Minneapolis to institute environmentally friendly standards for city buildings

Charley Bruce

While leaves are turning red and yellow, Minneapolis is turning green.

The Minneapolis City Council voted in July to adopt Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards for all city buildings, and Mayor R.T. Rybak’s plan for the environment and energy would allocate money for this and other green-friendly initiatives.

Rybak first made his green initiatives announcement Sept. 28. The final budget proposal for the projects will be voted on in late November or December.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit that promotes environmentally friendly standards, a green building uses design and construction practices that significantly reduce the negative impact on the environment.

Paul Miller, a project manager in the Properties Service Division for Minneapolis, has worked to incorporate a variety of green features into his projects prior to implementing standards.

Miller said he began working with the City Council to establish environmental standards, which use a point system to gauge the environmental friendliness of a building.

These standards are based on five key elements: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

There is a sliding point scale to rank buildings and put them in categories such as platinum, gold and silver to describe their environmental friendliness. These must be proven to the U.S. Green Building Council to receive official Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design classification.

Miller said an ideal building will be long-lasting and use a lot of recycled materials.

The building will also be very energy efficient, he said.

As of 2002, there were 76 million residential and 5 million commercial buildings in the U.S.

These buildings drained 37 percent of the energy, 67 percent of electricity and 12 percent of fresh water supplies used in the United States, according to council officials.

Rick Carter, senior vice president of the architecture firm LHB and an independent consultant for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program in Minneapolis, said builders determine energy leakage in houses by pressurizing them with a powerful fan.

Builders construct a tight house as a way to be energy efficient, because less heat and cool air are lost, he said.

Miller also said one of the ways to increase energy efficiency is to add a “green roof.”

“A green roof is in effect, and in very simple terms, is a roof that’s been turned into a garden,” he said.

The roof traps rainwater, which normally goes into the city’s storm water system, and uses it to grow plants, he said. The green roof would mean lower operating costs for residents that pay for the storm water system.

It also reduces the heat of the summer sun on roofs and insulates them in the winter, he said.

Carter said Minneapolis officials will train staff to be accredited in the program, which involves passing a test.

Officials also want to see all building projects reach the silver level, but not go through the actual process, Carter said.

“Some people, and I respect this decision, say ‘let’s design our building to qualify for (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) but not spend the time or money to get an actual plaque,” he said.

The city also promised their next building will meet the gold standard, Carter said.

There are some costs associated with gaining each classification, but those are up-front costs that will be paid back with savings, Miller said.

Carter said it shouldn’t cost builders any more to follow the environmental guidelines, but getting officially certified could cost thousands more.

The higher a builder goes on the scale, the higher the cost, he said.

At a July 10 hearing, Minneapolis facilities manager Greg Geoke estimated a $10 million facility would increase up-front costs by 2 to 10 percent, which could reach $650,000 if the building was gold-certified.

But these up-front costs can be paid back in a short period of time, Carter said.

The University hasn’t implemented any of the standards, but officials say they do make energy-conscious decisions with campus buildings.

Mary Santori, assistant department director for Facilities Management’s Energy Management unit, said the University has recommissioned older buildings to ensure they are operating in the most energy-efficient way possible.

Santori said the University recently eliminated 250 kilowatts of electrical demand and about 22 million gallons of water use annually from the Academic Health Center.

The University has a $90 million budget just for energy, she said.

Tom Hilde, an architecture senior, said there are classes at the University completely devoted to the impact of architecture on the environment.

The University has a design-oriented architecture school, he said, and developing environmentally-sound buildings requires a lot work.

Hilde’s courses have taught him to use sunlight to heat buildings by facing the windows to the south.

He said he knows of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards but sees some problems with the standards because of its points system.

Some of the points to elevate environmental status aren’t based on good design, he said.

For example, there are points awarded for using recycled carpet, despite no carpet being more environmentally sound. So, if a builder doesn’t use carpet, he or she won’t get the points.

But Hilde still sees some redeeming qualities.

“Overall, it’s a good thing, because it encourages competition and sustainable design,” he said.