St. Louis Green Buildings & Progressive Legislation: A New Way Forward

By Jenna Wilf, USGBC-Missouri Gateway Intern and Washington University in St. Louis 2020 Graduate

Green buildings have long been talked about as a key feature of addressing climate change in our built environment. A ‘green’ building is a holistic concept that begins with realizing that the built environment can have profound effects, both positive and negative, on the natural environment as well as the people who inhabit buildings every day. Its definition is a building that through its construction, design, or operation, reduces or eliminates negative impacts while creating positive impacts on our climate and natural environment. To define a green building, we have to consider features such as energy use, water use, indoor environmental air quality, and pollution and waste production. 

Earlier this year, our very own City of St. Louis passed a Building Energy Performance Standard (BEPS) ordinance, making it just the fourth jurisdiction in the United States and first in the Midwest to do so. The new legislation builds on the City’s existing Building Energy Awareness benchmarking ordinance, passed in 2017, and it requires energy-saving changes for all buildings 50,000 square feet and larger. More specifically, BEPS creates a legal requirement for building owners to ensure their buildings meet a minimum level of performance (standard). This powerful policy tool is a huge step forward in reaching the City’s future climate commitments because it looks to reducing energy and emission impacts of buildings, which make up a large part of global greenhouse gas emissions. In St. Louis alone, they account for nearly 80 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This is why the city has adopted an aggressive goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100% by 2050.  

The new BEPS policy allows for the city to drastically improve indoor and outdoor conditions. With implementation, the city will see improvements in air quality as well as reduced pollution. Also, the policy will inevitably improve overall public health as a result of each building’s energy efficiency upgrade. Components of green buildings, such as healthy indoor environments, are basic human rights. With this logic, the green building movement that is ongoing in St. Louis as well as many other cities across the country can realize its full potential as a transformative public health tool. 

It is also important to note the seemingly ‘perfect’ timing of this new legislation, especially in the wake of COVID-19. The current pandemic has transformed the way we think about and use space. Therefore, now more than ever, we need to support the idea of an urban environment that aims to provide an atmosphere that supports life; one that makes use of elements of our existence that we can control (i.e. buildings) given our contemporary environment riddled with unknowns.  

Making our buildings cleaner and more sustainable is a definite way forward, on top of it being an effective means to supervise and manage building costs, for residents and building owners alike. The City of St. Louis has taken the actions necessary to support the green building movement, promising a healthier future for its residents. 

To learn more about the City of St. Louis benchmarking and energy efficiency efforts visit www.stlbenchmarking.com.