The Present

1.  What is the state of green building today?

We’re about to “cross the chasm”. Crossing the Chasm is a book by Geoffrey Moore that describes how innovations get a toe-hold in the market and become mainstream.

Green building enthusiasts, up until this point, have been the innovators and the early adopters. According to Moore, the most difficult step in a technology becoming supported in general marketplace is the step from early adopters (visionaries) to the early majority (pragmatists). This difficult step is the ‘chasm’ that he refers to. We are seeing the market shift to the early majority phase of the lifecycle because of regulations, environmental concerns, a desire to reduce reliance on foreign energy, financial concerns from those who are affected by the recession, and a concern for the health of occupants.

2.  What currently exists that contributes to or is working toward long-term sustainability in design and construction?    (businesses, organizations, practices, codes, regulations, incentives, etc.)

USGBC: I am the Residential Green Building Advocate for the state of AZ. Basically what that means is that I head the efforts by the USGBC in AZ to advocate for green residences. We don’t simply focus on the LEED for Homes rating system, which is one of a few different rating systems for green homes in AZ. We believe that a rising tide lifts all boats and we would like to see all homes in AZ “go green”.  Currently, we are focusing on developing our own understanding of what the green building options are for homebuyers. We are doing a comparison study of the green building ratings systems in AZ so that we can effectively communicate to the public what their options are. We believe that well-informed homebuyers and homeowners can make good, green decisions that are best for them.

3.  What current practices, etc., are at-odds with respect to long-term sustainability in this area?

(This is what I’ve heard from my sources. I don’t have hard evidence so please take it with a grain of salt.)  I have heard that currently, funds are being appropriated at the state level (AZ Department of Commerce, Building Science and Energy Efficiency Office) for Arizona utilities to set up rebate programs for home owners to do energy efficiency upgrades. It seems that the business model is such that money given to the utility is only to be passed on to contractors (who may do the energy audit themselves) and not to independent energy auditors. Their view is that the money is better spent on fixing issues rather than diagnosing. The problem with this model is the conflict of interest that occurs. A contractor may not be an unbiased source of an energy audit of a building or home. The contractor has an interest in diagnosing more problem areas (or less in some cases) to keep business flowing. This isn’t stated in an effort to blame but rather as a means of creating awareness of a business model that may not serve consumers in the best possible way.

Another reason why this way of injecting money into the system may not be the best business model is that it seems to decrease the opportunities for green collar jobs in the state. Imagine this…if the ACC gave tax breaks to homeowners to get third-party energy audits, there would be aspiring entrepreneurs who would try to fill that demand by starting small energy auditing businesses. These businesses would generate more revenue for the state of AZ because of the inherent business registration fees and taxes paid by small businesses. AZ legislators are, in effect, giving up this opportunity to create revenue and create jobs for people by shuttling the money to existing contractors. True, the contractors may employ more people to fill the demand, but will the contractors be as effective in assisting home owners and will they be as effective in reaching lowered energy consumption goals? Maybe or maybe not. This is one example of a practice which is at-odds with the long-term sustainability of housing in AZ.

Tucson is the 32nd ranked US city in population but not ranked in the top 150 in population density per square mile. Tucson needs to foster desirable, livable urban areas that are pedestrian oriented, with mixed uses.  An important part of creating a walkable urban environment is a zoning code that fosters greater density.  We need to look at FAR (floor area ratio, the ratio of the total (gross) square footage of buildings compared to the square footage of an indicated land area), lot sizes, setbacks, building heights, parking ratios, mix of uses and housing types.

Also builders are using supposedly green materials that come from very far places and have extremely high embodiment of energy. These materials are not green. They do not take into consideration the high amount of energy put into them along the complete product lifecycle.

The Vision

(The preferred state where Tucson becomes sustainable.)

1.  What is the overall benefit in becoming sustainable with respect to green building?

Green, third-party verified, homes are safer, healthier, more comfortable and more durable.  More specifically, occupants of green buildings are not subjected to high levels of toxins and mold that often emitted into the air by standard construction materials. Safe, healthy air coupled with proper ventilation, also a hallmark of green buildings, are invaluable to occupant health. Secondly, a green building is synonymous with an energy efficient building. Energy efficiency not only decreases your energy bill but it also make the building more comfortable because of the minimization of over-cooling or over-heating. Comfort leads to higher productivity and increased general well-being and happiness. Finally, there are massive environmental benefits to building green. Perhaps the most obvious is that lower energy consumption and lower construction material usage leads directly to reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Lower water consumption also leads to lower greenhouse gas emission because of the amount of energy expended in each gallon of potable water that we use. The list of benefits could go on and on, but these are a few of the largest.

2.  What activities, businesses, and/or practices** don’t exist today in this area that can lead Tucson towards greater sustainability?   (**codes, regulations, incentives, collaborations, policies, functions, etc.)

Tax  breaks for third-party home energy audits

Grants to small-business owners for energy retrofitting

One area where a few minor changes could greatly increase green building, lower dependence on automobiles, and greater sustainability in Tucson is in the building codes. For example, the building codes as they now stand, create barriers to increasing density. For each residence, a certain number of parking spaces are required and cannot be place off of alleyways. This requires that more of the lot be used for parking and it decreases the density allowed on a lot. For a developer who sticks his/her neck out to make a profit with a large amount of risk, there is usually not enough of a return on the investment for this risk. So, the end result? They developers do not create “infill” projects.  They can’t. The risk is too high for the lower profits they can receive. If the code were such to allow higher densities and alleviate some of the restrictions on parking, infill would be more viable and we could potentially see our downtown rejuvenate.

Using local materials for building

Practical Steps

(What are the next actions toward the above goals that our working group on [Food, Transportation, etc.] can take towards the creation of a comprehensive sustainability plan for Tucson:

1.  Identify the organizations, businesses, etc. which are currently engaged in green building.

USGBC Southern AZ Branch

Residential Green Building Committee (USGBC sub-committee)

Pima County (Green Building Program and LEED for Homes Provider)

Watershed Management Group

Ewanski GBS (Green Building and Green Business Services)

International Dark Sky Organization (the lighting aspect)

2.  Identify the organizations, businesses, etc. who are engaged in construction practices that are not considered to be sustainable for our Tucson community.

I’d rather not comment here.

3.  Identify realistic projects and activities that the green building community could spearhead during the next few years.

Building code reviews and advocacy for codes which are not at odds with infill, density, walkable communities.

Demonstration projects: especially those using regional materials for construction

Partner with local entrepreneurs to increase innovation in rammed earth or straw bale design to decrease costs of production

Partern/work with the RGBC (Residential Green Building Council) where a lot of effort and action is taking place.

4.  How do these group projects and activities address the core problems Tucson is facing at present in terms of such sustainability areas as fossil fuel use, resource depletion, green jobs, and quality of life?

They are coordinating the efforts and discovering where advocacy efforts are best applied given finite time and human resources.

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