Laying the Groundwork for Greener Buildings: The Upshot of Texas’ 85th Legislative Session
By Anna Clark
A Q&A with USGBC Texas Advocacy Chair David Matiella, UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning, Co-Founder of Green Money Search.
David, you’re a full-time professor. How did you get this volunteer advocacy gig?
I began serving on the advocacy committee in 2003 and eventually gained enough experience to become chair of the statewide committee. I’ve now served in this capacity for the past four sessions. It’s exciting, invigorating and always challenging. I take special joy and pride in getting to facilitate conversations among the best building professionals in the state, and then I bring that knowledge to bear in front of people who make or propose policies to impact the built environment. I take special pride in bringing the message of green building and sustainability to those who create public policy. Communicating the social, environmental, and economic benefits of green building is a passion. We help to communicate the potential of what greener buildings can do for the state of Texas.
You’ve got a great attitude for a guy who must get disappointed a lot. What about this work gives you hope?
It’s true that last November's election was a tough pill to swallow for those concerned about environmental issues and sustainability. We see recently that the President intends to signal our departure from the Paris Climate Agreement. This is no positive news. But here in Texas, state legislators have an important task to consider legislative decisions that are best for Texas. Regardless of the disarray in Washington, Texas is poised to chart its own course to a sustainable future with good leadership. Whether these leaders are blue-state or red-state, Texas leaders share a deep sense of responsibility on many issues. More than ever, there is a need for us to work together to devise solutions that will take our built environment in a positive direction to benefit Texans, and to do so in a way that’s environmentally sound.
How do you begin to design green policies that can withstand this environment?
As with each session, we started back in August trying to take a temperature of what might come across in terms of green building policy. We assessed the headwinds from the previous year in terms of sustainability for issues at the international, national and local levels, and how these may indicate opportunities for sustainable development.
When the November election did not result in recognition of the issue of climate change, we felt the need to look as closely as ever before at pragmatic solutions, and to focus on the core competencies of the USGBC and our mission-driven organization. We proceeded to do what we always do: we mobilized our boots on the ground to hold important events in Houston and Dallas - thanks to the hard work of fine advocates from around the state, we learned about our leaders’ legislative priorities.
By January we were beginning to have some real conversations about policy proposals. Yet again, we realized that we had the opportunity to reaffirm our non-partisan role, our expertise in the professional community, and to look at what makes sense for Texas at the nexus of social, environmental and economic prosperity. From there, we reached out to offices and constructed a legislative agenda that was finalized ahead of our February 28th Advocacy day at the Capitol.
What bills ended up on this year’s agenda?
When we finished the legislative agenda in early February, the bills included:
I was excited to be part of Advocacy Day in Austin back in February. As a North Texas Regional Council Director who lives in a LEED-certified home, I wanted to share my voice. I even like to think I made a difference. Is this just wishful thinking or do they really listen to citizens like me?
Thanks for attending and yes, it’s very valuable when people show up at the Capitol in person. Personal visits are much more valuable than phone calls, although making the calls matters also. No matter what end of the spectrum you’re on, legislators and their aides will listen to you, especially if you are their constituent. Those visits are never superficial.
We had more than 40 advocates such as yourself attend the training and office visits for Advocacy Day, which created a strong voice for the Texas chapter. For the volunteers who took time to visit with their representative or senator – the importance of that cannot be overstated. At the end of the day, it comes down to people making decisions, and those people care about the interests of voters and taxpayers in their districts.
What was the outcome of these bills?
We saw several of the bills that we threw our support behind make it to the Governor’s desk. Anytime that this happens, it’s a big deal. These included SB 59 Filed by Sen. Zaffirini, a bill to support state agencies and higher education institutions. Also signed by the Governor was HB 1571, filed by Rep. Paddie, which will help facilitate energy-saving projects for local governments by expanding applicability of Energy Savings Performance Contracts. We consider these positive steps toward a sustainable future and a greener built environment.
USGBC Texas plays a significant role because of our efforts. To achieve this, we had an excellent intern Michelle Mendoza, who I leaned on heavily in the organizing role. The advocacy committee themselves gave us great input and work. Advocates in the Gulf Coast region area such as Natalie Goodman helped organize a December legislative meet and greet in Houston. Letter-writing campaigns in the North Texas region were also critical to our momentum.
What is the accomplishment you are most proud of from this session?
Critical to our work this session was the formation of the Green Schools Caucus, which is chaired by Representative J.M. Lozano. As a result of his chairmanship, we were able to hold our first meeting of the Green Schools Caucus on May 18, which was attended by several legislative offices including the Speaker’s office. That same day, Chairman Lozano read House Resolution 2090 on the floor of the House of Representatives to recognize and support Green Schools.
Our group of five key presenters were recognized including Sangeetha Karthik and Janah St Luce with Corgan & Associates, who presented a case study of the Lady Bird Johnson Middle School. Their presentation helped us take an abstract idea of “green schools” and make it tangible by walking them through its list of net-zero attributes. Mike Dieterich from RISE industries was also present to show case studies of green schools from an operations and maintenance standpoint. Advocacy Advisor Ken Flippin and I were also present.
What are your next steps?
Building on our momentum from the Green Schools Caucus and HR 2090, House Resolution in Support of Green Schools, we are developing a list of interim charges that we will give to Senator Lozano’s office. These interim charges will take the form of proposals for studies that examine the effectiveness of high-performing buildings and schools. These interim charges and studies will be effective tools to build legislative measure for the next session. With these actions, we believe that we are laying the groundwork for important legislation around green buildings and green schools in particular for years to come.
Do you see schools could be a gateway to better buildings in Texas?
They certainly have that potential, yes. Schools are important buildings to all of us, and therefore a priority in terms of building improvements in the state. Creating the buildings that educate our kids with better energy efficiency, performance and indoor air quality also translates into a “living lab” for sustainability education, which is essentially STEM education. Teaching our kids about energy use and technologies while giving them the benefit of well-being is a win-win for everyone.
What do you need from us now?
Local engagement is something I want to continue with moving forward. We must continue to communicate the immediacy of climate change, the benefits of sustainability, and explain the role that green building has to play as a solution to these complex issues facing humanity. We have to do that to remain effective. There’s an opportunity here for better dialogue from micro to macro. We must recruit new leaders within USGBC and be prepared to lead with our mission-driven organization. Now more than ever, our advocacy work is important at all levels, local, state, and national.
Each of us has an opportunity to be leaders for sustainability, but we must be willing to do the necessary work to help achieve these goals. More than ever, we need your knowledge, expertise and your work for USGBC here in Texas.