Designing Green – How Denver Is Encouraging Sustainability Through Design

By Sarah Hunter

In August 2021, a landmark UN scientific report unveiled a sobering assessment of our planet’s future: a code red for humanity. As the impacts of climate change become more and more apparent, cities and states across the nation are rallying together to determine how to bolster their commitments to sustainable development. 

One city doing its part to combat these changes is the City of Denver, who is championing sustainable design and development with the new Denver Green Code (DGC). The code aims to promote sustainable buildings through energy efficiency, resource conversation, sustainable materials, indoor environmental quality, water safety, site development, land use and overall building performance. With sustainability at the forefront of designers’ minds, the introduction of the DGC is helping to push this conversation forward through incentives for developers that participate in the pilot program.

There are four ways to qualify for these incentives:

  1. Conform to the requirements of the code as written
  2. Attain Platinum certification of LEED version 4.1
  3. Accomplish Zero Net Energy
  4. Achieve Passive House certification and conform to all of the non-energy chapters of the DGC

These methods all help to promote cost savings through reduced energy consumption while working to tackle climate change. 

Architecture 2030 states, “The urban built environment is responsible for 75% of annual GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions: buildings alone account for 39%.” 

It is the design industry’s responsibility to be part of the solution to environmental challenges that our world is facing, and the City of Denver wants to be a leader in creating a sustainable built environment. 

It can be hard to convince a developer of the benefits of making green decisions, especially when it affects the bottom line. To help offset these challenges, the DGC will assist the project team in three significant ways. 

The first is a 50% reduction in fees for plan review and permit fees up to $50,000 per project. This is a huge value to a project as fees continue to be a large burden on the development process. The city has also committed to providing an enhanced review process through site development submittals as well as building plan review. For site development, the overall number of required submittals will be minimized as well as the number of review cycles. For building plan review, the city is committing to an initial review in 10 days and any resubmittal in five days. This is a considerable advantage as project reviews can take months to complete. By offering these incentives, the city is showing its commitment to helping the built environment make strides to becoming more sustainable.

As a leading architecture, branding, interior, and planning firm, KTGY recently committed to the AIA 2030 challenge in an effort to elevate the practice of architecture through positively impacting the environment.

KTGY partnered with Energetics, Norris Design, and Jordan and Skala Engineers to dive into the DCG and explore how projects can comply with the requirements of the code. The goal was to fully understand the requirements for the code to best inform clients, partners, and the industry as a whole, of the implications for their projects. Known as the Denver Green Code Book, the guide provides a summary of the code and breaks it down into the following categories: site sustainability, water-use efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, materials and resources, construction and plans. 

Some of the requirements of the proposed code are more difficult to achieve on a multifamily site. For example, on an urban site, it will be difficult to achieve 20% of the site requirement as a vegetated area. Communication with the city has shown their willingness to work through issues like this and offer solutions that will help projects comply. The goal is to help projects perform better from a sustainability perspective. 

KTGY is working to help the City of Denver spread the word on the Denver Green Code and show clients and design teams how it is possible to comply with the code in an effort to promote the benefits of sustainability. To learn more or to download the full guide, visit https://view.publitas.com/ktgy-architecture-planning/ktgy-denver-green-codes.

Sarah Hunter AIA, LEED AP BD+C is a Director, Design at KTGY. Sarah can be reached at shunter@ktgy.com.