Sarah Hunter – Code Green: Pilot Program Pushes the Conversation Forward

Colorado Real Estate Journal

August 1, 2021

As Kermit the Frog says, “It’s not easy bein’ green.” But the city of Denver is taking steps to change that narrative with the new Denver Green Code. The purpose of this code is to promote sustainable buildings through energy efficiency, resource conversation, sustainable materials, indoor environmental quality, water safety, site development, land use and overall building performance. Sustainability is at the forefront of designers’ minds with programs such as the AIA 2030 commitment focusing on the importance of the long-term impacts buildings can have on the environment. The Denver Green Code is helping to push this conversation forward even further by offering incentives to developers that want to participate in the pilot program.

There are four ways to qualify for these incentives. The first is to conform to the requirements of the code as written. The second is to attain Platinum certification of LEED version 4.1. The third is accomplishing Zero Net Energy. And the fourth is achieving Passive House certification as well as conforming to all of the nonenergy chapters of the DGC. All of these methods help promote money savings through reduced energy costs while working to tackle climate change. As Architecture 2030 states, “The urban built environment is responsible for 75% of annual GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions: buildings alone account for 39%.” It is the design industry’s responsibility to be part of the solution to environmental challenges that our world is facing and the city of Denver wants to be a leader in creating a sustainable built environment.

Constructing an environmentally responsible building has its challenges, and cost is one of the most prohibitive factors. It can be hard to convince a developer of the benefits of making green decisions, especially when it affects the bottom line. To help offset these challenges, the Denver Green Code will assist the project team in three significant ways. The first is a 50% reduction in fees for plan review and permit fees up to $50,000 per project. This is a huge value to a project as fees continue to be a large burden on the development process. The city also has committed to providing an enhanced review process through site development submittals as well as building plan review. For site development, the overall number of required submittals as well as the number of review cycles will be minimized. For building plan review, the city is committing to an initial review in 10 days and any resubmittal in five days. This is a considerable advantage as project reviews can take months to complete. By offering these incentives, the city is showing its commitment to helping the built environment make strides to becoming more sustainable.

According to Christy Collins, engineer/architect specialist for the city of Denver, “The Denver Green Code is a unique, voluntary code that raises the bar on expectations for building project performance in an impactful way. The DGC acts as a vital preview to the development community of provisions likely to be considered for inclusion in mandatory codes in upcoming code cycles, supporting faster, cost-effective advancement.”

So now we know why to use the DGC, but the next step is how. Our firm committed to the AIA 2030 challenge in an effort to elevate the practice of architecture through positively impacting the environment. KTGY partnered with Energetics, Norris Design, and Jordan and Skala Engineers to dive into the DCG and explore how projects can comply with the requirements of the code. The goal was to fully understand the requirements for the code so we can inform our clients of the implications for their projects. We compiled our thoughts and put together a summary document to give a high-level overview. We created a summary of the code and broke it down into the following categories: site sustainability, water-use efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, materials and resources, and construction and plans. Some of the requirements of the proposed code are more difficult to achieve on a multifamily site. Therefore, our team identified these items to highlight the challenges that multifamily developers may have with complying with the code. For example, on an urban site, it will be difficult to achieve the requirement for 20% of the site as a vegetated area. Communication with the city has shown its willingness to work through issues like this and offer solutions that will help projects comply. The goal is to help projects perform better from a sustainability perspective. The city of Denver is in support of projects and the developers that want to achieve this.

As the impacts of climate change become more and more apparent, it is vital that everyone does their part to combat these changes. As Hugo Diaz, manager of sustainable services at Jordan and Skala Engineers, said, “The Denver Green Code is once again placing the city of Denver at the forefront of sustainability. While the new code is stringent, it is thinking of the now and the actions we must take to conserve our planet and shift the paradigm standards for new buildings. The code embraces trends in the building market sector and takes it a step further to enhance the impact of high-performance buildings. With exponential population growth in Denver, radical actions must be put in place for the city to endure sustainable growth.”

We are working alongside our consultant team to help the city of Denver spread the word on the Denver Green Code and show clients and design teams how it is possible to comply with the code in an effort to promote the benefits of sustainability. So, maybe it can be easy to be green!