lessons learned, the sequel, redux: the day after the development boom

Yesterday, I “republished” my first piece in seattle pi.com, below. Here is the companion piece which followed on April 30, which asked the still prevalent question of “who pays” for sustainable practices going forward.

Lessons Learned from the Development Boom” (April 21 seattlepi.com, reproduced below) warned of potential disincentives for sustainable development in the new economy. The article advocated for further and careful coordination of the silos of design, regulation and finance to avoid oversimplification, unfunded hyperbole and excessive cost.

The first responsive comment embraced cost, and emphasized that well-meaning regulations could make desired development untenable, especially in our current economic circumstances. After all, it is in this “cost trench” that the battle of sustainability will be fought–who will pay, and in what form–will determine the success of urban redevelopment at the “cutting edge”.

As lawyers, we are relearning how to be advocates and for what result, as the public benefit/private burden equation recalibrates. Will our clients benefit from demand management assessments, from “greenwashing” at the regional or building-specific level, from voluntary compliance or incentives, from mitigation or subsidies which reward optimization of transportation and land use, tax or fee rebates, less parking, retrofitting existing or building new? Once the rail line is there, how will reduction of vehicle miles traveled and quality development of surrounding areas be assured and at what densities?

The range of creative thought on sustainability and related topics is unprecedented. The dialogue is rich, and ranges from implemented to visionary, glib to insightful. New icons such as Alex Steffen catalogue and itemize the elements of a changing world. Easy regulatory references include Seattle’s 2006 density bonus incentive for LEED silver rated projects (with affordable housing contributions), similar programs in, e.g., Arlington, Virginia and pending efforts in King County and statewide to implement measures to mitigate greenhouse gas impacts under the State Environmental Policy Act (perhaps ironically, the economy and political climate have delayed Department of Ecology efforts to formalize guidance to counties and cities). A recent Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development Report to the Legislature showed the range of potential amendments to the Growth Management Act to address climate change.

Meanwhile, in the cost trench, multiple studies debate the cost of green. The PI.com cited recent American efforts on April 14. A comparative British CBRE study, “Who Pays for Green?” examines green as “the latest trendy must” and prices LEED certification, other rating systems, and the price of a carbon-neutral building, while noting that at some point, the trend will prevail based on a longer-term commercial logic and environmental desirability.

As author Auden Schendler has noted, “Getting Green Done” is no easy task and the trench warfare has and will occur far beyond the “101 level” where we often dwell. His new book purposely takes on simple greenwashing and, among many tales of “wrong turns”, casts today’s green building certification processes as something good but not end-all, a necessary step towards figuring out true energy efficiencies.

In the end, the first responsive commenter on April 21st appeared in the key trench, where costs will be allocated and success will be measured. For all of the debate and creative thought, we still know relatively little about the cost of sustainability, and who will pay. But change is rapid and readily apparent. I did not read Schendler’s book on paper, but in its Amazon Kindle edition, downloaded on an iPhone at the Starbuck’s at 6th and Union.

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