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Statewide Sustainability Initiative to Launch Nov. 28 As Municipalities Take the Lead

THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN CONNECTICUT BY THE NUMBERS ON 11/19/2017.

With momentum to accelerate sustainability practices in Connecticut,  local and regional representatives from Connecticut’s 169 towns and cities, along with key agencies and businesses, have spent the past year developing Sustainable CT.  The new statewide initiative will be formally launched at the end of this month with expectations of influencing sustainability practices across the state.

Meeting for much of the past year, an Advisory Committee, consisting of state and municipal leaders , developed the initiative and adopted the overarching concept, “Sustainable CT communities strive to be thriving, resilient, collaborative and forward-looking.  They build community and local economy.  They equitably promote the health and well-being of current and future residents.  And they respect the finite capacity of the natural environment.”

Created by towns and for towns, Sustainable CT aims to be a voluntary certification program to recognize Connecticut municipalities for making their communities more vibrant, resilient and livable. It includes approximately 55 best practices along with opportunities for grant funding. Towns may choose which actions they will implement to achieve differing certification levels. The program is designed to support all Connecticut municipalities, regardless of size, geography or resources.

Organizers say that sustainability actions, policies, and investments deliver multiple benefits and help towns make efficient use of scarce resources and engage a wide cross section of residents and businesses. The official launch of Sustainable CT will occur at the Annual Convention of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities on November 28.

“Sustainable CT will foster creative thinking and problem solving within and between municipalities.  It will be the tool communities can use to bring together seemingly divergent stakeholders for the common goal of sustainability,” said Laura Francis, First Selectwoman, Durham, and Vice-Chair of the Advisory Group.

Officials indicate that all of Connecticut’s 169 towns and cities have been represented in Sustainable CT’s development in some way, either by directly by a municipal official or staff person, by a highly engaged local volunteer, or by a regional entity charged with representing member municipalities.

The Sustainable CT framework includes:

  • Sustainable CT is a roadmap of voluntary actions that will help municipalities be more sustainable.
  • Resources and support, including funding, help local communities apply the actions that fit them best.
  • The Sustainable CT Certification publicly recognizes municipalities for their sustainability achievements.
  • Sustainable CT is flexible. Any Connecticut municipality can find ways to become more sustainable – urban or rural, big or small, coastal or inland.

Municipal leaders and residents from across the state, the Connecticut Economic Resource Center (CERC), Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) and others from key agencies, non-profits and businesses all partnered to help create the program. Burlington First Selectman Ted Shafer chaired the effort.  A CCM Task Force on Sustainability, which included 15 mayors, first selectmen, and municipal officials, assisted the Advisory Committee.

CERC’s Courtney Hendricson, Vice President of Municipal Services, served on the Local Economies Working Group, chaired by Patrick Carleton, Deputy Director of the Metropolitan Council of Governments, and Thomas Madden, Director of Economic Development in Stamford. The working group helped to define actions municipalities can take to create or enhance economic development that fosters energy-efficient and clean-powered commercial and industrial buildings, supports local products and businesses, increases local jobs and revenues and promotes environmental and community well-being.

The Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University coordinated the initiative. Support was provided by a funding collaborative composed of the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation (EHTF), Hampshire Foundation and Common Sense Fund.  Advisory Board members included, in addition to Shafer and Francis, Carl Amento, David Fink, Bryan Garcia, Emily Gordon, Donna Hamzy, Scott Jackson, John Kibbee, Rob Klee, Kurt Miller, Kristina Newman-Scott, Christine Schilke and Christina Smith.

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Rethinking Construction Design and Finance For Climate Resilience

By Wayne Cobleigh


 

THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN REVITALIZATION NEWS - NOVEMBER 15, 2017

Reconstructing our built environment requires that we rethink what we construct and where, as well as how we design, insure and finance projects, to reduce the potential for costly consequences due to catastrophic loss of life and property resulting from climate change and extreme weather.

Industry-leading architects and engineers in private practice and within the U.S. government are now changing their conceptual planning and design approach to incorporate systems analysis, statistics and probability, and Risk-Informed Decision Making. Understanding the potential for, and likelihood of, loss (including the impact to property and casualty insurance costs), is emerging as a new standard of care in the design profession.

My company, GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc., has been in business since 1964 and provides geotechnical, environmental, water, ecological, and construction management services to a wide array of private and public clients. We employ about 650 engineers, scientists, construction managers, and support staff in 27 offices located throughout the New England, Mid-Atlantic, Appalachian, and Great Lakes Regions of the U.S. We have been proactively and aggressively innovating to help our clients prepare for and manage risks due to the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events.

Resilience is a Wise Investment

At a macro level, towns, cities, counties, and states are, for the most part, only beginning to address the need for innovative financing methods to encourage community resilience in areas vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, sea level rise, and flooding.

