Green Policy: Public Reform's Affect on Sustainable Development

With the United States' economy in shambles, it is natural to believe that green design will be left on the back burner in favor of financing affordable housing. The recent 700 billion dollar bailout seems like a great resource for enticing investors back to the real estate market, simply because banks are going to have more money to put into projects. Despite an increase of funds, this answer is not beneficial for developers. Instead, existing loans are being purchased by the federal administration, leaving institutions to be more cautious when approving future loans. This lack of monetary supply will be coupled with a low demand for new houses. In order to fund the bailout, an increase in taxes may be implemented and if so, these middle-class taxpayers, who account for the majority of real estate's demand, would be left with less money to invest. Still, the bailout is only one example among many that affect the viability of the real estate business as failed sub-prime mortgages have forced many homeowners into foreclosure, which adds to the economy's instability. The dwindling market notwithstanding, sustainability in design is being strongly encouraged via recent public policy changes.

Recent government procedures promote using alternative energy sources for fiscal compensation. One of the less publicized reforms of the bailout states that tax credits will be given to developers, companies, and home owners who produce wind or solar energy on site. For instance, the installation of a solar panel system can yield a credit of up to 75,000 dollars. Policies like this are intended to increase demand for environmentally sound services while helping to stabilize parts of the economy. For example, JA Solar and SunPower stocks have remained relatively consistent during recent fluctuation in the market, which can be attributed to the government's backing of solar energy. Federal reforms have created "440,000 permanent jobs and [added] $325 billion in private investment in the U.S. solar energy sector," according to Solar Energy Industry Association President, Rhone Resch. In a similar manner, the credits will financially secure wind energy companies. Many businesses have already started to make changes in order to take advantage of the codes. Chipotle Mexican Grill is opening a new franchise in Gurnee, Illinois with an on-site wind turbine (see rendering above left). In addition to the tax break, 10% of the structure's energy needs will be generated by wind power at no cost after deployment. Supplementing wind power, only Energy-Star appliances and efficient bathroom fixtures are being installed. The company is seeking LEED approval (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which is the United States Green Building Council's highest recognition for sustainable structures. Chipotle believes the concept will not only attract customers, but also support a lifestyle change in general. Even though the economic situation has prompted action, the controversial bailout reveals mixed results for development. Chipotle is able to act on the new regulations because of its size, but for the average family, these actions have made it more difficult to finance a loan, let alone spend on green design.

Economic hardships have also stimulated creative thinking for using bionomic strategies to avoid crisis. Blogger Van Jones of The Huffington Post argues for what he calls a "green bailout." According to Jones, following the recent Wall Street rescue with an environmentally friendly version will be an effective tool in moving out of recession. "[With a] $350 billion investment, we absolutely and positively could retrofit and repower America using clean, green energy--and create millions of new jobs, in the process," he asserts. Unlike the arbitrary amount of 700 billion, Jones claims that his plan is calculated and results are certain. A series of reports from the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Political Economy Research Institute explain that investing in sustainable business can create over three million imperishable jobs during these sensitive years. Jones uses these studies to advance the argument in his recently published book, The Green-Collar Economy, which analyzes this denouement. With only half as much money as was allotted to the bailout, an undeniable economic resolution is plausible. Other ideas incorporate different fields of sustainability. Specific to real estate, Green for All is proposing a Clean Energy Corps, whose mission is to dress the nation's infrastructure and buildings with sources of clean energy (see diagram right). Through creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, Clean Energy Corps would be able to promote sustainable design while deterring the economy from collapsing. Policies such as these will aid in resolving market crises rather than providing a quick fix. Additional billion-dollar investments are required to implement such programs; however, the ends justify the means. The nation is currently in need of new industries to preserve its financial system and the realm of real estate offers an obvious solution. By investing in environmental development programs, multiple problems will be reduced cohesively. In contempt of the media's generally negative depiction of the economy, its state is presenting new incentives for citizens to go green.


Seeing Green: The Internet and its Influence

After researching for my previous entries, I noticed that there is a shortage of sources that combine the fields of real estate development and sustainability. This week, I searched the web extensively in order to find useful materials that cover one or both topics. Along with adding these sources to the linkroll (right), and to ensure their validity, it is important to critique them using the Webby and ISMA criteria.

