Gov. Luis Fortuño’s ears will surely ring later this afternoon at the second quarterly member assembly of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Caribbean Chapter, which runs from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Santurce offices of the Architects and Landscape Architects Society of Puerto Rico.
That’s because U.S. green-building guru Al Skodowski will deliver a loud and clear message to the island’s chief executive during his remarks, which are scheduled for 5:30.
“Unless the government of Puerto Rico leads on the green-building front, progress on the island will remain slow,” he told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS.
Slow, yes, but sure, since there is much the private sector can still do.
“Most of what happens with green buildings around the U.S. happens because of private-sector leadership, but it’s only when the state and municipal governments step in that implementation accelerates. It is no different in Puerto Rico.”
Skodowski should know. He has visited the island once or twice a year for the last 20 years since marrying a Coameña.
The Milwaukee resident pointed to several things the local government could easily do to speed things up, particularly to convert existing buildings to green, which studies show would put the greatest dent on building-related climate-change emissions.
“One of the things that have worked very well in the states is for the government to mandate building efficiency measures and to implement them on its own buildings.”
Another, he added, is for schools to go green in their facilities as well as their curricula.
“This is a must. The kids in school today will be our workers and executives a few years down the line, and if they graduate with this knowledge, the whole thing will mainstream far sooner.”
For these and other steps to work, however, the president of consulting firm Transwestern Sustainability suggests benchmarking as a first step.
“You have to know where you’re at today in order to know which way to go from here, and for that, you have to measure, measure, measure. I can’t stress that enough. It is the essential first step.”
Benchmarking, he continued, should point to several tiers of green improvements on existing buildings, starting with those that require zero investment and working up to longer-term, more capital-intensive commitments.
“The important thing is to arrive at a formula that works for you and that yields a high return on whatever investment you make,” he said, highlighting the many ways in which going green produces gains for a company or homeowner.
A LEED rating is “icing on the cake,” he continued, referring to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standard pioneered by the U.S. Green Building Council (GBC) and today the leading conversion tool used around the world.
In Puerto Rico, there are 200 LEED-certified professionals and about a dozen certified buildings, with another 100 or so in the works.
“If you can get a LEED certification, fantastic. That should certainly be one of your goals,” said Skodowski, who ranks as one of the consultants who has most conducted LEED certifications for clients. His firm is currently pursuing more than 80 certifications for existing buildings (LEED-EB), or about one third of all such certifications in the works nationwide.
“We find that to be an amazing number, which is one of the reasons we invited Al to speak to our members and guests,” said Vincent Pieri, president of the GBC Caribbean Chapter. “His advice is simply priceless.”
His advice and his warnings, particularly the one about the future.
“Puerto Rico is a beautiful island. My wife and I absolutely love coming here and would love to retire here,” Skodowski concluded. “But 20 years from now, unless the government and the private sector break the current logjam and get going on this and the far broader green agenda in front of them, they might very well squander the opportunity, and then we will all lose. That’s why my message today will emphasize that this is not big leap. We can start with small steps and build from there, so it can get done. But you have to start. That’s the challenge today.”