Businesses and local governments are learning that green development makes sense. It is rational. However, there are times that requirements imposed by local governments with respect to green buildings appear arbitrary or irrational. For example, recently a local municipality wanted to impose a standard of LEED certification on a retail development that was in the planning stages. LEED certification is a national benchmark by the U.S. Green Building Council for the design, construction and operation of green buildings. However, the U.S. Green Building Council currently does not have a classification for LEED Certification specifically for retail. In another situation, a Central Florida county promised fast track permitting for a LEED certified office building but refused to approve plans for certain features that would help with LEED certification even though such features complied with its building codes. Headlines have highlighted Orlando and Orange County officials wrestling with the principles and costs of sustainable development being incorporated in the new downtown sports and arts venues. This is representative of the same dilemma facing developers and businesses across Central Florida as strained resources and environmental concerns move “green development” from a perceived left-leaning political stance to the mainstream forum of the business community.
The monetary benefits of green development are becoming better known. The topic no longer conjures up images of houses made out of bales of hay but modern developments housing Fortune 500 companies. Lower energy costs are part of the benefits. However, for most companies, less than twenty percent of their operating costs are attributed to utilities such as electricity and water. Instead, labor costs, including salaries and benefits, are the largest expense that most businesses incur. Studies are showing the health benefits of green buildings lead to lower absenteeism, better productivity and higher morale – all of which can boost a company’s bottom line.
Counties and cities across Central Florida are recognizing the benefits of green buildings as well. Sustainable development can lower the demand on utilities and infrastructure already pushed to capacity. It can result in lower energy and water consumption, less drainage runoff and the promotion of recycling and mass transit. As more local governments consider requiring sustainable design standards to be implemented for public and private development, it is important to remember that no matter how noble the benefits, the costs must also be considered. Just as the City of Orlando and Orange County are dealing with tight budgets in the development of the art center or new arena, small and large businesses face this reality every day.
Requirements for sustainable design should be rational – they should make sense. One size does not fit all. The green principles that could benefit a restaurant will be different from those benefiting a retail development which, in turn, would be different for an office building, a hotel or a residential high-rise. Such requirements cannot be applied unevenly or in a knee-jerk reaction. Municipalities should develop a comprehensive and rational policy which should encourage green development through guidelines, voluntary standards, education, promotion and incentives. Fast track permitting, lower application fees and impact fee rebates are some of benefits cities and counties can offer. The development and business communities should be an integral part of the process in the development of such policies. As local governments develop rational policies with respect to sustainable development, with adequate education of the business community and the provision of proper incentives, developers and businesses will buy into the process instead of resisting it.
Michael McNatt is the founder of the McNatt Law Firm, P.A. located in Orlando, Florida. Michael is a U.S. Green Building Council LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) and practices in the area of commercial real estate, finance and general business law.