Green building arrived in Las Vegas last May with an explosion of the first order.
Placed in 977 strategic locations on six separate floors of the Boardwalk Casino and Hotel, 170 pounds of TNT reduced the 16-story building to a pile of rubble in about 40 seconds to make way for CityCenter, the $7 billion MGM Mirage development of casinos, hotels, and high-rise condominiums that developers claim will be the largest private construction project in the history of the United States, and a silver-rated LEED development, to boot.
Even as the dust cleared from the implosion site, personnel were on hand not to clear the concrete debris, but to begin crushing it into aggregate for re-use on site. A full 90 percent of the old Boardwalk was similarly recycled, saving the time, cost, and fuel involved with hauling debris 45 miles to the nearest dump.
With 2,700 planned condo units in four of seven buildings on 77 acres, MGM is betting all of its chips that LEED certification represents the future of development—particularly high-rise residential development—on the Strip. “By the time CityCenter opens in 2009, we think all discerning customers will expect environmental responsibility,” says Cindy Ortega, MGM Mirage senior vice president of energy and environmental services. “Environmental design will be demanded in a project.”
Environmentalism demanded in Sin City? Yes, green building has made it to Vegas, baby.
And seemingly everywhere else. Just a quick spin on the Web site of the United States Green Building Council —the Washington, D.C., firm that administers LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—makes it clear that LEED certification of CityCenter will be one of the few things that happens in Vegas that does not stay in Vegas: LEED-associated programs touted by the council include partnerships with the U.S. Army, Honda Corp., Frito Lay, and Fortune magazine, among others.
At a time when American consumers' appetites for green products from Toyota Prius hybrids to low-VOC paint are growing vociferously, their loyalty to those companies that they perceive as green is likewise on the rise. According to the 2007 Cone Consumer Environmental Survey, conducted in March 2007 by the Boston-based brand and management consulting firm, 93 percent of Americans believe companies have a responsibility to help preserve the environment. Another 91 percent have a more positive image of a company that is environmentally responsible, and 85 percent said they would consider switching to another company's products or services if they perceived negative environmental practices.
With little exception, green mania has swept across every social and economic landscape of the national consciousness, and multifamily property development, ownership, and management has not been immune. “If you are not facing the challenge of green, it's only a matter of time until you will be,” summed up Irvine Co. Apartment Communities president Max Gardener at the 2007 Multifamily Trends conference held in conjunction with the Pacific Coast Builders Conference in San Francisco last month. “And that is going to be a short period of time.”
That's certainly the hope of green-minded developers, who see an equally brief window to reverse hundreds of years of environmental indifference that, if unmitigated, could lead to the demise of the planet. “We have this enormous challenge to survive as the human race, to sort of put it in the big picture,” says David Baker, a partner at San Francisco architecture firm David Baker and Associates and a project leader of Folsom Dore Apartments, a 98-unit affordable housing project in San Francisco that achieved a silver LEED rating this April. “So it is important to do what you can. We believe we are the first certified multifamily housing project in northern California—affordable or not—and we're shocked by that. There are a lot of people that have thought the idea out, but when push comes to shove, the work, commitment, and dollars [involved in the certification process] can prevent a building from being certified.”
NOT SO SIMPLE And when Baker says certified, he means LEED certified. Although other options exist (see “Alternate Routes,” below), LEED nonetheless has emerged as the de facto stamp of approval for green buildings. That's due in part to the approval and entitlement process, with state and regional municipalities beginning to play a larger role in requiring LEED certification for public buildings and putting the residential projects that come across their desk on the fast track to approval. “I wondered why LEED was chosen when we started a couple years ago,” says Ortega of CityCenter. “In Nevada there are tax incentives for developers who achieve a LEED silver standard or higher. That alone is a reason why LEED would be chosen as opposed to a different standard. Having said that, I think LEED would be chosen by any project in the U.S.”
But LEED is not without its problems, particularly as applied to multifamily developers—and especially considering the fact that the national council does not have a certification standard for multifamily properties. “Green is here to stay,” Jeff Stack, managing director and principal at Irvine, Calif.-based multifamily management and development firm Sares-Regis Group, noted at Multifamily Trends. “But unlike commercial construction, there's no standard, and until there is a standard, it is going to be a problematic issue.” As a result, the multifamily set has been forced to remain content with applying for LEED's certifications intended for nonresidential, commercial buildings.
Technical experts and program developers at the LEED offices are working to change that. LEED for Homes, a pilot program for residential construction begun in August 2005 and set to roll out live this fall, will include certain multifamily applications, and the organization plans to use successes in that arena to launch additional pilot programs for multi-family mid-rise and high-rise projects.
Navigating through those types of administrative decisions—and pushing the paperwork associated with them—has long been one of the main criticisms of the LEED program. Although the organization and its stakeholders are working hard to eliminate the clerical burden and its associated costs, proponents maintain that developers still need to expect a premium on the labor and economics involved with the higher aspirations of green building.