Magazine article Partners in Community and Economic Development , Vol. 19, No. 2
Local, national and global policy concerns are pressing us to ask hard questions: Are we serious enough about energy and water efficiency in our homes and businesses? Are we making communities that rely too heavily on the automobile? Are we providing enough housing choices? Are we being good stewards of our natural resources? Are we making development decisions that support the health and welfare of all Americans?
In discussions across the country these and other concerns are prompting more extensive exploration of green development and green building practices. As a result, "green" is becoming more than just an admirable concept. Increasingly, businesses, governments, builders, consumers and financial institutions are making green development part of the mainstream agenda.
Today, several issues are converging that fundamentally challenge the way we have been making places for the past fifty or more years. They include energy and resource consumption, environmental pollution and climate change, and the real estate market.
1 Energy and Resource Consumption
Every day we hear about the volatility of oil prices and the importance of energy independence. According to the federal Energy Information Administration, heating oil prices rose from just 89 cents per gallon in 2000 to over $3 in 2008. Even though energy costs have fluctuated, forecasts suggest that prices for gasoline, natural gas and heating oil will continue to increase. And, repeatedly, global conflicts, policy decisions and natural disasters have created hiccups in our access to traditional sources of energy, causing rushes and price jumps. Green development reduces the consumption of energy, water and virgin natural resources by eliminating inefficiencies, thereby creating buildings that are better able to weather price shocks.
2 Climate Change and Environmental Pollution
Reliance on fossil fuels for energy is prompting serious discussions. Consumption of fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide, which has demonstrated negative consequences for human health and the environment. Carbon dioxide drives the rise in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) that are precursors to climate change--currently the subject of local, national and international debate and agreements. Consensus is growing among scientists, policy makers and business leaders that action is needed to stem rising GHG emissions and forestall climate change. The rising sea levels, increased intensity of weather events and changing patterns of precipitation associated with climate change all have tremendous implications for human health, the natural environment and the economy.
These issues are causing federal policy makers to consider mandatory limits on GHG emissions and a cap-and-trade system to meet goals. According to a report from Ernst & Young, "It is not a question of 'if' but 'when' new legislation will bite--and the when is likely to be within the next five years." (1)
3 The Real Estate Market
The volatility of energy and utility costs is adding further stress to the bottom line as homeowners and businesses cope with repercussions from the troubled real estate market. Over the last few years the housing market has turned sharply. As of August 2009, average home prices were down approximately 30 percent from their peak in 2006, according to S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index. Furthermore, mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures have risen sharply throughout the country, with especially high concentrations in several metropolitan areas. According to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), foreclosure rates have been noticeably higher over the last decade than at any time in the past 50 years. The commercial real estate sector is experiencing the spillover effects as consumers have fewer discretionary dollars to spend.
Taken together, energy consumption, climate change and the foundering real estate market signal that "business as usual" may not be the mantra for new development in the coming years. …