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Competition vs. Sustainability

Worldchanging DC blogger, Daniel Lobo

StopThe recent D.C. council vote confirming the initiative to require developers to adhere to the standards of the U.S. Green Building Council by the year 2012 has triggered copious displays of optimism and bragging rights in the local scene. This outburst of green has been heralded often as a sign of a competitive D.C. or even as the prospect of a D.C. that is a leader in sustainable practices. This emphasis glosses over the possibility that competition may not be sustainable, that the District may not be, or want to be, in a position to compete, and that ultimately sustainability may only be achieved through collaboration.


While it is perfectly legitimate to mark the way and “do the right thing�, one may need to be reminded that, in a competing situation, there are winners and losers, and that those winning today may be losing tomorrow. Thus, framing any sustainable initiatives with this philosophy might insinuate that a combative dynamic of pushing urban cores would be beneficial to developing a livable built environment. A popular, and unsubstantiated, idea is that if the District becomes a leader in urban certification others will follow. On the one hand, generally GBC's standards don't mandate that a project incorporate specific features, instead they award credits that must be collected in order to be certified. But, most importantly, this overlooks the fact that less “strict� neighboring jurisdictions may benefit from this initiative, spurring additional development on the fringe of the District, which points to a most obvious and often overlooked issue of regional collaboration, support of existing initiatives and enabling the viability of the existing neighborhoods and not necessarily new development.

The District is not alone regarding sustainable initiatives in the Capital region – a point well made during a recent Kojo Nmandi show on the topic. The fact that developers in the region are already approaching - with more or less passion - sustainable practices, benefiting from incentives or mandates such as the Federal Government LEED excellence program for new buildings serves as a reminder that an action to require green standards in new development should only be at best an addition to other green policies supporting a green transformation. Collaboration, like the one promoted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, is where the new City administration should go. The USCM adopted a resolution that calls for the immediate energy reduction of all new and renovated buildings to half the national average for that building type, with increased reductions of 10 percent every five years so that all buildings designed by the year 2030 will be carbon neutral, meeting Tokyo Treaty requirements. This energy reduction resolution points importantly not only to new buildings but to the capacity of existing building stock to renovate itself as a new model of sustainability, something that the Council’s interpretation of the GBC’s standards seems to gloss over.

Continuing to support initiatives that look at a broader scale while addressing local needs puts collaboration at the forefront of the health of our communities. The next D.C. Council and Mayor need to engage at all levels in partnerships that break from the isolationist history of the power spheres of the City. The current Council has tried to make a first out of their last meeting. Now, in implementing the Green Building Council certification standards, the next City Council will need to seethat in collaboration - not competition - will lay its success.

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Comments

On competition, I think those statements are a general reflection that the US is somewhat of a free market economy, not a command economy. By making DC competitive, they're saying that DC is updating its ordinances to keep in line with modern practices of sustainable cities?. I don't follow the point on collaboration. Who collaborates in what way with who? Collaboration happens in China, but that's a command economy and they're usually building entire cities.

There are reasons to wonder whether a LEED ordinance is the best way solve certain environmental issues. Obviously, LEED should be a means, not an end. With regard to old buildings, DC Council could adopt an ordinance that works within the framework of LEED-EB standards; that would address the issue of old buildings. If energy is the concern, Council could help fund solar panels or subsidize the renewable energy infrastructure. BUT, at least the current ordinance is a step in the right general direction--it will motivate the big developers.

On the USCM thing, I'm not highly informed on that, but it seems very focused on energy usage. But what about water conservation, environmental impact, and indoor air quality (not mentioned in the USCM resolution). These are all issues that the LEED standards address.


Posted by: Preston on 16 Dec 06

Thanks for your insights, Daniel. I earn my bread designing "green" buildings. I've learned from experience that doing so requires both collaboration and competition. It's virtually impossible to achieve a truly high-performance building without a collaborative process of development, design, engineering, construction, commissioning and maintenance. But we also need a healthy competition, in the sense of trying to do better than the last great building. Because we don't yet know how to make buildings that are truly sustainable - we have a long way to go to reach that goal. So, we need to collaborate so we can try to surpass our best existing achievements.


Posted by: David Foley on 16 Dec 06

As far as the competetive thing goes in regards to sustainability. Isn't there an aspect in sustainability of everyone wins?


Posted by: Martin Walsh on 18 Dec 06



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