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It's easy going green How Newark is embracing sustainability with LEED for Cities, updated action plan

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When the U.S. Green Building Council sought to test out its pilot LEED for Cities certification in 2016, it found that of all cities in the country, Newark was among the first to express interest.

Nathaly Agosto Filion, chief sustainability officer for Newark, said the city was the first to sign up for the program and has been arduously working since to obtain certification. By Earth Day (April 22), when the administration is set to publish its updated Sustainability Action Plan, the city will be one step closer to its goal of becoming LEED-certified, Filion said.

“LEED for Cities is structured in such a way that you do a base level of metrics that every city reports,” Filion said. “In addition, there is a customization element that allows cities to self-direct and say ‘these are the things that are really important to us.’’’

The LEED for Cities certification program is based on a city’s performance against those goals and strategies. USGBC tracks the performance rather than its design or strategies.

And if all goes according to plan, cities certified under the new program could see results similar to those that have resulted from USGBC’s better known LEED for Structures certifications, said Roger Platt, USGBC senior vice president.

“There are now plenty of studies for buildings in America and other countries, where there is an association between LEED certification and higher sales prices of the buildings and higher levels of rent that [landlords] can request from a tenant successfully,” he said.

“It is our hope and our aspiration to be certifying cities and to be encouraging what is already a trend toward higher-performing cities,” he continued. “We would like to demonstrate, over time, that a LEED city performs better than similar regional cities that are not LEED.”

Platt said the program itself appears to make economic sense for cities hoping to see a significant ingress of capital.

“[Newark] is part of a subset [of cities] that we’ve worked with that are in the running for Amazon’s [HQ2],” he said. “About half of the cities that made that second cut are working closely with us on a LEED for Cities certification.

“And those cities are in the midst of positioning themselves or repositioning themselves for a high level of performance in terms of quality of life and environmental performance. They think it is going to be a positive signal to potential employers and potential people moving to the city. It also will help communicate the cities’ commitment to environmentally responsible development but also to a livable city that is operating now with the goals of high performance in mind.”

Newark has already begun implementing strategies that will advance its goals to be LEED-certified while also boosting its commitment to independent sustainability, Filion said.

In December, the city passed its MX3 zoning ordinance to incentivize high-density, sustainable development from Newark Penn Station to Broad Street Station.

And in its updated Sustainability Action Plan, the city is likely to work on waste management, food policy and green infrastructure.

“There is a chapter that will be focused on how to make the city cleaner – neighborhood beautification and to some extent brownfield remediation – if it is something that comes up through the stakeholder process,” Filion said. “We will have a chapter on making the city greener and that means more trees planted and improved access to green spaces. We’ll also have a category around health and that has a strong tie to LEED for Cities because it is about air quality and that is something we always focus on being that we are so close to the port.”

When the city of Newark becomes LEED-certified – all 26 square miles – it will join Washington, D.C.; Phoenix; Savona, Italy; and a district of Songdo in South Korea (where Jersey City developer Panepinto Properties has been designated as a lead developer).

“There’s been this great trend in the last 15 years where cities have become significant leaders on environmental issues,” Platt said. “In part, because in many cases, states and national governments have not shown great leadership in the U.S. and abroad. But right now, we’re have some success because cities themselves are waking up to their environmental responsibilities and being better leaders.

“We also think that [LEED for Cities] can then be one of many factors that investors – or in the case of cities, new employers or federal agencies that are providing grant money – can look and see how is their investment going to be used in cities that are already efficiently making use of their resources.”

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Mario Marroquin

Mario Marroquin


Mario Marroquin covers real estate. A native of El Salvador, Mario is bilingual in English and Spanish. He graduated from Penn State University and worked in Pennsylvania before moving to New Jersey. His email is mariom@njbiz.com.

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