“Living shoreline” with flood barrier designed by GZA for Long Wharf District of New Haven provides flood protection & recreation.  (Rendering: Utile Inc., Boston MA)

Simply put… How can we make sure that the social and economic value of investing in resilience – for its own benefits and for loss avoidance is recognized and measured? What can make proactively investing in resilience before the next storm pay back for the vulnerable populations?

GZA has been closely involved with one such major effort, with the State of Connecticut, that I recently described in a paper co-authored with colleagues in Sea Grant Law & Policy Journal.

Connecticut experienced significant loss from the October 2012 Superstorm Sandy and has proposed and launched new finance mechanisms including several low-interest, affordable, state-run resilience loan and financing programs.

GZA uses modeling linked to GoogleEarth 3D to advise urban clients on potential impacts of sea level rise & storm surge.

Examples include Shore Up Connecticut, the Connecticut Clean Water Fund, and a grant and loan program to support construction of community “microgrids” that provide backup power to public safety buildings and community shelters during severe weather.

During 2015, Connecticut approved a model for “tax increment financing (TIF) districts” that allow communities to finance economic development projects with bonds repaid by the increased tax revenues levied on improved properties. We have seen significant interest in using environmental and social impact performance bonds, green bonds and TIFs for resilience-improving projects, on the theory that in some cases, this approach may ensure the continued existence, and municipal property tax base stability, of valuable properties that otherwise could be destroyed by the next Sandy.

Another approach that GZA is helping refine and build support for is called Property Assessed Resilience financing, or PAR. This program combines loans for residential resilience retrofits with an assurance of reduced future insurance premiums on properties made more climate-resilient, with loans tied to the property, not its current owner, so the loans are fully transferable when the home is sold.

What’s especially exciting about PAR is that it offers no fewer than six different identifiable, measurable public benefit streams:

  • Reduced future public expenditures on disaster recovery;
  • Preserving or increasing homeowner equity in a more climate-resilient home;
  • Lower future flood-insurance premiums for land owners;
  • A more stable property-tax base that benefits the municipality;
  • Improved likelihood homeowners can repay their mortgage after a natural disaster;
  • An improved Community Rating System (CRS) insurance score in FEMA approved CRS communities that potentially lowers flood insurance premiums for all the residents of a CRS city or town offering PAR loans.

Changing Standards of Practice

On a more micro level, an engineer working on an infrastructure project adjacent to a river or coastline before 2014 would have typically relied upon a FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) to determine whether the structure was vulnerable to flooding.

In addition, there would likely not have been any building code requirements to address acceptable flood hazard risk levels or flood resistant construction requirements. This “FEMA map look-up” approach, still in use today, is an ineffective standard of practice for several reasons.

Westport, CT had GZA study their stormwater infrastructure, watersheds & floodplains to assess vulnerability of 3000 properties, inc. most of downtown. Photo credit: Westport Now

First, there is a general lack of understanding on the part of engineers and owners as to the fundamental intent, purpose and proper use of FEMA FIRMs. FEMA FIRMs are principally developed for use in establishing flood risk and insurance premiums under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

They define the current flood risk associated with a 1/100 chance of being met or exceeded in any given year (referred to as the FEMA Base Flood Elevation, aka the 1% flood, aka the 100-yr return period flood). The FEMA Base Flood may not be the appropriate level of risk to be considered for design based on the critical public safety function of the structure (e.g., bridges are designed to a 1/1000 chance earthquake).

Further, FEMA FIRMs do not consider the effects of climate change, such as increased intense precipitation or sea level rise, which will increase the flood elevation levels associated with specific probabilities and likelihood of occurrence. Lastly, the FEMA Base Flood Elevation is an annual exceedance probability.

The risk is cumulative, not static, over life of the structure. For example, the FEMA Base Flood (which has an annual exceedance probability of 1%) has about a 25% chance of occurring at least once over a 30-year mortgage period.

After floods damaged property & transit infra-structure along the Muddy River between Boston & Brookline, MA, GZA helped the removal of two culverts and the restoring & daylighting of the river channel comply with USACE permitting. Watch project video.

So, as demonstrated in recent years in Texas, the actual risk of flooding has been both misunderstood and underestimated in land use permitting, approving investments flood control infrastructure, policy making, engineering and design.

And climate change is increasing the frequency of so-called “100-year return period flood”. The consequences are loss of life, significant financial loss and disruption of business.

Extreme weather disasters currently cause over $1 billion in damage in the United States roughly every three weeks on average.

Risk-Informed Decision Making

Engineers, architects and contractors now must consider both risk and uncertainty and realize that extreme weather events will occur with increasing frequency, intensity and cost. In response our profession must include measures to mitigate this climate-related risk. Planning, designing, engineering, financing, insuring and operationally and financially managing this residual risk will result in a new “risk-informed” standard of care in our profession.

