Nation's Capital Requires Developers to Go Green

Washington, D.C., will become the first major city to require that private developers build "green," or environmentally friendly, buildings. The new structures will have features such as green roofs, natural light, fume-free carpets and paint, low-flow water fixtures, even no-flush urinals that use a chemical trap instead of water. The new stadium for the Washington Nationals is expected to be the first stadium in the nation certified by the Green Building Council.

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Washington DC has stepped into the vanguard of a movement that's gaining momentum across the country: green building. Many new buildings now being constructed for governments and institutions are environmentally friendly, but only one in 20 commercial buildings fall in that category.

NPR's Kathleen Schalch reports now that Washington DC is set to become the first major U.S. city to require private construction projects to be certified green.

KATHLEEN SCHALCH: The new headquarters of the National Association of Realtors offers panoramic views of the nation's capital and a glimpse of what many buildings may be like in the future.

Mr. JOE MOLINARIO: We have waterless urinals.

SCHALCH: Joe Molinario pushes open the door to the men's bathroom.

Mr. MOLINARIO: And it worked by having an oil filled canister in the drain. And the oil itself forms a vapor barrier that stops the fumes from coming up from the waste pipe.

SCHALCH: The building materials are also green, Hugh Morris says they don't give off noxious fumes. And -

Mr. HUGH MORRIS: The carpet we're standing on is made from recycled material. And in fact once this particular first layer of carpet gets worn out the manufacturer will come back scoop it up and take it back to the factory and recycle it into new carpet.

SCHALCH: Both Morris and Molanero(ph) also like the work spaces. There are mostly lit by the sun through energy efficient floor to ceiling windows. There are electric lights to but -

Mr. MORRIS: Each light fixture in the ceiling has an individual censor that measures the daylight coming through the window, and adjusts the light accordingly. So when more daylight is coming in, it dims the light fixture and that's one way we have of saving energy in the building.

SCHALCH: Washington's new law means new municipal buildings will have to be at least as environmentally friendly as this one starting next year.

Most new federal buildings already have to be. And by 2012 all large private commercial projects will have to be certified as green too. City council member Phil Mendelson says the new law passed easily.

Mr. PHIL MENDELSON (City Council Member): The only real debate on the council was over when it wasn't whether to do it.

SCHALCH: Getting certified can be a hassle says, Charles Barber, president of the D.C. Building Industry Association. But he says environmental sensitivity can also be good business.

Mr. CHARLES BARBER (D.C. Building Industry Association): It is becoming more of the status quote in terms of how modern buildings are built. Many of these elements are becoming simply best practices.

SCHALCH: The National Certification Program is flexible it has a menu of options including locating near public transit, putting a green roof on to absorb water and sunlight, even installing bike racks and showers.

Joel Malanero of the National Association of Realtors says his buildings green features added two to three percent to construction cost.

Mr. MALNERO: Some of these features we estimate that we will achieve enough savings within three or four years to pay for the green features that we built into the building.

SCHALCH: But studies have certified green buildings claim the biggest savings may come from better worker morale, health and productivity. Cliff Nerjerserk(ph) and Energy Efficiency Researcher who helped write these (unintelligible) new law, says these studies are attracting attention.

Mr. CLIFF NERJERSERK (Energy Efficiency Researcher): The political environment has completely changed. Cities across the country are racing against each other to be greener.

SCHALCH: More than 600 projects nationally are now certified as green. Nearly 5,000 more are lining up to be. And Nerjerserk says this really could make a difference to the environment.

Mr. NERJERSERK: Buildings are the number one source of greenhouse gases.

SCHALCH: And the Department of Energy has found that a well designed green building can cost only a little more than a regular one and still cut energy use and pollution in half.

Kathleen Schalch, NPR News Washington.

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