Menino gives the green light
Mayor to require new public buildings as well as encourage private projects to be environmentally friendly
Mayor Thomas M. Menino will require all new city government buildings to be "green" and will begin to push large private projects to be environmentally friendly as well.
Trying to catch up with cities such as Seattle and Chicago, Boston officials are setting new rules and making promises they say will create a national model of urban environmental efficiency.
More than a year ago, Menino created a Green Building Task Force, which has just issued its findings, calling for new building standards for major projects, training for city employees in green policies, and incentives for firms that adopt pro-environment strategies, such as working with utilities to improve air quality.
"This report did put out a very high achievable standard for the city," said Mark Maloney, director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. "But it was a consensus built from the real estate and environmental communities, and from residential and commercial developers."
The 22-person panel found that buildings consume about 40 percent of all energy used in the nation, and the construction industry is the source of about 40 percent of the material in US landfills.
The report suggested developing public awareness programs to encourage construction of efficient buildings, such as the George Robert White Environmental Conservation Center in Mattapan, Boston's first green municipal building, and Manulife Financial Corp.'s US headquarters in South Boston, the largest and most recent structure built in the city with state-of-the-industry energy-saving technology.
The report recommended that legislation be filed to create state and federal tax credits for developers of green buildings, and said city officials would be expediting approvals of developments that incorporate energy-saving measures such as solar panels. The panel also suggested adopting a high-profile campaign to promote green residential projects.
Companies are taking note.
The Red Sox, for instance, will be recycling materials in future construction projects, chief executive Larry Lucchino said. And Keyspan, which supplies natural gas to customers in the Northeast, pledged $250,000 for grants to businesses and individual customers planning to take energy-saving measures, chief executive Robert B. Catell said.
"More important than that is bringing our expertise," Catell said. "We can provide advice, counsel, and engineering support to help people in design or retrofitting of buildings to help them be cleaner or greener."
Boston has already given out two grants of about $20,000 each to promote green building, under a program funded by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. Third Sector New England, developing an office center for nonprofit organizations, and the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation, which is building a community center on Bowdoin Street, each won the money to help pay some of the additional up-front cost of incorporating energy efficiencies, which are expected to save the organizations dollars in the long term. The awards were made in August at the Artists for Humanity EpiCenter in South Boston, itself a recently opened green building.
Although the points made in the mayor's task force report are recommendations, Maloney said they have all been agreed to by the Menino administration.
The task force acknowledged there are obstacles to using green-building techniques -- notably initial cost. It also cited traditional ways of designing, planning, and constructing buildings, in which the different professional teams work separately, without the coordination needed to incorporate energy-efficient techniques.
"Too often, when a developer or builder sets out to construct a green building, many of the preferred building products come at a cost premium or are not reasonably available," the report said.
But the report cited a number of successful projects, including Erie Ellington Homes, a wood-frame Dorchester housing development built at a cost of $97 per square foot, or about 25 percent below the average for the area.
Compared to a typical home built under state codes, those homes used 42 percent less space-heating energy, 27 percent less water-heating energy, 40 percent less water, and 59 percent less electricity after 1 years of operation, the report said.
At the Maverick Gardens housing development in East Boston, the Boston Housing Authority expects to save $100,000 a year in energy costs through the use of solar panels, on-site power generation, fiberglass windows, and energy-saving lighting and motors.
Maloney said public buildings in the city would seek the equivalent of a Silver rating -- third from the highest -- under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design system created by the nonprofit US Green Building Council.
Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.