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The Matchmaker

Stuart Kaplow, ESQ. builds his clients much-needed roadmaps through the confusing world of sustainable building.

Interview by AnnMarie Martin

Stuart Kaplow, ESQ. builds his clients much-needed roadmaps through the confusing world of sustainable building.

Stuart Kaplow, ESQ

There’s no one-stop shop when it comes to third-party certifications. And that includes the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED rating system.

Here’s where Stuart Kaplow, ESQ comes in. His eponymous Baltimore, Md.-based law firm specializes in advising owners, operators, designers, architects and many other players in the built environment on the most appropriate certifications and standards to use for their specific project. He and his team begin by asking their clients about their sustainability-related objectives and simply go from there.

“There is no homogenous building type in this country, and no one, single definition of a green building,” says Kaplow. And therein lies the problem.

We sat down with Kaplow to learn more about his process and take a look back on his career to understand where green building was then, is now and will be going next.

i&s: You are known as a bit of a rebel in the green building and sustainable business law arena. Tell us about your exploits that led to that reputation.
kaplow: I was recently selected by the American Bar Association as one of their 10 Legal Rebels for my work in creating and advancing the emergent body of law that is green building and sustainable business law. I was arguably one of the first green building attorneys—admittedly an aggressive and risky business move.

i&s: How long have you been doing this, and what are your thoughts on how green building has evolved since you started?
kaplow: Seven years ago when I began practicing sustainability and green building law full-time, green building was less than 3 percent of new non-residential construction. McGraw-Hill Construction reported in 2012 that more than 44 percent of new non-residential construction activity was green. Market demand for green building is now huge.

i&s: You must hate the word “green” by now.
kaplow: I’d rather characterize our work as “sustainability.” A 1987 document issued by the World Commission on Environment and Development defined sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own need,” and it became known as the Brundtland Report. It was a big step toward businesses’ appreciation of sustainability.

i&s: What are the green codes, standards and rating systems you advise on, and what kind of clients do you represent in the green building certification process?
kaplow: There are green standards including ASHRAE 90.1 and ASHRAE 189.1; rating systems including Energy Star and LEED; and codes including the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and the International Green Construction Code (IgCC).

I represent a wide breadth of interests that range from business owners who want a more sustainable business operation to design professionals determining how to green a building or tenant space. PageBreak

i&s: How do you start the process of helping clients decide which third-party certifier to go with?
kaplow: The threshold question for our clients is, “Why do you want a green building?” It is the answer to that query that guides the path to a green standard, rating system or code.

i&s: What types of decisions do you help your clients weigh?
kaplow: How to go farther and raise the ceiling higher. The IgCC establishes the floor of what green building is, while LEED is at the ceiling.

The environmental-industrial complex makes the case that it’s not a choice between green building codes or the voluntary “above code” LEED green building rating system. Baseline building codes and the third-party rating systems, like LEED, work together.

Many government programs, including the U.S. General Services Administration’s new construction, are tied to LEED, so there is no analysis beyond complying with that requirement if a client wants to lease to the federal government. Other projects are located in jurisdictions with a mandatory IgCC or other code that is the law, but the vast majority of projects are able to pursue the sustainability objectives of the building owner: reducing energy use, using less potable water, increasing indoor air quality and the like.

i&s: You spearheaded the adoption of the International Green Construction Code in Maryland—what prompted you to do that?
kaplow: Beyond simply an effort to capture the dollars available in taking advantage of this market segment, many believe that a voluntary, non-mandatory approach to environmental protection is the best hope for stewardship of our planet—hence, the broad brand and wide market share acceptance of LEED. Many land owners also believe that burdening owners of terra firma with yet another government mandate is wrong and will not be efficacious. The government enactment of the IgCC as a voluntary option for developers of the land (as adopted in Maryland) is admittedly not a purely voluntary, market-driven effort, but one that seeks to strike a balance, trending toward stewardship of our planet through voluntary green building.

This has nothing to do with whether or not you believe in global warming, or whether you can calculate your carbon footprint. The market shift to green building has been dramatic, and a bright spot in an otherwise tough economy. For our developer clients, green building is beneficial, as rent charges typically go up 6.2 percent, occupancy rises 6.4 percent, operating costs fall 13.6 percent and building value increases by 10.9 percent.

A building leased up with trading floors or other large data centers that increase energy use and may operate 24 hours a day—versus, say, a building with medical offices—certainly changes the energy model, but does not make the built environment any less green.

i&s: Give us some closing thoughts on LEED v4.
kaplow: LEED v4 is not perfect, but neither is white sandwich bread (although white bread outsells wheat bread by far). The most widespread criticism may be the nine new LEED-CI Materials and Resources points available to incentivize both product manufacturers that report product makeup and those that reduce the negative impacts from extraction of raw materials through the manufacturing process. These new points, which include the “FSC-only” wood points, have led to vigorous attacks on LEED across the country and in Washington, D.C.

That criticism aside, a new rating system is a hugely positive advancement. LEED is going to thrive. There will be untold business opportunities for the eco-industrial complex in green building. And green building will save the planet, whether it needs to be saved or not.


Stuart Kaplow is a sustainability and green building attorney based in Maryland. He is the publisher of the new Green Building Law Update blog. He can be reached at