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NEW YORK CITY—Having overcome “a major hurdle” in terms of industry and public acceptance, the green building community now needs to address questions that go beyond a property’s design and construction, keynote speaker Rohit Aggarwala told an Urban Green Council audience here Tuesday morning.

Director of long-term planning and sustainability for the Bloomberg administration, Aggarwala encouraged his audience to require “some hard changes” in the way green buildings fit into the overall picture. For example, he said the green community should consider whether a property is truly green if there are no leasing requirements in place to ensure it’s operated in an eco-friendly manner. At present, there is no standard in place to determine the owner’s or tenant’s responsibilities for sustainable operation, and Aggarwala said it’s not government’s place to step in and set that standard.

Aggarwala noted that unlike with any other architectural movement of the past several decades, the green movement has not asked the public to accept that a sustainable building may look different. Instead, sustainable design has had to co-exist with the prevailing “glass box” format of office towers.

Arguing that many New York City properties are already green to some extent because most people walk or use mass transit to get to them, Aggarwala questioned whether a LEED-certified property in a suburban office park is truly green. The building’s design and materials may be sustainable, he said, but it exists in the context of suburban sprawl that requires commuters to drive to work.

That being said, Aggarwala had praise for the leadership of groups such as the Urban Green Council, the recently re-named New York chapter of the US Green Building Council, which began a two-day conference here Tuesday morning. In New York City, he said, “we have already made the key transition that so much of the US has yet to make.”

Thanks to the activism of the sustainability community, Aggarwala said, today “nobody questions whether green makes sense.” Longer-term, though, the challenge is to demonstrate that it makes sense economically as well.

For example, Aggarwala said, the Bloomberg administration has twice attempted to require that taxicabs be hybrid vehicles, and both times a court ruling has shot down those attempts. However, largely on the basis of Mayor Michael Bloomberg discussing the costs savings associated with hybrids, fleet owners have voluntarily switched 21% of the taxis here to hybrids.

While the general perception of sustainable buildings is high-tech new construction, “if we’re going to make our big cities greener we have to focus on our existing buildings,” Aggarwala said. That means developing ways to make retrofits more cost-effective and therefore give building owners greater confidence, he said.

“A year or two from now, the landscape of financing for green retrofits will look very different,” Aggarwala asserted. He added that he wasn’t certain whether this change would occur at the city, state or federal level, but he was sure that it would happen.

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