A few weeks ago, the EPA released its Sustainable Design and Green Building Toolkit for Local Governments.
The Toolkit was developed by EPA Region 4, and Green Building Law Blog (GBLB) was very excited to interview Karen Bandhauer, an Environmental Scientist at EPA Region 4 about the Toolkit.
is designed to assist local governments in identifying and removing permitting barriers to sustainable design and green building practices. It provides a resource for communities interested in conducting their own internal evaluation of how local codes/ordinances either facilitate or impede a sustainable built environment, including the design, construction, renovation, and operation and maintenance of a building and its immediate site.
The toolkit can be downloaded here.
GBLB: Why did you develop the Toolkit?
KB: The Toolkit was the result of a relationship between the EPA and Roswell, GA. The city approached EPA wanting to develop green, protect natural resources and provide resources for its residents. The Roswell representatives told us that there had been some innovative projects that came into their permitting pipeline, and had run into permitting problems because of green features. They realized they were creating barriers to projects that they wanted to have in their community. The asked us whether we could help them create some resources to help communities identify the barriers in their codes to developing green. Some funding became available through the internal EPA innovation work group, about $50,000 in seed money for innovative projects. This project was put forward as an innovation project in 2008 by Region 4. That got it started. The project ended up being a partnership with Smart Growth and Green Building at [EPA] headquarters.
GBLB: What does the Toolkit contain?
KB: The Toolkit has three parts: an assessment guide that allows users to tak a look at their codes and ordinances under the categories of the LEED process [sustainable sites , water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, indoor air quality, materials & resources]. The assessment tool identifies objective and rationale for each category, and then questions for communities to identify gaps in the current regulatory system, then a list of potential tools and techniques [for addressing those gaps].
There is also an assessment tool—green, yellow and red—to determine how well the community is promoting each practice. Green is where the tactic is either mandatory or incentivized, yellow is where the practice is typically allowed, and red is where the practice is hampered or prohibited [by the current regulations].
There is aslo a resource guide attached to each section which has tools, information and case studies. The resource guide has a compendium of policy tools, best practices and other materials. In some cases it might be an example of a community that has put in a model ordinance, it might be an example of a best management practice guide or a green roof technical specifications. It allows the user to get a good sensse of the existing information in the field without having to spend a lot of time searching around for it.
The last section is a guide for developing an action plan. We had not originally envisioned this section for the project, but the City of Roswell gave us feedback that they wanted advice on next steps. This is a step by step guide for changing the regulatory environment. It helps communities identify things they need to look for and address if they want to implement the changes to their regulations.
GBLB: What are some of the barriers that play out in communities?
KB: A lot are the ones you hear about, and some are community specific. One of the things that we heard about was barriers in the code to installing waterless urinals, reuse of greywater. Others were “unintended consequences”—some communities prohibit groundwater wells which prohibit geothermal. Or specific ordinances which require tree planting, but if there is a drought, there might be issues better addressed by native planting. Or street widths, which [were put in place for fire safety]but might matter in terms of building sustainable communities.
Other barriers are institutional or process oriented—specific to historical legacies like union involvement. We wanted to walk [communities]through from their environmental objective to how they could implement codes and ordinances to achieve those objectives. We tried to flip it—here’s the outcome you are trying to achieve, here are things that you can do through your permitting process to try and achieve them.
In no way is EPA trying to tell localities how to do their permitting process, but to give them resources to help them look at their codes and ordinances, and save some time and money in the process.
GBLB: Who is the intended audience?
KB: Local government officials, and it could also be useful for developers and other private entities who are looking to develop green projects. We hope it will provide a resource for communities to bring their codes and ordinances in line with sustainable policy efforts.
GBLB: What is the status of the Roswell project?
We have completed the pilot project, and they have provided excellent feedback.
In addition, we held a Lean Kaizan event in Roswell [to identify potential efficiencies]in their land disturbance permitting process. If they wanted to incentivize a specific thing, communities can identify process improvements, allowing them to provide incentives without taxing additional resources. Roswell is continuing to work on that. We are going to work with them over time to promote the project as well as improve it.
GBLB: Have they made any changes to their code yet?
KB: Not yet. Now that the Toolkit is done and the Lean project is done, we will see where they want to take it.