Stratford CT retained GZA to develop a Community Resiliency Plan after Superstorm Sandy. Mapping of hazard layers using GZA GeoTool™ depicts inundation for flooding probabilities.

This changing standard of practice includes a process of Risk-Informed Decision Making – informing design and construction decisions with probable loss and financial risk analysis and presenting to clients and owners trade-offs such as… “It may cost this much more money to install flood-resilient HVAC and electrical systems on your roof, or add six feet of fill under your first occupied floor—but there is at least an 80 percent chance that you will have to spend significantly more than that to recover from a flood sometime in the next 25 or 30 years.

Predicting and communicating risk is a challenge. GZA has long been committed to the use of 2D and 3D hydrodynamic modeling and geospatial information management software to evaluate and visually illustrate flood risk. We are proactively adapting our engineering and design methodology, across all client sectors, to incorporate risk analysis and resilience.

This approach is in alignment with on-going but relatively slow and incremental changes to International Building Codes, U.S. building codes and their state and local regulations. This new risk and resilience-based approach to design is smart business practice and in the best interests of clients. “Early adopter” clients including real estate owners, insurers, municipalities, corporations and investors are getting on board with this approach.

Change Isn’t Easy

But the reality is that change of the status quo is slow to come due to wavering political will, state and local budget constraints and the complexity of the regulatory reform needed. Challenges to progress and inconsistencies still exist with current building code, regulatory, land-use, and permitting. First movers requesting permits for innovative flood -resistant design and site development methods like elevated HVAC mechanical systems and living shorelines are penalized with permit review delays for variances and special permit conditions. And some owners are often reluctant to “design beyond code.”

Also, conflicting regulations often exist. For example, zoning regulations may limit building, and if a developer raises site and first floor grades to be resilient, they may be penalized by having to eliminate a floor due to height zoning regulation. As a positive example, New York City has amended its building codes and height restrictions in response to Hurricane Sandy to promote, rather than discourage, flood resilience.

Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston was designed with hurricanes in mind. GZA was the coastal engineer on the project. Featured in the ULI Report: Return on Resilience.

Yet another example of how regulatory regimes need to catch up to climate change – resilient design and planning: An emerging shoreline protection solution in many flood-prone coastal areas is to utilize living shorelines, which are natural resources and landscape materials installed in the tidal zone to absorb and withstand flood tides, enhance habitat, and provide passive recreational space.

Living shorelines, however, may not square with today’s wetlands or coastal zone management regulations. In addition, environmental regulators have been slow to allow including “hard structures” into living shorelines to increase their ability to withstand surge and heavy wave action from storms (known as hybrid systems) which limits their protection value for flood protection.

Time to Innovate and Collaborate

Ultimately, any proactive investment to make communities and structures more climate-resilient is an investment in our future health and welfare as a society. The past and present approach to investing in disaster recovery after the storm is not sustainable. We cannot expect different or better results from continuing this reactive approach in the future.

Mitigating and preventing property damage will pay broad dividends for all of us in lower disaster recovery costs for taxpayers, stable property taxes, more affordable insurance premiums, and less social and economic disruption than we would otherwise pay for or experience in the future. The big challenge, of course, is figuring out an equitable method to share the benefits and costs of these improvements in resilience.

It is exciting and inspiring to be involved in development of innovative solutions to these challenges and to collaborate with a diverse group of stakeholders from public and private practice, government, academia, attorneys, architects, and real estate, finance and insurance professionals. For decades, engineering firms have been the ones designing foundations and culverts and revetments and levees to manage flooding and weather impacts.

Now we have a critical role to play in helping our clients understand and weigh risk and the opportunity to employ resilient design choices – and lead the public discussion over policies to reduce taxpayer exposure and ensure that the value of resilience investment is recognized and captured.

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Larry Jones named 2017 LEED Fellow

Larry Jones with Atelier Ten in New Haven has been named a 2017 LEED Fellow by Green Business Certification, Inc. Larry is a CTGBC member and the whole CTGBC is proud of this accomplishment.

For a full list of 2017 LEED Fellows, visit the USGBC Newsroom.

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CTGBC 2017 Draft CES Comments

On September 25th, CTGBC submitted official comments on the 2017 Draft Comprehensive Energy Strategy for the State of Connecticut. Read the comments below.

September 25, 2017

Debra Morrell
DEEP Bureau of Energy and Technology Policy
Ten Franklin Square
New Britain, CT 06051

RE: CTGBC Comments on Draft 2017 Comprehensive Energy Strategy

The Connecticut Green Building Council (CTGBC) is pleased to provide these comments on the draft 2017 Comprehensive Energy Strategy (CES) to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). The Draft CES was issued on July 26, 2017 with a public comment period that extends through September 25, 2017.

