Florida’s Green Ink Budget

"The trouble is, if you don't risk anything, you risk even more." American author Erica Jong was expressing her concern that something you love is worth fighting for because, without a fight, you may lose it.

“The trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.” American author Erica Jong was expressing her concern that something you love is worth fighting for because, without a fight, you may lose it. Her idea speaks directly to the tasks facing Florida’s political leadership, given the fundamental conflict between the extraordinary pressures on the state and local budgets and the visionary need to fight global climate change through governmental action. And perhaps no state has more at stake than Florida from the consequences of climate change — rising sea levels, long-term drought conditions, and increasingly severe and frequent hurricanes.

The State’s Green Initiative

Gov. Charlie Crist recently proposed that the State of Florida spend $200 million on green technologies and practices, following through on the vision for a greener Florida that he announced early in his first term in 2007. But with estimated future budget shortfalls of as much as $4 billion,
the idea of fighting for Florida’s environmental future has not been well received, given the short supply of dollars for more immediate issues like basic public services and public education.
It required courageous leadership and some deliberate efforts to push the legislature to put aside concerns about budgetary red ink and start writing with a green pen.

Florida’s hot and humid climate, along with its widespread spacing of cities and suburban sprawl, give the state the distinction of having among the highest per-household electricity and fuel consumption rates in the United States. Demand for air conditioning has driven energy consumption in Florida
houses and buildings, and with an average of 160,000 new homes being added each year, such growth can only mean higher demands unless energy efficiency and alternative energy sources are adopted.

Gov. Crist’s green initiative seeks to encourage builders, consumers and businesses, through state funding of sustainability programs, to understand that the higher costs of energy efficiency and alternatives incurred now are worthwhile when considering the higher-cost impact to the state’s future if nothing is done. Crist’s proposal included an economic development package for solar, wind and other renewable energy, and promotion of biofuel production and uses. Much of the $200 million sought for green funding is earmarked for businesses conducting alternative fuel research or encouraging reduction of carbon emissions, while a smaller portion (around $10 million) is set aside for rebates to consumers for installing solar energy devices. The governor’s goal is to achieve a decline in Florida’s carbon emissions by more than 80 percent by 2050 — a long-term goal, to be sure, but one that is viewed as essential to the state’s future.

Although the state legislature approved Crist’s green initiatives, the governor’s critics in the legislature pointed to the demands of maintaining and improving today’s quality of life for Floridians as being more important to their constituents than funding programs to help fight something as large and perhaps esoteric as “global climate change.” The governor has avoided using that phraseology in his most recent budgetary fight, preferring instead to speak of the economic benefits of going green, including diversification of the Florida economy. This approach apparently took hold, with the green
measures passing through the legislature and into law, despite nearly $7 billion in difficult and contentious budget cuts in other critical areas such as education and health care.

Similarly, outside of the legislative process, Gov. Crist issued several executive orders during 2007 calling for reduced carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, increased energy conservation and increased energy efficiency, including a 15-percent increase in energy efficiency in residential buildings. The newly formed Governor’s Action Team on Energy and Climate Change is tasked with helping to implement many provisions of the governor’s executive orders. Taking this lead, the Florida Energy Commission is considering recommendations for renewable energy, climate change, energy efficiency and conservation, and energy supply and delivery. Similarly, the Florida Building Commission has established a Green Building Workgroup to develop the Model Green Building Ordinance, including encouragement of, and in some cases mandatory, certification of new residential and commercial construction and retrofitting of existing structures to meet green building standards
developed by the Florida Green Building Coalition, the U.S. Green Building Council, the Green Building Initiative and the National Association of Home Builders.

Through executive order, Gov. Crist directed the adoption of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for all new state buildings. The LEED program is intended to reduce energy consumption, reduce energy costs, provide for sustainable development, save water and improve indoor air quality. A similar program, Green Globes, seeks to achieve the same results, and both programs specifically recognize energy, water, resource efficiency, site ecology, indoor air quality and
pollution as key elements of a point-based rating system for LEED- or Green Globe-certified structures.

Local Initiatives

Several local governments in Florida, including Miami- Dade and Sarasota counties, have adopted green building ordinances that seek to promote environmentally sensitive design and construction through expedited permit processing for buildings and projects meeting “green building” or “green development” certification standards such as LEED and Green Globes. The City of Gainesville (Florida) Green Building Program is more comprehensive, offering not only fast-track permitting incentives, but financial incentives for retrofitting and remodeling, permit fee discounts, and green designation publicity for residential developments and commercial structures. While a law student at the University of Florida in Gainesville, SGR attorney Doug Myers participated in the city’s green initiative by helping to draft a green building program, and continues his interest in helping more Florida municipalities adopt green ordinances.

By taking these local sustainability initiatives several steps further, the Model Green Building Ordinance may be the optimum vehicle for eventual statewide adoption of green initiatives. The Model Ordinance establishes a comprehensive standard suitable for adoption by local governments throughout the state, and includes specific goals for achieving sustainability, specific voluntary guidelines for private residential and commercial projects, and requirements for public
and government buildings. While the ordinance text itself is stated in sometimes general terms, leaving many details for standards and implementation to the decision making of each local government, the Florida Green Building Workgroup has published an annotated version, which includes commentary on the purpose for specified provisions, alternative language options, and ideas for augmenting the ordinance with specific standards and requirements.

For example, the Model Ordinance provides that the green building program will include incentives designed to encourage the use of the program, but does not identify those incentives. The annotations go on to suggest fast-track permitting procedures, reduced permitting fees, cash rebates, fee refunds and waivers, and public-recognition incentives for buildings and projects meeting various levels of green compliance. As local governments begin to adopt the Model Ordinance, familiarity with the new requirements will become as necessary to businesses, consumers and homeowners as knowledge and compliance with standard building occupancy and construction codes are today. Building and real estate industry professionals, such as architects, contractors, engineers, planners and lawyers, will need to be prepared for the diversification of the Florida economy that evolves with the green building codes.

SGR client SkyeTec is one such company at the forefront of this evolving area. Several years ago SkyeTec, an environmental consulting firm, envisioned the opportunities presented by the public’s heightened environmental awareness and Florida governmental sustainability initiatives. Anticipating the need for green expertise in the areas of residential and commercial new construction, major renovations and existing buildings, SkyeTec developed a program that provides customized green solutions and assistance in all aspects of the construction process. Services including LEED Commercial, Energy Star, LEED for Homes, NAHB Green Certification and, specifically for the Florida market, Florida Water Star and the Florida Green Building Coalition, ensure that SkyeTec’s clients’ projects meet the highest green building and performance measures in a cost-efficient manner. Through consulting, design assistance, inspections and verification, LEED documentation preparation and submission, and post-occupancy training, SkyeTec provides comprehensive environmental
support and identifies measures that are necessary to comply with LEED and other accepted standards. The owners then may gain the benefit of state and local government financial
incentives offered for buildings with green certification. In addition, through the use of SkyeTec’s services, builders are able to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

Looking to the Future

With visionary state and local government leadership, and equally visionary Florida businesses, the idea of going green can move beyond an idealistic dream — in the minds of doubters costing well more than it is worth — to become a new paradigm for Florida’s economic, political and environmental health and well-being. Taking political and business risks, writing state and local budgets with green ink in the face of spending constriction, developing new and evolving sustainability-based business models for economic diversification — these things are all part of the fight worth fighting for Florida’s future.

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