Texas: A Case Study for the Importance of LEED Green Building Standards
By Jason Cole, LEED AP for Bob Moore Construction
It is no secret that America is one of the biggest consumer nations on the planet. Not only does the US consume massive amounts of energy, it also wastes energy and the resources needed to make it. The need to advance our nation’s technology is here and now. But in the interest of narrowing this perspective, perhaps it would suffice to focus on just one state.
The state of Texas, known for oil, cowboys, open spaces, and a massive carbon footprint, is the perfect fit. There is a need for sustainable practices. Where there is a need, there is also a market with huge potential for profits.
According to the February 28, 2008 article by Mathew Philips titled “The CO2 State” on Newsweek.com, if Texas were its own nation, it would be the 48th most populous in the world. It also stated Texas would be the eighth largest emitter of carbon dioxide, the main contributor to greenhouse gases. Studies by the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration concluded that in 2005, Texas contributed 630 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s more carbon emissions than California and Pennsylvania combined, with the 2nd and 3rd highest CO2 outputs respectively.
Philips went on to recognize the circumstances that contribute to such statistics. Circumstances such as urban sprawl, lack of heavily used public transit systems, and the fact that one in four Texans drives a pickup truck or large gas guzzling SUV. This isn’t hard to imagine in a state that coined the phrase, “Everything is bigger in Texas…” and the study by the U.S. EIA certainly proves that.
Other contributors are the many refineries and coal-fired power plants located within Texas’ borders. Texas is perceived as one of the biggest domestic markets in fossil fuels, and for good reason. There are currently 18 coal-fired power plants with an additional three slated for construction. This is a smaller figure than the 11 plants originally planned by Dallas based energy company TXU.
The Newsweek.com article also pointed out that Texas cities and local governments stepped in when TXU and Gov. Rick Perry attempted to fast track the permitting process for construction of the 11 coal-fired power plants, thus limiting the number to just three. The actions taken by these cities could be viewed by some as a wet blanket to Texas’ big businesses, slowing the local economy by limiting one of the major industries this state is known for. Others may argue that this really opened the market up to new technologies and services geared at eco-friendly practices. Jim Marston, regional director of the Texas office of the Environmental Defense Fund was quoted in Philip’s article as saying, “The business community here sees that a lot of green investment is flowing into California because they’ve created a market for it, but Texas actually has more potential than any other state to profit from green technologies.”
There is no questioning the existence of ongoing debate surrounding the idea that depleting natural resources and carbon emissions may or may not eventually have an impact on our climate. Despite the polarizing effects these issues have amongst political alliances, there is now reason to believe that green business practices could very well be the next big thing in Texas. This especially holds true in the construction industry.
If the word green and Texas are used in a conversation, the state’s capital Austin often comes to mind, and rightfully so. Austin has implemented several earth friendly policies and is known for modern design and artistic flare, however, there is another city making tremendous strides toward eco-friendliness. In fact, the City of Dallas has recently passed a comprehensive plan that would mandate all commercial and residential buildings to incorporate green building practices. In addition, all private and public buildings over 10,000 sqft are to be constructed to LEED silver standards. This would make Dallas one of the first major cities in America to adopt such a policy.
While this is a big step forward, the need and the ability to ‘green’ big boxes, have been viewed as a little less necessary and costly. Many interested in all things green have undoubtedly come across several individuals and groups that view LEED as a complex set of guidelines. It isn’t hard to understand why after flipping through the LEED reference manuals. They are big, wordy, and full of parameters and equations. For those who have read them in their entirety, most would not claim them as an easy read.
Despite the lack of entertainment value LEED reference manuals possess, like almost any other instruction manual or academic book there is valuable information within them. As organizations and politics continue to press the issues revolving around climate change and as long as commercials, TV shows, celebrities, and publications tout how environmentally responsible they are, the masses will follow. It should be no surprise that where the masses go, so do awareness and political hopefuls at all levels hoping to capture their respective constituents.
In the upcoming presidential election, the ‘energy crisis’ sits in center stage. While there are certainly other issues on that stage that collectively affect our nation’s economy, alternative fuels and various other means of creating energy for the next generation are significant factors in such a huge equation. No one can deny this notion and it is because of this that LEED reference manual may just be a guide to continued profits in the construction industry.