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Buffalo must act to encourage green building

The spate of building projects proposed and under way in Buffalo offers the city an extraordinary opportunity to lead the way in promoting sustainable development practices.

Policies designed to encourage sustainable development, commonly called green building, respond to the impact buildings have on the environment, requiring developers to integrate environmentally friendly features into both new construction and historic restorations. As citizens, we deserve to live and work in buildings that will protect our health. But we also must ensure that the structures we build preserve the environment for future generations.

Buffalo has several tools at its disposal for use in developing a green building policy. First, the city should provide financial incentives. New York State is providing $25 million in tax credits through 2009 to promote green building. Buffalo should augment that with its own property tax credits.

Second, the city should reform its building codes. The U.S. Green Building Council developed a set of green building standards that state and local governments can use as a starting point for revising their building codes.

Third, the city should require that municipal projects be designed in compliance with the U.S. Green Building Council's green building standards. Several cities, including New York, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle and San Francisco, require that city-funded projects seek green building certification through the U.S. Green Building Council.

Fourth, the city should educate developers and the public on the benefits of green building. Education could take the form of a Web site, print materials, a lecture series, or continuing education classes. The city could also partner with UB's Green Office, which has organized green building conferences throughout the area and maintains an environmental library.

A green building policy has many benefits. First, green offices reduce employee absenteeism and raise productivity. A Massachusetts study indicated productivity gains of up to 7.1 percent annually from improved indoor air quality. Second, green building saves money through reduced energy costs. A California report estimated savings of up to $75 per square foot over 20 years.

While it is incumbent upon Buffalo lawmakers to advance green building, local nonprofits and citizens should also adopt sustainable practices. Nonprofits that are considering constructing new facilities should seek out grants to explore green building from organizations like the Kresge Foundation. Citizens remodeling their homes should purchase Energy Star qualified products.

As new structures rise and reshape Buffalo's urban landscape, lawmakers and citizens should work together to make certain that sustainable development practices are utilized. It's our shared responsibility.

Scott J. Anchin's article on implementing green building as public policy recently appeared in the Environmental Law Reporter News & Analysis journal.

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