Environmental Corner: Focus on Green Buildings

July 2008 In The Zone

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With the recent opening of the stunning Comcast Center and the swearing in of a new mayor in Philadelphia, the southeast Pennsylvania area has become more focused on green buildings than ever before. Both events have lead to a higher profile for sustainable development than at any time in the past.

During his campaign for mayor, Michael Nutter promised to make Philadelphia a center for green growth. Fox Rothschild recently sponsored a study by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council entitled “Roadblocks to Sustainable Development in Philadelphia.” The report made several suggestions on how to make building green not just a possibility, but more desirable.

Mayor Nutter accepted the report and quickly acted on one of the major recommendations. He appointed Mark Alan Hughes as Philadelphia’s first-ever Director of Sustainability. Mr. Hughes was previously a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. He has been tasked with following up on other recommendations of the study, including the recommendation that codes be modified and that LEED projects receive expedited treatment at the City level.

The Comcast Center at JFK and 17th in Center City Philadelphia is now the largest office building in Pennsylvania. It is home to Comcast and has registered for consideration as a LEED certified building.

Studies show the profitability of LEED certification in that:

  1. sustainable design and LEED certification contribute to market acceptance of higher rent
  2. LEED accelerates the time to market and expedites the permitting process
  3. green features help attract capital
  4. sustainable design increases property values

It is important to remember that LEED certification is not guaranteed for any owner, contractor, or architect. Careful consideration must be given in contracting, as LEED certification is granted by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). The USGBC uses a point system that involves some discretion in awarding points.

A number of cities, including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New York are offering incentives for LEED certification. Often, penalties for failing to achieve those certifications are mandated. Increasing incorporation of awards and penalties could become significant contract issues as more and more incentives are given. Just contracting to obtain these certifications is not enough, especially when a third party is giving the certification. Careful consideration is needed of contract and insurance issues to successfully navigate the maze of green building.

Given the complexities of these issues, architects and owners should contact their legal advisors to discuss maximizing their benefits in green building, the levels of certification, and how to modify contracts to account for the interests of the parties.

For more information about this issue, contact Phil Hinerman at 215.299.2066 or [email protected].