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Result of Denver’s 2017 voter initiative now showing up in greener buildings

by Allen Best

In 2017, Denver residents approved a voter-initiated proposal to require green roofs on buildings of more than 25,000 square feet.

Now comes the first report since the initiative was folded into a broader Green Buildings Ordinance in November 2018. City officials say that nearly all the approximately 65 projects subject to the law have been able to include a cool roof.

The U.S. Department of Energy identifies a cool roof as one designed to reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat than a standard roof. Cool roofs can be made of a highly reflective type of paint, a sheet covering, or highly reflective tiles or shingles. Nearly any type of building can benefit from a cool roof, but consider the climate and other factors before deciding to install one.

The voter initiative was amended to give developers and builders more options to meet the intent of the law, which was to more briskly take action to reduce energy use, in keeping with the city’s bold climate-change goals, and tamp down the heat-island effect.

The green-building ordinance also gives builders and developers other options for complying with the intent of the law. Those options include on-site solar power production, purchase of off-site solar power, payment to the city’s Green Building Fund, and other conservation methods, or some combination of them.

This story is from May 11, 2020, issue of Big Pivots. For a copy, send your e-mail to [email protected]

The initiative was passed over the opposition of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who said it went “too far,” echoing what development and real estate lobbies said.

Ean Tafoya, who was deputy director of the 2017 campaign, said his side won handily despite being outspent 10 to 1. Now, he’s been to see the results of that on a hotel roof in RiNo, and he’s proud of what he sees.

“We’re excited that it is actually being implemented,” he said. He also notes the benefit that the green rooftops will help with not only the long-term climate impact, but the short-term air quality.

The idea was first broached formally in Denver in 2008 by a task force. “But the overriding lesson is that citizens can use the initiative to effect change.” Following the success of the cool roof law in 2017, others have used the same process to effect other changes in Denver.

Denver planning officials credit the green building ordinance with sparking conversations among developers and builders.

“Developers, property owners, and project teams are participating in important conversations around the value of higher-performing buildings, both to the environment and for the people who live and work in as well as visit these places,” said Laura E. Aldrete, executive director, Denver Community Planning and Development.

“Continuing these conversations will be central to the development community’s ability to meet mandatory building codes designed to help Denver achieve its broader climate action goals,” she added.

“The Green Buildings Ordinance has accelerated the citywide conversation about the role of our built environment in combating climate change,” said Grace Rink, executive director, Denver Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency. “New codes and programs, including the Denver Green Code adopted in December 2019, will build upon this foundation to work toward our community’s climate action goals.”

Learn more about the Green Buildings Ordinance and read the full report at

Allen Best
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