Going Green Costs A Fortune In Houston

The City of Houston may be promoting all things eco-friendly these days, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to go green.

At least that’s what one local business owner is finding out.

Chris Toman is trying to open a Pizza Fusion restaurant, part of a chain with franchises in 12 other states that uses recyclable materials and green technology. Toman says, for example, he plans on using the basketball court from Pearland High School to build his hardwood floors and tables, recycled jeans for insulation, recycled Coke bottles to make the counters and will use Hybrid cars to deliver pizzas.

In essence, says Toman, all the franchises are built from the same eco-friendly cookie-cutter design. So far, he says, every restaurants in the chain has the prestigious LEED certification plaque from the U.S. Green Building Council, which recognizes that the buildings are environmentally responsible and that the project meets the highest green building and performance measures.

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Toman says that it’s cost the other franchisers between $2,000 and $14,000 to get their roughly 2,500 square-foot restaurants certified. But not in Houston. Here, Toman says, consultants who process LEED certifications want around $40,000 to do the job.

“It’s like I’m being punished for trying to do something good,” says Toman. “I’ve talked to pretty much every company I can find. I’ve gotten quotes from people and they’re all like, ‘Yeah, it’s forty-grand.’ It’s ridiculous.”

Amanda Tullos is a consultant with Green Building Services with offices in Bellaire, Portland, Sacramento and Orlando. She is familiar with Toman’s project.

“[Pizza Fusion is] one of those scenarios where they have a small footprint restaurant,” she says, “and it’s the same amount of work [for us as] for a 50,000 square-foot building. So unfortunately, in small footprint buildings like Pizza Fusion, you don’t get that benefit of size to back you up but you’re still looking at the same amount of effort to put in the paperwork.”

In general, says, Tullos, $40,000 is not unheard of but the cost usually depends on the project and the consulting team.

“There’s nothing here that’s any more expensive than anywhere else,” Tullos says.

Still, Toman says his will be the only franchise in the chain not to have the LEED certification because it costs too much. He will build and operate the pizzeria in the same green fashion, it just won’t have the plaque.

Ashley Katz, Communication Manager for the U.S. Green Building Council, says she is surprised to hear how much Toman has been told he needs to pay.

“That’s a large amount of money,” Katz says. “It’s not something I’ve heard of. Certification costs are capped at $22,500, and that’s for a 500,000 square-foot building. So, if you’re looking at really high fees, those are probably coming from the contractors charging a premium because of their experience in green building. That’s not associated with us at all. Honestly, it’s just the contractors … and that’s unfortunate.”

Toman agrees.

“I am very frustrated with the fact that Houston is going green and companies are taking advantage of this and charging inflated prices,” says Toman. “It’s just ridiculous and I’m sure a lot of other places are saying, 'Forget this,' because of the price. I feel Houston is missing a great opportunity.”

-- Chris Vogel

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