Contract - Design Q&A: How Will Green Jobs Save the A&D Industry?

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Design Q&A: How Will Green Jobs Save the A&D Industry?

12 May, 2010



Current AIA president and partner of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects LLP George Miller, FAIA, recently spoke at the 2010 Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference held in Washington, D.C. on May 4 about the importance that green jobs will play in boosting the economic status of the A&D community, as well as the vast influence that architecture and building has on the country as a whole. Here, Contract speaks with Miller about his views and how firms can get involved.

In summary, why was the economic meltdown so detrimental to the A&D industry? How much damage so far?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to over-estimate the amount of damage that has been done to our profession during the economic meltdown. More than a quarter of our nation’s architects are out of work. Since July 2008, architecture firms lost 56,300 positions – from 220,500 to 164,200. And, despite the nascent economic recovery, our members continue to face tight credit conditions that choke off any meaningful recovery in the design business. The AIA Architecture Billings Index (ABI), which measures the lag time between architecture billings and construction spending, was up again in March after a more than two point gain in February, but still well below the number that indicates growth for the design and construction industry. In fact, the ABI has contracted now for 26 consecutive months. So we clearly have a way to go before architects feel as if the economy is turning around for them.

Moreover, such a contraction in our profession has public policy ramifications beyond the obvious agony of unemployment. As more architects are forced to find work where they can, some are leaving the profession entirely. That is creating a gap in America’s architectural institutional memory, talent, experience, and innovation. With a smaller pool of architectural talent from which to draw, less experience can be passed on to newer generations of architects. And the country’s competitive posture throughout the world–in a profession that is a job catalyst in an economy–suffers as a result.

The AIA has always advocated for more building and design jobs and better guidelines via better legislation. How is the lobby for government support different from past initiatives?

Whereas before the Great Recession, we might lobby on several issues of importance to members, the mission on the Hill right now is laser-focused on promoting legislation that encourages investment in jobs. Advocating for changes in existing tax law to encourage new construction is one area of activity. Another area of focus is in advocating for repeal of regulations that simply impose un-necessary costs on small businesses, which constitute the majority of our membership. For example, we are lobbying Congress hard to change a provision that requires employers to pay the portion of the COBRA premium they pay to health insurers as part of the COBRA subsidy program for laid off workers. We want the federal government – to which employers must apply for a tax credit – to pay for the subsidy directly, relieving small businesses of this burdensome role. It’s an unjustified interest-free loan to the government that could be put to better use creating jobs.

Should the current bills in Congress pass (such as the ones you mentioned in your recent address) pass, how long will it take them to bring some turnaround?

We think it would be a matter of months for the legislation we propose to have an immediate effect, especially once they are communicated widely throughout the design and construction industry. For example, the AIA has long backed expanding the Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings Tax Deduction (Sec. 179D) from its current $1.80 per square foot to $3.00 per square foot. This deduction as it stands has already made an enormous difference in architects’ ability to provide benefits to local schools and governmental agencies in terms of more efficient buildings and lower costs. In fact, one accounting firm, Engineered Tax Services of Florida, has reported it has secured more than a quarter of a billion dollars in tax deductions for architecture firms in the last year alone. Think about that: greener buildings, lower energy costs, and money back in the pockets of small design firms.

Taken together, the pieces of legislation we are supporting will create almost 400,000 jobs, according to our estimates. Several bills, in particular, are important. For example, S. 3079, introduced by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas)  (which would create a new federal program known as Building Star); H.R. 2336, the GREEN Act, introduced by Representatives Ed Perlmutter (D-Colorado) and Judy Biggert (D-Illinois) (which provides incentives to lenders and financial institutions to offer lower interest loans and other benefits to consumers who build, buy, or remodel their homes to make them more energy-efficient); and the 21st-Century Green High Performing Public School Facilities Act, passed by the House in May 2009, sponsored by Representatives George Miller (D-California) and Ben Chandler (D-Kentucky), (which would provide $6.4 billion in grants for states and local government to modernize school buildings). The number of jobs these bills would help create goes a long way to providing a steady income for the more than 8 million American who are still unemployed.
 
George Miller AIAWhy green? What is it about sustainability that makes the AIA believe green building will bring us out of the recession?

The AIA believes strongly in the job-creating potential of greater energy efficiency in buildings and homes. Commercial buildings and their construction alone count for nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumed in the U.S. each year. Globally this percentage is even higher. We believe the environmental movement has turned a corner of sorts and that sustainability is now an engine of economic growth, not a detractor from it. And so all of our efforts on Capitol Hill combine a sustainability message and a jobs creation message, because we really believe the two go hand-in-hand.    

Have you had any major (Hill) wins in the last few months?

Several, both on the Hill and in the Executive Branch, many of which will help architects and others return to work:
  • We won a change in federal procurement regulations that for 25 years had required agencies to withhold 10% of an architects’ fees until the end of a project and allowed agencies to keep it indefinitely
  • We helped defeat an amendment to the health care reform bill that would have required construction companies with as few as 6 employees to purchase health coverage or pay additional taxes
  • We got the State Department to launch a new design excellence program for US embassies that will create more opportunities for architects
  • With our support, a key House committee passed the aforementioned GREEN Act, legislation to promote affordable green housing that by itself we estimate will create as many as 140,000 jobs in the design and construction industry
  • Last year we helped secure $5.5 billion for federal building modernization in the stimulus bill
  • Also last year we fought successfully to have the $8,000 first-time home buyers credit extended.