The world of online real estate offers a variety of influential materials. BLDG BLOG discusses contemporary issues in architecture, landscape, and urban speculation. It is well researched, thought-provoking, and maintains an assertive tone. Although it can be inferred that the author is well versed on the subject matter, credibility could be heightened by including personal credentials. In this sense, The Real Estate Bloggers also falls short. Despite copious amounts of knowledge that are developed throughout his entries, he is not directly related to the real estate field. While these blogs denote specific opinions of their writers, professional news sources depict stories in terms of facts. The real estate homepage of Forbes.com focuses on the industry in terms of business. Forbes offers a variety of in-depth content, but it becomes overpowered by animated ads which clutter the page. Likewise, washingtonpost.com boasts an informative real estate management section. And like Forbes, its weakness can also be found in terms of aesthetics. By presenting news stories in lists instead of exploiting a visual layout, a hierarchical problem is formed between important articles and everyday stories (see photo left). Finally, New Urban News is a monthly newsletter dedicated to planned urban developments, which was explored in the previous post. Despite its rather amateur look, all of the presented stories are taken from an actual publication and written by legitimate authors.

A wide selection of items is also available about sustainability. The CNET news blog, Green Tech, discusses an entire spectrum of earthly issues-- from presidential candidates' views on clean technology to modern fuel efficient cars. Green Tech attracts a large amount of comments, which is partially due to the effective integration of relevant photos within the text. Another blog, Inhabitat, seems to rely too much on pictures, while forcing readers to navigate away from the main page in order to read full entries. It is arguable that this strategy may be beneficial. Inhabitat reports on unique product and architectural designs, meaning that the illustrations can show more than text alone. Distinctive content can also be observed at Treehugger. It also provides easy navigation to its various subtopics via icons at the top of every page. Despite having a plethora of categories, Treehugger does not generate a great amount of reader responses. Unlike these other blogs, WorldChanging is a conglomeration of industry professionals whose goal is to offer solutions to environmental problems. At least the mission statement proclaims so. While exploring, many interesting articles are found, but not a significant number are specifically dedicated to solving problems. Here is where WorldChanging will lose its target audience. Leaving the blogosphere, Time Magazine has an entire section devoted to sustainability. Going Green is Time's interactive page that allows visitors to choose between watching and reading the news. The only drawback is its tedious process of locating old stories. Going Green only shows twelve articles per page. Similarly, in American Public Media's sustainability network, the only way to browse previous reports is to search using specific titles. The site does give the government perspective on many ecologic issues. Because their opinion is influential for the progression of green policies, it is informative to know what exactly the public sector is reporting. This being said, The California Integrated Waste Management Board reveals positive results of these policies. But if there was no .gov, it would not be as credible of a resource due to minimal functionality and displeasing visuals. In terms of content, only the strengths of California's rules are reported, most likely because it is regulated by biased public administrators. Interest groups are also working for change, which is the goal of The Green Power Market Development Group. Their goal is to create energy efficient working environments through technology and financial education. The homepage is difficult to navigate, but once the information is found, it becomes clear that the group's web page is tailored to their specific goals.

A surprising amount of locations maintained an equal balance of both subjects. Jetson Green blog is dedicated almost exclusively to sustainable architectural case studies and creates a usable forum to provoke discussion of its current and little known topics. This is an excellent model of ISMA guidelines (see photo right). Rather than using case studies, GreenSource reports on the progression of green development through factual stories. Guests are able to engage flawlessly with the site in terms of visuals and navigation. Additionally, The Green Home Guide combines technology and ordered structure to maintain an all-around pleasurable experience. Here, the United States Green Building Council states its guidelines for what constitutes as sustainable real estate. A pleasing mixture of content and layout is not always easily achieved. For example, GreenBuilding.com proclaims that it contains "everything you want to know and more about green building", but minimal information is found. This flaw is masked by a highly interactive and exciting homepage, where one can scroll over the graphics in order to receive tidbits of the trade. Not all helpful resources divulge news stories and how-to's. GreenSage is an online business that sells recycled products for the home. As a small private company, the website comes across as a little plain and unprofessional. Still, it remains usable as a store. Along similar lines, Green Building Solutions directs its users to sellers of sustainable construction materials for building or renovating green homes. Like GreenSage, the aesthetic arrangement of Green Building Solutions lacks originality and has an abundance of unnecessary white space. At these websites, the visuals do not reinforce the professionalism of each company. Putting forward a different type of guide, Green Homes for Sale gives the most extensive list of eco-friendly houses for sale across the country. In this case, simplicity works favorably due to its countless methods of searching through the listings. Overall, researching to find a variety of sources has led to new inspiration for this blog.
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