

This project develops a methodology for place-based green building guidelines based on an analysis of local environmental conditions. During Phase I, we developed the place-based green buildings guidelines methodology and applied that methodology to the City of Auburn, Alabama. We also analyzed how green buildings are incorporated into planning and policy in the U.S., in order to determine how the place-based green buildings methodology could be used in practice.

The ultimate goal of this project is to develop a methodology and model for placing green buildings within their local context that can be transferred to other communities throughout the world. It will provide the basis for making objective decisions about where financial investments in green buildings will have the most impact on people, prosperity, and the planet. Essentially, this project addresses two questions: First, how can environmental analysis be used to make the design of buildings more sensitive to local environmental concerns and conditions? Second, given finite financial resources, is it more environmentally and cost effective to channel resources for green buildings to one or several key areas instead of spreading resources over many different features of green buildings?

The specific objectives of Phase I of this P3 project are to: (1) research county and local green building programs; (2) develop a methodology to place green buildings within their local environmental, social, and economic context based on an analysis of environmental, land use, economic, and social conditions; (3) analyze local environmental, social, and economic conditions in Auburn, Alabama, and apply that analysis to the place-based green buildings methodology, and; (4) develop a program for adapting local regulations to and providing incentives for green buildings under the place-based green building guidelines.

There are three parts to this EPA P3 Phase I grant: first, we developed a model methodology for place-based green building guidelines based on analysis of local conditions. The research links the “green” features of buildings with an analysis of environmental and land use issues that can be applied to any location. In other words, rather than the traditional “checklist” format of most green building guidelines, in which users accrue points for certain building and site elements regardless of their location or context; our project develops a methodology for inputting local and regional environmental, social, economic, land use, and other data into a system; which results in a series of maps and descriptions that specify the most important elements of green buildings in specific locations and conditions.

Second, after development of the place-based green building methodology, we applied it to the City of Auburn, Alabama. This allowed us to test the methodological design in a real-world situation, in order to analyze the model’s assumptions, inputs, and outputs. It also allowed us to determine what kinds of data would be available for input into the model in a typical city.

For the third part of this project, we analyzed how green buildings have been incorporated into policies and planning at the local and county levels in the U.S. We focused on the use of LEED in policies and programs, because it is the most common green building assessment method used in plans and policies in the U.S. Using a list of all of the cities and local jurisdictions that use LEED in planning and policy, we completed a survey to determine their differences, commonalities, and lessons-learned. The objective of this research was to allow us to determine the potential use for the place-based green building methodology in planning and policies in the U.S.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

In order to complete the model methodology for a place-based green building assessment system, we reviewed the literature on green buildings, along with current assessment systems such as LEED and Green Globes, and formulated the following set of sustainable principles to guide our methodology:

  1. Water
  2. Siting / Community
  3. Energy
  4. Indoor Environmental Quality

Using the above four principles, we conducted extensive research on how certain issues under those broad principles were impacted by local environmental, economic, and social conditions (and vise versa). We then developed methodological design for how local conditions and data could be used to place green buildings within their local context.

After completing the methodological design for the place-based green building guidelines, we then completed an analysis of environmental, land use, and social conditions in Auburn, Alabama, and inputted the results of that analysis into the place-based green building methodology. Using geographic information systems data from Auburn, we followed the place-based green building methodology and created a series of maps that places green buildings within their local context.

We found that the place-based methodology for green buildings takes into account unique local context to develop specific green buildings program. With a focus on the local context, cities can divert their precious resources of money and manpower more effectively and tailor the green building program around unique local needs. Further, because we used existing publically available data from the City of Auburn, Alabama, we find that other cities with similar geographic data systems will be able to input their own data into the place-based green building methodology, in order to determine the best locations for certain green building features. However, more research is needed in order to apply the methodology to other cities.

Another part of this project was an analysis of policies and programs at the local and county levels that use the LEED rating system. Using a listing of cities that have adopted green building policies using the LEED rating system in the U.S., we sent a survey to all of the 90 cities that have passed a green building ordinance or initiative in the U.S. using the LEED assessment system as of August 1, 2007. We received 42 responses to the survey, for a response rate of 47%.

We found that 49% of cities and counties surveyed require public projects to achieve LEED Silver level. We found that 91% cities require LEED certification for public buildings, while about 32% cities offered incentives to private developers for LEED certification. These incentives generally include density bonus, tax incentives, reduced application or permit processing fees, and expedited permit processing. Further, as most cities move from less stringent voluntary programs to more extensive mandatory requirements, they found that mandatory programs have better results than voluntary programs. Therefore, cities that establish green building programs should move quickly from voluntary to mandatory programs, while improving support from the community. Further, because many cities have not wholly adopted green building requirements for all types of buildings and land uses, the place-based green buildings methodology would prove useful in making decisions about where to focus the efforts of policies and programs for green buildings.

Despite the many advantages of using a national building assessment system such as LEED, there are some advantages to using a locally-based or locally-adapted system. The place-based green building methodology developed in Phase I of this P3 grant can help cities develop local systems that suit their needs. Alternatively, it can be used by developers of national building assessment systems, such as LEED, to modify their approach to allow for more local and contextual adaptation.

Proposed Phase II Objectives and Strategies:

For Phase II of the P3 project, we propose to further refine the place-based green building guidelines methodology to include more types of data, including state-level water quality data, and federal geological data and data from local and community groups. We also propose to include three additional cities - in addition to the Auburn, Alabama case study – to demonstrate and analyze the effectiveness and replicability of the place-based green building guidelines. After completing the additional three case studies of the application of the place-based green building guidelines, we will conduct an outcome assessment and revise the guidelines based on those findings.

Supplemental Keywords:

environmental analysis, green buildings, sustainable landscape architecture, integrated environmental assessment, high-performance buildings,