David and Goliath, Compromise and Government: The Tale of the Green Roof Initiative

Monday night, October 27th, was a monumental night for sustainability. In Denver, City Council passed a revised Green Building Initiative. After almost a year of hard conversations and compromise, this is now one of the strongest pieces of local green building legislation in the country. As President of City Council, Jolon Clark said: “thank you all for setting a great example, not just as leaders in our city but in our country.” He continued, “The entire nation should look to this room to see how government can and should work. Take note that it is messy and it’s hard work and took a lot of time and hours. But it is totally worth it...”

It all started with Brandon Rietheimer, a manager at a local Red Robin. The divisive political climate inspired him to improve the environment. He came across Toronto’s Green Roof Bylaw and wanted to enact something similar in Denver to mitigate climate change. City Council said no, so he took it to the ballot. He had never run a campaign before, but he single-handedly got 4,000 signatures and assembled volunteers. Even though he was outspent 12 times over, with his team’s hard work and dedication, they convinced voters and won by 8.5%!

After the law passed in November 2017, the City formed a task force of various stakeholders, mostly from industry opposition. It took over 6 months of deliberation and in the beginning, conversations were tense. But the group eventually came to a consensus, with a newly revised Green Building Initiative. Kathie Barstnar, who spearheaded opposition to the ordinance stated Monday night: “the proponent and opposition are in complete agreement with the revised ordinance. This day and age, coming to a complete consensus is a unique thing.”

This newly drafted ordinance requires all new buildings over 25,000 sq. ft. and roof replacements to have a cool roof. They also must choose another eco-friendly option, such as a green roof, solar energy, or energy upgrades.

It was powerful to hear from the biggest opponent, Kathie Barstnar head of  NAIOP Colorado. NAIOP represents owners, developers, and investors in commercial real estate. Kathie states “this ordinance is a delicate balance of ideas and solutions that will not only result in eager compliance but ultimately result in even more environmental benefits than original ordinance would have.”

In a day and age of political dispute and often feeling powerless as citizens, this is proof that a single person can make a difference. When one individual can work towards a better city, great things can happen. Opposite viewpoints can come together and reach a compromise. This is how our city passed legislation that will make Denver a leader in protecting our environment. As elections near, remember your vote, and your voice, matter more than you think!