Economic Update – Despite Recession, Green Building Continues Apace

Hard times may have come to property development and construction, but that doesn’t mean that green building ideas have lost all of their momentum, in either public or private spheres. In public development, which includes examples of early adopters of green building techniques in the first place, various governments are still pushing hard for green. Late last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2187, also called the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act, by a vote of 255 to 177. H.R. 2187 is a $6.4 billion school modernization bill with the specific goal of building new schools and retrofitting existing schools to be more energy efficient. The measure would also serve to create jobs, perhaps as many as 136,000, according to the Economic Policy Institute. A similar bill passed last year, but didn’t make it into law. CNN cited the head of the U.S. Green Building Council, Rachel Gutter, as a supporter of the measure, but naturally there was dispute in Congress about cost of the bill and the specter of deeper federal meddling in education. The matter now goes to the U.S. Senate; if it passes there, President Obama is certain to sign it. Public projects might temporarily be at the forefront of green development, but private real estate hasn’t forgotten about it, either. In fact, green is still part of the equation for a business looking ahead to an eventual rebound. “Green building standards are here to stay,” William Birck, president of Chicago-based Reed Construction, told CPN. “Not only are they a responsible choice for the environment, but green building also offers numerous cost savings for owners and users, ­especially as operational costs decrease over the lifetime of a facility.” The projects don’t necessarily need to be massive, headline-grabbing ones, he added. Even through the recession, there will continue to be smaller green projects, such as the 11,630-square foot buildout that Reed just completed within the Marquette Building in Chicago, one of the earliest skyscrapers still standing (vintage 1894). The occupant of the space, the Metro Metropolitan Planning Council, is seeking LEED Gold certification for the project, which features reclaimed barnwood features, glazed movable partitions and recycled glass countertops. In the future, Birck posited, such features will not come at much of a premium. “During a recession, people find ways to do things much more economically, and the same is true for green building construction,” he said. “The cost of materials for LEED-certified construction is decreasing as more manufacturers and vendors are beginning to offer these products.” There’s still no firm indication of when the recession will turn, however. But consumer prices did hold steady in April, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, which is a good sign for economists worried about crippling deflation. Such deflation is considered the harbinger of a depression, rather than merely a bad recession. If food and fuel are taken out of the equation, then prices rose 0.3 percent in April. Wall Street ended last week with talk of a “sucker’s rally” coming back to bite investors who have been buying in recent weeks. Whatever the merits of that talk, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended down a modest 62.68 points, or 0.75 percent. The S&P 500 was down 0.54 percent and