Sunday, December 21, 2008

How effective will Minnesota 2030 really be?

Back in May of this year Governor Pawlenty signed the bipartisan SF2706, or the Minnesota Sustainable Building 2030 law. The bill stipulates that all new and substantially renovated state funded buildings be designed and built to progressively reduce fossil fuel inputs and by 2030 be essentially carbon neutral. The Center for Sustainable Building Research at the University of Minnesota (CSBR) will shape the development of building performance standards and work with state agencies to come up with a plan for implementation. State Senator Yvonne Prettner Solon claims the new building guidelines will save Minnesota almost $300 million dollars by 2050, as for its origins;

"This proposal is an extension of a national initiative called the Architecture 2030 Challenge which is widely supported by architects, planners, professional organizations, and other states around the country."

The Architecture 2030 guidelines have also been adopted by New Mexico, California and Illinois as well as a handful of big cities around the country. The premise of the Architecture 2030 guidelines is that buildings account for almost 50% of the nation's energy use, so reducing the amount of energy that buildings consume most be our top priority. What are the Architecture 2030 guidelines?

  • All new buildings and major renovations shall reduce fossil fuel use by at least 50%.
  • An equal amount of existing building area shall be renovated annually to meet the 50% standard.
  • For all new buildings the percentage of fossil fuel reduction shall be increased to:
    • 60% in 2010
    • 70% in 2015
    • 80% in 2020
    • 90% in 2025

Those are ambitious goals, but they are also attainable goals.

The City of St. Paul is currently working with the CSBR to develop a green building policy for private projects that use city money with the anticipation that the private sector as a whole will eventually have to follow these guidelines. The problem with this sort of patch work approach is similar to what we saw with the smoking ban before its statewide implementation, some amount of private building will be moved to other cities that don't have the same requirements.

That leads to the main problem I have with the bill Minnesota passed, implementation of the 2030 goals by the private sector will be, for the time being, on a voluntary basis. Certainly if a thing is worth doing, than it is worth doing by all parties involved. Why should the private sector be exempt from these new building guidelines while the public sector dives right in?

With the economy in the state that it's in right now there is talk that some of these green initiatives will have to wait until better economic times before they are implemented. I would argue the opposite, that now is the perfect time to roll out a whole new set of nationwide building standards that extend to all sectors of the economy, even military. Why is now the right time?

For one thing there are a lot of newly unemployed construction industry people who could be retrained in designing and building using green techniques and then put back to work on green jobs. Also the construction companies who have survived are likely to be the most efficient and best run, these are the companies that we want to lead the green building revolution. But the most pressing reason is time. We don't have much more of it and if we don't begin to rapidly change our approach to a whole range of issues the coming environmental tsunami will destroy whatever is left of our economy anyway.

All of the big issues now facing us as a country and a state; energy, economy, infrastructure can be linked back to our unsustainable way of life. There has been a noticeable shift in the last few years towards the acceptance of green ways of thinking and acting by all sorts of diverse interests. We cannot let the current financial crisis derail that progress and instead must push to accelerate the process as a means to achieving economic security in the long term.

There are things we can all do and should all do, but there needs to be support for these efforts and by exempting the private sector from the same energy efficiency standards we are requiring of the public sector we are providing excuses for inaction.

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