The CTGBC is a Connecticut 501(c)(3) that is affiliated with the United States Green Building Council, an organization committed to a sustainable and prosperous future. CTGBC’s members represent diverse, small and large businesses working in sustainable design: energy efficiency and clean energy installations and new construction of high performance buildings and sustainable sites, green infrastructure and living shorelines. Our members and their employers create and retain well-paying jobs that benefit Connecticut’s economy and communities.

We are committed to transforming the way our buildings are designed, constructed and operated through LEED™ — the top third-party verification system for sustainable structures, landscapes and neighborhoods around the world. There are over 2,000 LEED Accredited Professionals and Green Associates working in Connecticut and 634 projects in Connecticut (representing nearly 60 million gross square feet) that have been LEED certified or registered. Throughout the year, CTGBC holds a series of workshops on green building topics, networking opportunities, membership meetings, educational forums, seminars on green buildings and periodic Connecticut based LEED training in conjunction with the US Green Building Council.

Since the CTGBC is focused on greening the built environment, we are pleased to see that one of the focus areas in the Draft CES is to “Prioritize energy savings as both a financial and energy resource” as well as to “Improve the performance and productivity of buildings and industrial processes.” We appreciate the focus on this section of the CES on improving energy consumption and production of clean energy in Connecticut’s homes and businesses. There are significant remaining opportunities for increased adoption of energy efficient equipment and practices, and new technologies expand that potential almost daily. We applaud the Connecticut DEEP for making energy-efficient buildings a key component of Connecticut's energy policy.

Having energy efficient buildings is a worthy and important goal, however there is much more sustainability potential in the built environment than just energy efficient buildings. CTGBC envisions a future Connecticut where communities are livable and resilient, comprised of sustainable and attractive buildings that are healthy to live in and tied to each other through resilient and green infrastructure that provides a high quality of life with lower energy and water consumption. Through resources such as LEED, and new emerging standards like WELL and the Living Building Challenge, we can advance these goals. LEED is particularly well placed to become the standard practice in new buildings since 2.2 million square feet of buildings are certified daily as complying with LEED requirements. CTGBC would suggest looking to these existing and emerging standards to enable the State of Connecticut to meet the goals set out in the CES.

CTGBC would welcome becoming a part of Connecticut’s energy future. We stand ready to assist DEEP in implementing a more aggressive sustainable future to provide livable communities for Connecticut’s citizens to live, work and play in. We see this future within our grasp, and look forward to engaging DEEP and other like-minded stakeholders in advancing policies to make this vision a reality.

Ross G. Spiegel
Co-Chair
CTGBC Advocacy Committee

Patrick McDonnell
Co-Chair
CTGBC Advocacy

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GBCI Introduces TRUE Zero Waste Rating System

Read the article on the USGBC newsroom website.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – (September 7, 2017) – Today, Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), the premier organization independently recognizing excellence in green business industry performance and practice globally, unveiled TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency), the new brand identity for its zero waste rating system. The TRUE Zero Waste rating system helps businesses and facilities define, pursue and achieve their zero waste goals through project certification and professional credentialing.

According to the EPA, the average American generates 4.4 pounds of trash each day. TRUE is a whole systems approach that helps organizations understand how materials flow through their facilities and identify redesign opportunities so that all products are reused. TRUE-certified projects meet a minimum of 90 percent waste diversion for 12 months from landfills, incinerators (waste-to-energy) or the environment. TRUE is administered by GBCI and serves as a complement to the LEED green building rating system created by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

"By driving the adoption of green practices at all levels of business, we significantly impact greenhouse gases, manage risk and improve the health and wellbeing of employees and the community,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president and CEO, USGBC and GBCI. "By closing the loop on waste, organizations can become more resource efficient, discover potential new revenue streams and save money. TRUE delivers the business case for addressing waste.”

Currently, there are 88 TRUE-certified facilities around the world. TRUE focuses on helping businesses, industrial sectors and schools quantify their performance and find additional ways to move toward zero waste. Microsoft, Tesla, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Nature’s Path, Earth Friendly Products, Raytheon, Cintas and Northrop Grumman, among others, have facilities certified under the program. The TRUE Zero Waste certification, previously administered by the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council, was acquired by GBCI in 2016.

“Our goal is to help develop a zero waste economy for all that delivers financial, environmental and social benefits,” said Stephanie Barger, director, TRUE Zero Waste program. “The TRUE team is working with organizations across industries to help set benchmarks, track performance, educate employees and deliver innovative solutions that move them closer to zero waste.”

GBCI rating systems, like TRUE and LEED, are committed to driving the adoption of green business practices that foster global competitiveness and enhance environmental performance and human health benefits. From waste to responsible land development to sustainable power systems, GBCI rating systems work across all sectors, applying rigorous standards that verify performance and encourage sustainable practices that are economically, environmentally and socially responsible.

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