Spotlight on sustainability and environmental management
Joy Brown is an expert in sustainability and environmental management, given her title as environmental compliance specialist for the Public Works
Department in Berkeley, Calif. Brown shared that Berkeley has a Climate Action Plan that outlines the path the city is taking to become more sustainable. It describes a future in which:
- New and existing Berkeley buildings achieve zero net energy consumption through increased energy efficiency and a shift to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind
- Public transit, walking, cycling and other sustainable mobility modes are the primary means of transportation for Berkeley residents and visitors
- Personal vehicles run on electricity produced from renewable sources or other low-carbon fuels
- Zero waste is sent to landfills
- The majority of food consumed in Berkeley is produced locally
- The Berkeley community is resilient and prepared for the impacts of global warming
- The social and economic benefits of the climate protection effort are shared across the community
As for which “green” building ideas were the most cost effective, Brown responded with energy efficiencies. “Energy use in residential and commercial buildings is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and a major expense. Not only do energy efficiency improvements provide the most return on investment, they also substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Net-zero energy use is not an impossible goal for cities either, with the proper planning. Brown said, “The city of Berkeley worked diligently on its new West Branch Library, which is the first certified net-zero energy library in California and only the third municipal building of its kind in the nation. It actually produces enough extra electricity to power two average-sized Berkeley homes for a year. It is also LEED certified Platinum.”
And when it comes to green roofs in building plans, Brown answered, “When the city of Berkeley’s new animal shelter was built, a living roof was part of the design. Living roofs reduce stormwater runoff, provide a layer of insulation improving energy efficiency, reduce heat island effect and increase the longevity of the roof by protecting it from UV rays.”
When designing a living roof, she noted several factor need to be considered:
- fire hazards and access
- wind uplift
- visual impacts
An irrigation system will be needed for fire suppression and to establish the plantings.
Solar panels, on the other hand, are becoming more cost effective with time. It may be quite difficult to add them to already existing buildings, given funding, but it is definitely worthwhile evaluating their use on new buildings. The energy savings over time will offset the investment costs.
When beginning to plan new buildings with green aspects, Brown advised, “Evaluate municipal code and work with the business community to make green buildings a requirement. We provide voluntary green building consultations to help improve projects. The city of Berkeley requires all major remodels or new construction of city buildings to meet LEED Silver certification and new buildings or additions in the downtown area require LEED Gold or equivalent. Additionally, the city has a Building Energy Saving Ordinance that requires Berkeley building owners to complete energy efficiency opportunity assessments and publicly report the building’s energy efficiency information, which is required prior to the sale of a house or whole building.”
When wanting to build an environmentally smart building, one of the most common mistakes is not incorporating green building practices early enough in the planning stages of a project. For this reason, it is important early on to decide if the project is going to be LEED certified or not.
Cities need to ask the following questions:
- Are you using an environmentally preferable purchasing policy?
- Does the project provide an opportunity to promote clean transportation options such as cycling, walking, transit, car sharing and/or electric vehicles?
- What elements did the design team include in the project to achieve energy and water efficiency and to minimize solid waste disposal, including construction and demolition debris?
- Does the project minimize the need for irrigation and, when irrigation is necessary, utilize water-efficient irrigation systems?
- What considerations were given to mitigating stormwater runoff ?
- What considerations were given to how the project could be affected by the impacts of climate change, such as sea-level rise, water resource constraints and extreme heat events?
- How does the project minimize effects on natural habitat?
- If the project involves leased space, how are the tenants and landlord encouraged or required to increase energy and water efficiency and solid waste diversion?
Now take a step back and look at how agencies in your city make plans that are going to take the environment into consideration in all their projects. Brown said, “Have a plan such as our Climate Action Plan and incorporate environmental impacts into council reports. All council reports now have a section that describes any environmental impacts. The city has a Sustainability Working Group, which is a multi-departmental team focused on further integrating environmentally sustainable practices throughout city operations. Additionally, we have annual Environmental Achievement awards that recognize staff and projects that benefit the environment and encourage a culture of sustainability throughout the organization.”
She added, “To make your community sustainable, you need vision from community leaders, dedicated passionate staff, local regulations and incentives to require and support green building and sustainability, and community members who want both the economic and environmental benefits of sustainable design.”
Check out Berkeley, Calif.’s action plan, ordinance and green building requirements via the following links:
Basically, as your article suggests, these environmental compliance things are the ones assessing which projects are more energy efficient than the other “green” projects being proposed. Personally, I think this might have something to do with the project’s funding or probably the legalities. In any case, it sounds like a very important assessment to pass through for those who are planning to propose a project. I’ll try to learn more about this to understand the current progress of environmental projects. Thanks!
Vivian, thanks for your imput on this topic and for reading The Municipal!