Who have been the major players in the recent green building initiatives? What firms are leading the way?

In terms of advocating for green buildings in Washington, the AIA today drives much of the agenda. But it is a collaborative effort, and we’ve joined with numerous groups in the design, construction, environmental and real estate fields. For example, we co-led an effort with the National Electrical Manufacturers Association to get more than 80 groups to support increasing the aforementioned federal energy efficient commercial buildings tax deduction. We also worked with US Green Building Council and other groups on a report to the Administration about green building initiatives they can undertake right away without additional legislation from Congress. Lastly, the AIA and its Committee on the Environment (COTE) recently selected the top ten examples of sustainable architecture and green design solutions that protect and enhance the environment. These projects will be honored at the AIA 2010 National Convention and Design Exposition in Miami. The 2010 COTE Top Ten Green Projects jury includes: Peter Busby, Assoc. AIA, Int'l. Assoc. AIA, Busby Perkins & Will; Robert Harris, FAIA, Lake Flato Architects; Denis Hayes, The Bullitt Foundation; Lisa Heschong, Heschong Mahone Group, Inc.; Alison G. Kwok, AIA, University of Oregon; Elizabeth I. Ogbu, Assoc. AIA, Public Architecture.

What can architects and designers do to help advocate green jobs and building in their on communities, and on a larger scale?

Probably the single biggest thing they can do to stimulate green jobs and building in their own communities is to get behind a major initiative of the AIA and support the “International Green Construction Code” (IGCC) - also known as the Green Code - the first edition of which has been issued for public comment by the International Code Council (ICC). In 2009, the AIA and ICC partnered to launch the development of a new International Green Construction Code (IGCC) initiative, subtitled “Safe and Sustainable: By the Book,” committed to developing a model code focused on new and existing commercial buildings addressing green building design and performance. The IGCC provides a comprehensive set of requirements intended to reduce the negative impact of buildings on the natural environment.

As a normal part of our membership outreach, we regularly enlist the help of our members to get our points across on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. For example, on May 5, a Colorado member of the American Institute of Architects, Christopher Green, testified before the House Small Business Committee that Congress can take several simple steps to help small businesses – many of which are architectural firms – get back on their feet as the economy emerges from the Great Recession.  

 




Design Q&A: How Will Green Jobs Save the A&D Industry?

12 May, 2010


Current AIA president and partner of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects LLP George Miller, FAIA, recently spoke at the 2010 Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference held in Washington, D.C. on May 4 about the importance that green jobs will play in boosting the economic status of the A&D community, as well as the vast influence that architecture and building has on the country as a whole. Here, Contract speaks with Miller about his views and how firms can get involved.

In summary, why was the economic meltdown so detrimental to the A&D industry? How much damage so far?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to over-estimate the amount of damage that has been done to our profession during the economic meltdown. More than a quarter of our nation’s architects are out of work. Since July 2008, architecture firms lost 56,300 positions – from 220,500 to 164,200. And, despite the nascent economic recovery, our members continue to face tight credit conditions that choke off any meaningful recovery in the design business. The AIA Architecture Billings Index (ABI), which measures the lag time between architecture billings and construction spending, was up again in March after a more than two point gain in February, but still well below the number that indicates growth for the design and construction industry. In fact, the ABI has contracted now for 26 consecutive months. So we clearly have a way to go before architects feel as if the economy is turning around for them.

Moreover, such a contraction in our profession has public policy ramifications beyond the obvious agony of unemployment. As more architects are forced to find work where they can, some are leaving the profession entirely. That is creating a gap in America’s architectural institutional memory, talent, experience, and innovation. With a smaller pool of architectural talent from which to draw, less experience can be passed on to newer generations of architects. And the country’s competitive posture throughout the world–in a profession that is a job catalyst in an economy–suffers as a result.

The AIA has always advocated for more building and design jobs and better guidelines via better legislation. How is the lobby for government support different from past initiatives?

Whereas before the Great Recession, we might lobby on several issues of importance to members, the mission on the Hill right now is laser-focused on promoting legislation that encourages investment in jobs. Advocating for changes in existing tax law to encourage new construction is one area of activity. Another area of focus is in advocating for repeal of regulations that simply impose un-necessary costs on small businesses, which constitute the majority of our membership. For example, we are lobbying Congress hard to change a provision that requires employers to pay the portion of the COBRA premium they pay to health insurers as part of the COBRA subsidy program for laid off workers. We want the federal government – to which employers must apply for a tax credit – to pay for the subsidy directly, relieving small businesses of this burdensome role. It’s an unjustified interest-free loan to the government that could be put to better use creating jobs.

Should the current bills in Congress pass (such as the ones you mentioned in your recent address) pass, how long will it take them to bring some turnaround?

