Wisconsin has a problem with its building standards. Buildings are a huge source of emissions. In the United States, they account for:
- 39% of total energy use
- 68% of total electricity consumption
- 40% of carbon dioxide emissions
But Wisconsin State building codes are both out of date and overly restrictive. Under 2013 Wisconsin Act 270, it is illegal for Wisconsin municipalities to require developers to meet building standards that are stricter than the state’s outdated building codes.
This presents municipal officials with a huge challenge: How to reduce carbon emissions in our emissions-intensive built environment when there is no legal mandate that can be implemented.
Incentives are one answer. To encourage developers to adopt green building standards, many cities have implemented programs that use incentives to reduce financial barriers to meeting these higher standards. The resulting green buildings reduce a city’s carbon footprint, cost substantially less to operate, and are at most marginally more expensive to build.
But there is still no action. Madison’s Sustainability Plan, adopted in 2011, did set a goal of improving buildings and developments through incentives such as expedited permitting and decreased permit fees. But it has been 10 years since this proposal was put forth by city officials, and to date no meaningful action has been taken. The city is in the process of rewriting the Sustainability Plan, but the wheels of bureaucracy are moving slowly, and we do not have time to wait for their next version to be released.
A resource for officials: 350 Madison’s Community Climate Solutions Team developed a case study–based report to help officials make progress toward implementing incentives for developers. Our Green Building Incentive Programs report analyzes tools used across the country to reward developers for decreasing the environmental, economic, and social harms of the current building sector. You can read this 12-page report here:
Why are green buildings important? Green buildings:
- Lower utility costs
- Improve air quality
- Improve water quality
- Increase green space
- Improve energy efficiency
- Increase use of renewable energy sources
- Reduce landfill waste and ”heat island” effects
- In some cases, motivate the building of low-income housing units
Madison’s implementation of green building incentives could synergize with and thus help the city meet other important goals, including improved transportation access, increased affordable housing, and strengthened and equitable access to services. Such incentives can foster change in the private sector that will positively impact all citizens of this city. Madison has the tools it needs to make change happen, and there is support from our mayor’s office, alders, and sustainability staff.
Madison must do better. Improving city-owned properties with solar panels, insulation, and LEDs is not enough. Expanding the bike paths and helping launch the Bus Rapid Transit system (now delayed) is not enough. Madison must drastically reduce the carbon emissions from the hundreds of soon-to-be-constructed buildings in the city. And green building incentives are one way to do so.
Citizens deserve more. Our climate future demands more. Please consider joining 350 Madison’s Community Climate Solutions Team to fight for more urgent action.