Green Building Is For The Birds…Literally!

Green Building Is For The Birds...Literally! BLOG VIEW: Did you know that as many as 1 billion birds die every year from collisions with buildings in the U.S.? So what is the federal government doing to prevent this avian disaster? The answer: absolutely nothing, and that's because the private sector is taking its own initiative via the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

For those who are not familiar with the USGBC, it is a nonprofit trade organization that defines itself as being ‘committed to a prosperous and sustainable future for our nation through cost-efficient and energy-saving green buildings.’ The USGBC is the group responsible for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system that covers the design, construction and operation of 42,000 commercial green buildings.

Now here is the most wonderful aspect of the USBGC's work: The LEED program is strictly a voluntary endeavor. There is no federal government mandate requiring participation in the LEED program. The USGBC currently boasts 78 local affiliates, nearly 16,000 member companies and organizations, as well as more than 170,000 LEED professional credential holders. It is clearly one of the most significant positive achievements of the commercial real estate industry.

So where do the birds fit in? Well, it seems that the American Bird Conservancy and the Bird-Safe Glass Foundation had pressed the USGBC to consider the inclusion of bird protection in the green commercial building process. For its part, the USGBC agrees that avian safety is part of the green building mission.

‘Because birds do not perceive conventionally formulated glass as a solid barrier, they fly into it,’ the USGBC said in a press statement. ‘They may mistake reflections as continuous space and [become] attracted to trees or other objects in, or visible through, a glassed-in space.’

For its part, the USGBC is testing a new program called ‘Bird Collision Deterrence,’ which would provide LEED credit based on design considerations relating to birds in flight. The guidelines for this program would place a new emphasis on creating ‘visual noise’ patterns that birds can hear, along with enhancements in the ultraviolet reflectivity, color, texture and/or opacity of the glass used in commercial buildings.

‘The design guidelines are largely an appeal to enlightened self-interest, saving birds while reaping the financial benefits of green building,’ the USGBC adds.

Through this new endeavor, as well as its ongoing LEED program and other green building projects, the USGBC is proving that the private sector is more than capable of leading the way in encouraging energy efficiency and sustainability. Compare their success to the painful stupidity at the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which last year went out of its way to shut down the nation's energy retrofit loan programs, specifically those designated as Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE).

The FHFA claimed that these programs posed safety and soundness concerns for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks, because the first liens established by PACE loans generated significant risk-management challenges for lenders, servicers and securities investors – though, oddly, that opinion was never publicly expressed by the lenders, servicers and investors. Rather than offer a solution to the problem, the FHFA simply decided to remove the PACE loans from the equation. Perhaps the FHFA figured out that any cost savings generated by eliminating the PACE program participation could be funneled into the pockets of the CEOs at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

But, then again, has this administration ever been truly serious about green issues? All of the grand talk in the 2008 campaign about a new wave of green jobs turned out to be nothing but grand talk – the great wave of much-desired jobs never materialized. And this administration's idea of improving the nation's renewable energy capacity involves channeling nearly half-a-billion dollars in taxpayer funds to the sketchy characters at Solyndra – which, not coincidentally, were major contributors to the 2008 Obama presidential campaign.

If the government were to take the lead in terms of bird collisions into buildings, we'd either see one of three possible scenarios: a moratorium on building construction, a decades-long federal study on the subject (most likely conducted by companies with deep-pocketed connections to the administration or key members of Congress), or the extinction of every known flying bird species in North America.

Mercifully, the private sector stepped up to the plate and created significant results while the federal government fell on its face again. The commercial real estate industry – and, for that matter, the wider nation – should be grateful that the USGBC has taken the leadership role when it comes to encouraging green building practices and standards in this country.

– Phil Hall, editor, Secondary Marketing Executive

(Please address all comments regarding this opinion column to hallp@sme-online.com.)

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