Next area for green growth: buildings

Minneapolis follows St. Paul and St. Louis Park 
in its effort to develop a green building policy

Buildings that incorporate “green” elements to improve sustainability and reduce environmental impact have grown increasingly popular in recent years.  

Minneapolis has encouraged such practices, but has lacked a specific policy when it comes to green building. That should change early next year, when the city is expected to rollout standards for sustainable development similar to those recently launched in St. Paul and St. Louis Park.

The Minneapolis City Council on Aug. 20 directed staff to craft a green building policy, a process that will involve input from numerous stakeholders including local developers and architects, the Minnesota chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, the Builders Association of the Twin Cities and others.

Developing the policy is one piece of a larger joint effort with St. Paul to grow the region’s green economy.

“Green building we see as an economic issue,” said Daniel Huff, the city’s Green Building Policy manager. “We see building green as making sure the city is economically sustainable over a long period of time.”

Huff is also the co-chairman of an interdepartmental work team assigned to the development of the green building policy. The group’s other leader is Minneapolis Director of Economic Development Cathy Polasky.

Huff said he defines green buildings as not only sustainable, but as projects that minimize their impact on public infrastructure and reduce long-term costs to the public. He said the development of a policy to advance those ideas starts with looking at existing green practices and examining the best practices in other cities.

The Minneapolis Planning Commission already advocates for garden roofs, green plaza space and other green amenities, said Planning Commission President David Motzenbecker. Projects that follow the standards of environmental rating systems such as LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) are encouraged, but not all developers are on board with such guidelines, he said.  

“Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don’t,” Motzenbecker said. “And we applaud those who do and we’re really happy to see that. And hopefully those who don’t, we can help those along.”

He said he hopes the green building policy will help cement the green guidelines the Planning Commission has already worked to implement and build off them.

The impact of the policy isn’t known yet, but if it mirrors policies in St. Paul and St. Louis Park, it would affect projects receiving a certain amount of city financing or tax credits.

In St. Paul, for example, projects getting more than $200,000 from the city must adhere to an environmental rating system such as LEED or Minnesota GreenStar. The rule applies to both commercial and residential developments.

Polasky said the policy in Minneapolis might be broader, but it’s too early to say. Building green can often result in a bigger price tag for developers, but Polasky said the city would work closely with stakeholders to ensure that the new policy doesn’t create a hardship. Huff echoed her point.

“We want to have buildings that are the best buildings within our community,” he said. “We don’t want to stop building. We could make standards so high that building could stop all together, but that’s not our intent at all.”

City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward), who introduced the staff direction to draft the policy, said other efforts to reduce the city’s environmental impact are in the works. One will involve reviewing and reworking the city’s vehicle fleet, she said.   

Minneapolis already has a green purchasing policy to help ensure that the city buys environmentally friendly products whenever possible. St. Paul is now working on a similar policy.

Anne Hunt, environmental advisor for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, said the city’s common goals should benefit the entire region in the long run.

“I think there will be strength in numbers and in having a common message,” she said.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]

By the numbers

Nationwide each year, buildings are responsible for:

40 percent of energy consumption

39 percent of carbon dioxide emissions

13 percent of water consumption

U.S. Green Building Council)