A few weeks ago, the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") released its Sustainable Design and Green Building Toolkit for Local Governments (the "Toolkit"). The 92-page toolkit is designed to assist local governments in identifying and removing permitting barriers to sustainable design and green building practices. Using the Toolkit, local governments are able to conduct an internal evaluation of how local codes and ordinances facilitate or impede sustainable development.

The Toolkit is intended to address the codes and ordinances that affect the design, construction, renovation, and operation and maintenance of a building and its immediate site. The Toolkit is comprised of three components: (1) the Assessment Tool, (2) the Resource Guide, and (3) the Action Plan. The first component, the Assessment Tool, permits users to evaluate their codes in order to identify barriers to sustainable design and develop tools and techniques for addressing those shortcomings. The Assessment Tool is divided into the five categories of the LEED® rating metric (sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, indoor air quality, materials and resources). The Assessment Tool provides an objective and rationale for the strategies and techniques under each of the LEED® categories and provides the user with background information on the initiatives and why they are important.

Within each of the five categories, the Assessment Tool provides a rating - green, yellow, and red - which is used to determine how well a local government's regulations promote each practice. Green applies where the tactic is either mandatory or incentivized; yellow where the practice is typically permitted; and red is where the practice is discouraged or outright prohibited by the current regulations. The idea behind the ratings is to provide officials with an accessible means of identifying - and removing - barriers and obstacles to sustainable design. The more green that shows up in an evaluation, the easier sustainable development may be in that jurisdiction. Conversely, the more red, the more difficult sustainable development likely is in that jurisdiction.

The second component of the Toolkit, the Resource Guide, provides information and case studies to help communities and local governments learn more about each of the five categories in the Assessment Tool. It has a compendium of policy tools, best practices and other materials. Essentially, this component allows the user to get a good sense of the information available on a particular strategy without having to spend time independently researching the issue.

The third component, the Action Plan, is intended to assist local governments in implementing the necessary regulatory and permitting changes to allow for more sustainable design. The Action Plan contains six general steps: (1) establishing priorities, (2) conducting an internal situation assessment, (3) conducting an external situation assessment, (4) designing a plan, (5) implementing the plan, (6) conducting an evaluation of the plan. According to the EPA, the Action Plan is designed as a discretionary tool and as such presents just one of many pathways in implementing changes in the local permitting process.

While the intended user of the Toolkit is local governmental officials, the EPA is also marketing it to developers and private entities as a useful resource for those seeking to develop green projects.

The Toolkit can be downloaded here.