From energy conservation to water preservation, the world is moving towards “green.” The building industry has not escaped these pressures. “Green building” has quickly become palatable and expected in Clark County and the Northwest. And, it’s worth taking another look at whether Clark County is on track, according to national trends in sustainable construction.
“Green building” refers to the act of constructing buildings that efficiently use resources to create healthy and more energy efficient environments. A green building is a structure that is designed, built, renovated, operated, or reused in an ecological and resource-efficient manner. They also are expected to protect occupant health; reduce operation and maintenance costs; use energy, water, and other resources efficiently; and reduce the overall impact to the environment.
Although green buildings generally cost between 2 percent and 6 percent more to build than conventional construction, advocates counter that, in the long haul, green buildings provide greater financial benefits. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) reports that green buildings consume up to 30 percent less energy than structures built through conventional means.
Nationally, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Standards (LEED) provide guidelines on how to build sustainable, energy-conserving buildings.
These LEED standards are used to score building projects on five major areas of environmental sustainability: site selection, energy efficiency, water efficiency, green building materials and indoor air quality. These “voluntary” guidelines recently took on much greater importance when the State of Washington passed a law to mandate them for certain public buildings, including schools.
Early adopters of sustainability
Southwest Washington has helped to pioneer the green building movement. The City of Vancouver has shown that it can lead by example, which may eventually trickle down as mandates to the private sector.
Local advocates tout green building as part of the broader concept of “smart growth” and sustainable development. These concepts are generally incorporated into the 2003 Clark County Comprehensive Plan’s vision to promote environmentally sound public and private development practices and patterns, building design, water-use reduction and waste reduction.
The City of Vancouver has done more than just talk. Even before legal mandates, the city had completed green buildings. One example is the Public Service Center, the first LEED certified public office building between San Francisco and Seattle. The city achieved this by incorporating building materials that contained recycled by-products, wood from sustainable timber, high-quality boilers and automatic lighting controls. Another example is the recently opened Hilton Hotel that became the first LEED certified hotel in the country.
Behind the national school movement
Clark County is experiencing huge population growth that will require new school construction. The Sustainable Building Industry Council (SBIC) is working towards high-performance school buildings, which are believed to boost student health and productivity, conserve energy, water and other natural resources, and save communities money in the long-term.
The latest Energy Smart Schools brief by Rebuild America shows 321 completed K-12 building projects nationwide and notes that an additional 275 schools are committed to going green in the next two years. These green school buildings offer an estimated 30 percent to 50 percent decrease in energy reduction than their counterparts. Locally, this move toward green can be seen in the Washington School for the Blind’s physical educational facility. Local builders wishing to compete on public projects must be aware of this huge trend and be able to talk “green building designs” when submitting their bids.
Moving forward with sustainable building
If green building proves to be more efficient and desirable than conventional construction, then we can expect that most construction will eventually conform to LEED standards. If pressure continues, local jurisdictions in Southwest Washington may someday adopt versions of the LEED standards that supplement the Uniform Building Code.
Brad Andersen is an attorney with the Vancouver and Stevenson offices of Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, specializing in land use, real estate and litigation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information about “Green Buildings” can be found at GreenBuildingsSolutions.org.