The Los Angeles City Council last Tuesday passed a green building ordinance that will provide a springboard for more integrated sustainable design and environments throughout the city. This initiative, based on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design compliance, will require new developments over 50,000 square feet to be 15 percent more energy efficient over current California code standards.

Some experts say that buildings contribute to 40 percent of all total carbon emissions, so the purpose of the program is to reduce this number. The plans aim to conserve water and electricity, reduce the city's emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, and increase our ability to comply with new state laws and voluntary reduction agreements.

Los Angeles will be the largest city in the United States to adopt a mandatory sustainability program of this magnitude.

Green development is appealing because it is development for the future, not just today. A commitment to sustainability is one of Forest City's core values. It fits well with our belief in "doing well by doing good," and our desire to understand the impact we have on social systems and the environment.

It's not only good for our environment, but it's good for business. There is a perception that green building is more costly, but only if it's not planned properly from the initial stages. Sustainable design must be a team effort that starts at the very beginning of a project and continues through completion. We attempt to implement as many sustainable products and principles as possible without impacting costs. When there are added costs, these can often be offset by tax incentives, value-added premiums, and reduced operating and capital expenses.

Our company is one of many entities that support the city's move toward higher sustainable standards. The Los Angeles Business Council was a catalyst for the program directors and members understand that sustainability makes good business sense.

'Greenest big city'

"In September 2006, the mayor issued a challenge at our Housing Summit that 'L.A. will be the cleanest, greenest big city in America,' a commitment we took seriously," said Mary Leslie, who is president of the Business Council. "Knowing that buildings are one of the largest carbon emitters in the nation, and in order to reach any CO2 goal, the city needed to address policies that encouraged sustainable development. This was the starting point for our efforts."

We have been designing and developing sustainable homes and communities long before it was popular and we applaud the mayor and City Council for taking the bold step. This ordinance will position Los Angeles to compete in the global marketplace for talent and innovation and build upon a legacy of natural resource conservation.

But will the goals be met simply by stating that buildings must comply with the intent of the Leed standard? How will sustainability efforts be measured and enforced? How will we know whether sustainable aspects of a developer's plan actually gets built and/or implemented?

Let us make sure now that what gets measured gets done. Let's make sure that the city commits the staff and resources necessary to achieve tangible and measurable results. And, let's make a commitment that our coalition of broad support for this initiative, including the American Institute of Architects, Global Green, the Green Coalitions, developers and property owners continue to support and encourage the city to take the next step in our efforts to reduce our ecological footprint and improve the quality of life for our communities.

Why is it so important to get it right? Consider this: Higher standards of sustainability lead to better air quality, which leads to better health. One of the goals with sustainable communities is to promote indoor air quality, which has a significant impact on health, productivity and quality of life. We utilize low-emitting material throughout, including adhesives, sealants, paints and carpets. The materials release fewer and less harmful contaminants, and can significantly improve the health and happiness of the occupants of any space.

To further reduce our building's carbon footprint on the environment, we use energy-efficient lighting and appliances, low-flow showerheads and low-flow lavatory faucets. The last two have the added benefit of reducing water usage. We also use recycled materials in our projects. The list goes on, but editorials don't just know it's better for you, it's better for business and it's better for the planet.

Kevin L. Ratner is president of Forest City Residential West, which worked with the City of Los Angeles to develop its Green Building Program. Forest City Residential West is a subsidiary of Forest City Enterprises Inc.

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