We think it would be a matter of months for the legislation we propose to have an immediate effect, especially once they are communicated widely throughout the design and construction industry. For example, the AIA has long backed expanding the Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings Tax Deduction (Sec. 179D) from its current $1.80 per square foot to $3.00 per square foot. This deduction as it stands has already made an enormous difference in architects’ ability to provide benefits to local schools and governmental agencies in terms of more efficient buildings and lower costs. In fact, one accounting firm, Engineered Tax Services of Florida, has reported it has secured more than a quarter of a billion dollars in tax deductions for architecture firms in the last year alone. Think about that: greener buildings, lower energy costs, and money back in the pockets of small design firms.

Taken together, the pieces of legislation we are supporting will create almost 400,000 jobs, according to our estimates. Several bills, in particular, are important. For example, S. 3079, introduced by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas)  (which would create a new federal program known as Building Star); H.R. 2336, the GREEN Act, introduced by Representatives Ed Perlmutter (D-Colorado) and Judy Biggert (D-Illinois) (which provides incentives to lenders and financial institutions to offer lower interest loans and other benefits to consumers who build, buy, or remodel their homes to make them more energy-efficient); and the 21st-Century Green High Performing Public School Facilities Act, passed by the House in May 2009, sponsored by Representatives George Miller (D-California) and Ben Chandler (D-Kentucky), (which would provide $6.4 billion in grants for states and local government to modernize school buildings). The number of jobs these bills would help create goes a long way to providing a steady income for the more than 8 million American who are still unemployed.
 
George Miller AIAWhy green? What is it about sustainability that makes the AIA believe green building will bring us out of the recession?

The AIA believes strongly in the job-creating potential of greater energy efficiency in buildings and homes. Commercial buildings and their construction alone count for nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumed in the U.S. each year. Globally this percentage is even higher. We believe the environmental movement has turned a corner of sorts and that sustainability is now an engine of economic growth, not a detractor from it. And so all of our efforts on Capitol Hill combine a sustainability message and a jobs creation message, because we really believe the two go hand-in-hand.    

Have you had any major (Hill) wins in the last few months?

Several, both on the Hill and in the Executive Branch, many of which will help architects and others return to work:
  • We won a change in federal procurement regulations that for 25 years had required agencies to withhold 10% of an architects’ fees until the end of a project and allowed agencies to keep it indefinitely
  • We helped defeat an amendment to the health care reform bill that would have required construction companies with as few as 6 employees to purchase health coverage or pay additional taxes
  • We got the State Department to launch a new design excellence program for US embassies that will create more opportunities for architects
  • With our support, a key House committee passed the aforementioned GREEN Act, legislation to promote affordable green housing that by itself we estimate will create as many as 140,000 jobs in the design and construction industry
  • Last year we helped secure $5.5 billion for federal building modernization in the stimulus bill
  • Also last year we fought successfully to have the $8,000 first-time home buyers credit extended.

Who have been the major players in the recent green building initiatives? What firms are leading the way?

In terms of advocating for green buildings in Washington, the AIA today drives much of the agenda. But it is a collaborative effort, and we’ve joined with numerous groups in the design, construction, environmental and real estate fields. For example, we co-led an effort with the National Electrical Manufacturers Association to get more than 80 groups to support increasing the aforementioned federal energy efficient commercial buildings tax deduction. We also worked with US Green Building Council and other groups on a report to the Administration about green building initiatives they can undertake right away without additional legislation from Congress. Lastly, the AIA and its Committee on the Environment (COTE) recently selected the top ten examples of sustainable architecture and green design solutions that protect and enhance the environment. These projects will be honored at the AIA 2010 National Convention and Design Exposition in Miami. The 2010 COTE Top Ten Green Projects jury includes: Peter Busby, Assoc. AIA, Int'l. Assoc. AIA, Busby Perkins & Will; Robert Harris, FAIA, Lake Flato Architects; Denis Hayes, The Bullitt Foundation; Lisa Heschong, Heschong Mahone Group, Inc.; Alison G. Kwok, AIA, University of Oregon; Elizabeth I. Ogbu, Assoc. AIA, Public Architecture.

What can architects and designers do to help advocate green jobs and building in their on communities, and on a larger scale?

Probably the single biggest thing they can do to stimulate green jobs and building in their own communities is to get behind a major initiative of the AIA and support the “International Green Construction Code” (IGCC) - also known as the Green Code - the first edition of which has been issued for public comment by the International Code Council (ICC). In 2009, the AIA and ICC partnered to launch the development of a new International Green Construction Code (IGCC) initiative, subtitled “Safe and Sustainable: By the Book,” committed to developing a model code focused on new and existing commercial buildings addressing green building design and performance. The IGCC provides a comprehensive set of requirements intended to reduce the negative impact of buildings on the natural environment.

As a normal part of our membership outreach, we regularly enlist the help of our members to get our points across on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. For example, on May 5, a Colorado member of the American Institute of Architects, Christopher Green, testified before the House Small Business Committee that Congress can take several simple steps to help small businesses – many of which are architectural firms – get back on their feet as the economy emerges from the Great Recession.  

 

 


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