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Four Lessons Learned from Washington D.C.’s Green Building Act

green building act dc

As of January 2012, Washington D.C.’s Green Building Act (GBA) now requires that all public buildings in the district meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification standards for environmental performance. Because it was the first law of its kind, government agencies, lawmakers and environmentalists alike should take away some valuable lessons that became apparent during the law’s evolution.

1. Environmentally friendly policies take time to adjust to.

Although the GBA was passed in 2006, it wasn’t enacted until January of this year. During that time, lawmakers had to work out some kinks and ensure that everybody affected by the GBA understood not only its requirements but also the consequences for failing to follow them. Now that the new green building expectations have been enacted, they must be enforced, which can be tricky to navigate. Although we’d obviously like environmentally friendly policies to become effective immediately, it’s understandable why implementing them takes time.

2. Lawmakers must fully understand the implications of the policies they pass.

One of the major flaws with the GBA was its requirement that contractors purchase green performance bonds before being approved for contracts in the district. Surety bonds are frequently used on construction projects, but no “green performance bond” has ever existed. (For a more detailed explanation of surety bonds, click here.) The lawmakers had essentially invented a new type of surety bond insurance — one that surety providers objected to underwriting because it was so risky. In the end, lawmakers had to pass emergency legislation in December 2011 – right before the law was slated to go into effect — to provide alternatives to the bonding requirement.

3. All stakeholders must fully understand the changes being made.

A number of different professionals were affected by the changes included in the GBA’s text. Construction professionals, surety underwriters, insurance companies, and project owners all had to consider how the changes would affect their markets and how they do business. When these various stakeholders realized the GBA’s inherent flaws, they sent letters and wrote blog posts that explained what the GBA meant for the construction and surety industries, not to mention for public and private construction project investors.

4. Government agencies do have the power to enforce energy efficiency policies.

The implementation of the GBA shows that we can overcome the challenges the cleantech sector faces on a much larger scale. Slowly but surely, our advocacy for cleantech can ensure steps are taken to provide solutions to environmental concerns, be they about green building practices or fuel emissions. If the implementation of the Green Building Act is any indication, we’re on the right track.

Danielle Rodabaugh is the chief editor of, a nationwide surety bond producer that helps professionals meet certain licensing requirements. As a part of the company’s educational outreach program, Danielle writes to inform construction professionals and their clients on emerging green building practices. You can keep up with Danielle on Google+.

Image Credit: screenshot of DDOE website

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