Denver's "green" roof law is repealed and replaced
The Denver City Council unanimously voted Oct. 29, 2018, to repeal and replace its green roof law approved in 2017 that required rooftop greenery on buildings larger than 25,000 square feet.
The revised law now will require light-colored, reflective "cool roofs," and building developers can choose one of several new options for meeting environmental goals: build green space into the structure or lot; pay a per-square-foot fee to fund green space or energy-efficiency elsewhere; implement renewable energy; or meet standards for an environmental certification program, such as LEED.
As with the original law, the new law will affect new construction and reroofing projects on buildings larger than 25,000 square feet. The regulations are expected to be more cost-effective and achieve a broader array of environmental goals.
Real estate developers strongly opposed the original green roof law, arguing it could have added nearly 3 percent to the cost of constructing large buildings. Under the new law, developers and building owners still will have to pay more, but the costs are expected to be significantly less than implementing the original law—20 percent to 90 percent less, depending on the structure, with an average of 50 percent savings.
Employers can help combat high tobacco use in construction
More than 35 percent of construction industry workers use tobacco products—one of the highest rates among industries studied by researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), according to Bloomberg Law. That number is nearly double the 18.1 percent of U.S. working adults who used tobacco products in 2012.
Workers' smoking can increase employers' costs because of excess absenteeism, reduced productivity, smoke breaks and higher health care costs—a 2013 study by Ohio State University showed employers could face more than $5,800 in additional costs by employing a worker who smokes compared with a worker who never has smoked.
Employers can use several methods to help their workers stop smoking, including banning smoking on job sites, offering counseling, covering smoking-cessation medications and providing comprehensive health insurance coverage so employees can access medical services.
Houston-based cement producer CEMEX USA Inc. has 9,000 employees and banned smoking at work three years ago, mandating workers cannot smoke on company property, including in their personal vehicles. Since the ban's implementation, the smoking rate among CEMEX USA employees declined from more than 14 percent to less than 10 percent.
Health promotion is most effective when delivered in multiple forms, says Shelley MacAllister, a senior product manager at the American Cancer Society in Austin, Texas. She told Bloomberg Law her group worked with a construction company to send tailored messages encouraging tobacco cessation in employees' native languages to their homes, which was effective because workers' families were able to get involved.
According to a September 2018 NIOSH study, workers more likely to smoke included temporary workers; employees at companies with fewer than 50 workers; and those reporting work-life imbalance, job insecurity, unsafe workplaces, demanding conditions and lack of support from bosses. More than 76 percent of construction workers said their workplaces offered no health promotion activities, and many construction workers lack health insurance benefits that would give them access to services to help them quit smoking.
Regarding the U.S. as a whole, years of work from public health researchers and government agencies discouraging Americans from smoking have shown positive results.
"We've made considerable progress in terms of reducing cigarette smoking in this country," says Brian King, deputy director for research translation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Office on Smoking and Health. "It's been a comprehensive public health accomplishment over many decades, but disparities persist, and if we want to get down to zero, it's going to be critically important to address the populations with the greatest burdens of exposure."
USGBC launches LEED Zero certification program
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has launched LEED Zero, a new certification program that will address net zero operations and resources in buildings.
"Net zero is a powerful target that will move the entire industry forward," says Melissa Baker, USGBC's senior vice president of technical core. "For years, LEED projects around the world have aspired to net zero milestones. We are recognizing the leadership of these projects—and formalizing our commitment to focusing on carbon and net zero across the entire LEED community. These new certification programs will encourage a holistic approach for buildings and places to contribute to a regenerative future and enhance the health and well-being for not only building occupants, but all of humanity."
LEED Zero is available to all LEED projects certified under the BD+C, ID+C or O+M rating systems, or projects registered to pursue LEED O+M certification. LEED projects can achieve LEED Zero certification when any of the following are demonstrated: net zero carbon emissions, net zero energy use, net zero water use or net zero waste.
LEED certification recognizes the implementation of multiple sustainability strategies, reflecting reduced contributions to climate change, as well as beneficial effects on water resources, biodiversity, human health and well-being, regenerative material resource cycles, social equity, and quality of life.
LEED Zero builds on LEED by recognizing specific achievements in building operations and rewarding projects that have used LEED as a framework to address important aspects of "green" buildings and have taken it a step further by designing and operating toward net zero goals. LEED Zero is part of a vision to ensure the next phase of USGBC's efforts will be LEED Positive, meaning buildings are generating more energy than they use and removing more carbon than they produce.
Rise in health plan deductibles diminishes workers' income gains
A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health-policy research group based in San Francisco, shows health benefits are becoming more expensive as workers face higher deductibles, according to Bloomberg Law.
Employers are the largest source of health coverage in the U.S., insuring about 152 million people. During the past decade, workers have been asked to pay a greater share of medical costs. Most U.S. workers who have health plans through their employers must cover at least some expenses before insurance starts paying, and out-of-pocket costs have increased eight times as fast as wages.
The rise in deductibles can expose workers to increased financial risk when they are sick.
"They see the higher deductibles, and they perceive them as larger dollar amounts," says Gary Claxton, a vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. "They know their wages aren't going up that fast."
Additionally, in 1999, the average total premium for a family health insurance policy—taking in what workers and their employers paid—was about 14 percent of median household income. During 2017, that number rose to 31 percent. On average, workers' contributions reached about 9 percent of household income.
However, increases in total health care costs have been slower since the early 2000s, which is good for employers and workers.
Claxton says the one-year increase in premiums is roughly in line with wages and inflation, and employers may hesitate to make significant health benefit changes in a tight labor market.
"When you're at full employment and you're not really being stressed, that's not the decision you want to make," Claxton says. "You're still out there fighting for workers."