Written by Rachel Bowdon
Since 2009, the Seattle-based Preservation Green Lab of the National Trust for Historic Preservation has worked with several city and states on policy solutions that leverage the value of existing buildings toward achieving sustainability goals. And more and more, people are taking notice of the Green Lab’s groundbreaking work.
As highlighted in our "Sustainability Round-Up: Historic Preservation = Jobs" blog post a couple of weeks ago, The Preservation Green Lab (PGL) is working with the City of Seattle and the New Buildings Institute (NBI) to pioneer a new energy code compliance framework that will provide building owners much more flexibility in how they green their buildings and make it possible to retain valuable historic features and optimize return on investment in terms of both energy savings and dollars. Vulcan Real Estate is partnering with the PGL, the City of Seattle, and NBI to pilot a demonstration project, the Supply Laundry Building, and is targeting energy consumption reductions of more than 50 percent for the project.
This past week, The Atlantic Cities took note of this groundbreaking project in the article "Telling Buildings to Build Greener Without Saying How" by Sarah DeWeerdt. DeWeerdt writes about the limitations of existing prescriptive energy codes and the importance of the pilot project:
As municipal energy codes get stricter - Seattle’s is one of the most rigorous in the nation - developers find it increasingly difficult to tackle renovations of existing buildings in a way that’s both affordable and preserves historic character. ‘That’s a missed opportunity,’ says Jayson Antonoff, energy and climate change policy advisor for the Seattle Department of Planning and Development. ‘We need to do more with existing buildings, because that’s frankly where the action is,’ he says. Otherwise ‘we’re never going to get to the kind of climate change goals and energy efficiency goals that we have as a city.
Outcome-based codes are "one of the more complex projects that we’ll probably ever tackle," Dunn says. "It’s going to take years to play out, but Seattle is piloting this for the nation."
Stay tuned for more about this exciting project!
Liz Dunn was also recently featured in The Atlantic article "Preservation Green Lab's Liz Dunn on the Economics of Urban Grain" regarding the role that smaller scale, older buildings plays in creating successful, sustainable neighborhoods. In her interview, Liz highlights the work of the Preservation Green Lab and discusses the role that urban grain - the variety of age, texture, and scale of buildings in a neighborhood - plays in successful neighborhoods. Specifically, Liz explains how quantifying urban grain could serve as the foundation for policy that helps to protect and leverage diverse and vibrant places:
“We should be measuring, for example, the economic and social activity that occurs on blocks that have a larger number and variety of skinnier buildings, compared to what you find on blocks occupied by large, homogeneous building fronts. Measuring how the pattern and mix of buildings impacts urban activity would provide a way to assign value to organic, incremental development that would be more quantitative than the cultural arguments for preservation, which would in turn inform land use policies. There are many win-win solutions for balancing urban grain with new development.”
Well stated, Liz! Check out the Preservation Green Lab website for more information.
Rachel Bowdon is the program assistant for the Sustainability Program at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.