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As an attorney who represents commercial developers and as a citizen with genuine interest in minimizing the footprint we leave on our environment, I have been active in green development for a number of years. I have spoken with municipalities regarding incentives that encourage development, and have worked with my clients to maximize such incentives. One of the things that is consistent in all the projects I see is that cities generally have a desire to make the broadest impact possible with a new development.

As I have studied the various ordinances and incentives for going “green” around the United States, I have found that many of the benefits for sustainable development primarily go to the larger developer. These include a rebate of impact fees or abatement of property taxes—incentives that directly benefit mostly large companies who are developing their own facilities.

But what about the small businesses? Take Central Florida, for example, where I live and work: Approximately 85% of the businesses in the greater Orlando area are small businesses with 15 or fewer employees that lease space of less than 15,000 sf. These small businesses usually are not in any position to benefit from the green incentives typically offered by municipalities for development.

We all hear in the news the ways large corporations are embracing the green movement. They often lead the pack with new trends—sustainability, for instance—and then it filters down to smaller businesses. However, a number of my small business clients are hesitant to incorporate green practices, much less start a building from scratch with “green” in mind. They find it too costly to jump on board the green bandwagon.

I recently spoke with the owner of O’Naturals, an organic restaurant in Downtown Orlando, FL. He has incorporated a number of sustainable principals in the building, including waterless urinals, high-energy windows, energy efficient HVAC and a recycling program, simply because he, like many small business owners, cares about the environment and has found ways in which he can make a difference. I asked why he had not gone a step further to obtain LEED certification, which municipalities often require from businesses in order to qualify and participate in sustainable development programs. His response was, “Why should I spend a few thousand dollars just to get a plaque on my wall? As a small business owner, I could better invest that money on advertising or improving my equipment.”

We are at a turning point with where we go from here. As a society, we are constantly improving how we minimize our carbon footprint, but we need to take steps to further ensure that all businesses, large and small, are able to do what they can to improve sustainability. To do this, municipalities must provide incentives that enable small businesses to go green without a negative impact to their bottom line.

The views expressed here are those of the author and not of Real Estate Media or its publications.

Michael W. McNatt is a real estate attorney and partner with Roetzel & Andress in Orlando, FL. He was the first attorney in Central Florida to become a U.S. Green Building Council LEED Accredited Professional. McNatt can be reached at [email protected]

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