An important test of our community’s commitment to smart development, sustainability, and an opportunity to enhance the “brand” of Falls Church and increase the value of our commercial building inventory is coming up in the decision whether or not to have the new building addition to the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School certified LEED Silver.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a third party certification program of the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-partisan non-profit organization (www.usgbc.org) that has developed, with input including that of commercial developers, architects, and engineers, sustainability score cards for new commercial buildings, renovations, schools, retail, and residential buildings. The scorecard categories include site selection, energy, water, and others, where developers are free to choose which points they go after within the categories. The levels of LEED certification, in progressing levels of sustainability, are LEED Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
For over two years, the City Council-appointed Falls Church Environmental Services Council, and the Zoning Ordinance Advisory Committee researched and discussed sustainability standards. Research included speaking with several commercial developers. Typically, the cost premium today for a LEED Silver building over a non-LEED building is 0%-3%, and these costs are more than recaptured in lower operating expenses and often, higher rental rates. Both the ESC and ZOAC recommended LEED Silver as the most cost effective LEED standard for commercial development in the City. Yet today, the City of Falls Church, unlike the City of Alexandria, Arlington County and Fairfax County, still has no green building policy for commercial buildings.
Because of this lack of a green building policy, the City of Falls Church leadership, including us who serve on the City Council, Planning Commission and School Board, are failing in our responsibility to act as a steward of the City of Falls Church for our present and future citizens, as well as missing a marketing and economic development opportunity to enhance and sharply define a positive “brand” for the City of Falls Church, beyond just using the moniker of “The Little City.”
Falls Church, unlike Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax, still has no green building policy for commercial buildings.
Climate change science is just that – science. While there will always be some scientists that disagree with overwhelming consensus within the scientific community, the fact is the consensus of the global scientific community is that human activity is adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, heating it up and causing our global temperature to rise, and that there are disastrous economic, environmental and social consequences of global warming. The City of Falls Church leadership is not fulfilling its stewardship responsibility to current and future generations of Falls Church residents if we do not have a green building and energy policy that substantially reduces our greenhouse gas emissions.
We are also missing a great opportunity to strengthen the City of Falls Church “brand” and encourage high quality commercial real estate development that we so badly need if we want to remain fiscally sustainable as an independent city. The City of Falls Church has several strong community competitive advantages such as our great location, small town feel in an urban area, excellent educational system, and highly educated population that we should be consistently promoting as we “position” the “brand” of the City of Falls Church in the minds of businesses and people considering moving here. Branding is much more than a moniker. We should also be adding “sustainable city” to our community brand attributes and competitive advantages. I’ve worked with over one hundred Fortune 1000 companies that have strong commitments to sustainability, and have been told repeatedly by corporate vice presidents that their market research shows that younger generations value sustainability and that they want their company brand to be associated with sustainability. All of these companies understand the value proposition of and business case for sustainability – they realize that it is just good business practice in the 21st century.
It is clear that our commercial corridors are not even coming close to living up to their potential as an attractive work-shop-eat-entertainment environment and contributor to our tax revenues. Our commercial land is worth more than our buildings and that is opposite of what it should be. I am very encouraged by the emergence of small area plans of development for the City, and we should be including LEED Silver as a standard for new commercial developments. It would strengthen our brand as a destination community in which to live and work, and thus would attract more high quality real estate development projects to the City.
Attaining LEED Silver certification for the proposed Thomas Jefferson Elementary addition, and the development of a green building policy for the City that includes LEED Silver for commercial buildings is critical in meeting our stewardship responsibilities to our community and strengthens the brand and competitiveness of the City of Falls Church as a desired community for businesses and people.
Bob Loftur-Thun is a member of the City of Falls Church Planning Commission.