Sustainability conference underscores major trends

Private industry and government are leading the way to the greening of Clark County

"Green has become cool."

In four words, Timothy Buckley, president-elect of the American Institute of Architects Washington Council and principal of Vancouver’s Greenstone Architecture PLLC, has summed up the burgeoning focus on sustainable development. To help designers and builders – and other business owners as well – get up to speed, Clark County, the city of Vancouver, and Clark Public Utilities are sponsoring the Southwest Washington Sustainability Conference and Trade Show, June 21 and June 22.

Buckley, who will be moderating the "Green Building – Advanced" session at the Conference, said that the push for sustainable, responsible design and construction is coming from three directions – the industry itself, legislation and the public.

Eric Holmes, Chief Operating Officer at Mackay and Sposito, said that although sustainable design and construction practices are currently voluntary, "it’s going to be a mandatory way of doing business in the near future." For example:

• All new K-12 school construction must adhere to the Washington State sustainable schools protocol.

• Higher education facilities must now meet silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards or better.

• The city of Vancouver is requiring all new city buildings to be LEED certified.

Regulations aren’t the only driving factor, however. Mike Piper, City of Vancouver’s new sustainability coordinator starting July 2, said they are "getting more and more calls each day" about sustainable construction topics, such as roofing, solar panels and storm water management.
"The private sector is leading the way," said Piper. "Home builders and consumers are asking for it."

Holmes said that Clark County design and construction businesses should be proactive when it comes to sustainability, making sure they are growing their businesses in a strategic manner, relative to the market.

Training is key

The newness of sustainability offers unique challenges to designers and builders. Designers must figure out how to predict the long-term performance of brand-new materials and processes. Builders must figure out how to install new materials. Project management, too, is affected. Contractors must ensure materials are stored and handled correctly. For example, HVAC ductwork must be stored so that no moisture or debris gets into the pipes. After construction, contractors must track and quantify the types of products that are recycled and where each type is taken. Although that sounds like a lot of work, LSW Architects Associate Casey Wyckoff said that recycling construction waste is no more expensive than disposing of it in the landfill.

Attending the Sustainability Conference is one way of staying on top of new sustainability developments, and recent smaller events have also offered information. For example, the county Department of Community Services held a kick-off sustainability workshop in March. Also in March, Mackay and Sposito hosted a Green Summit, targeted to developers and homebuilders, that explained how to develop with minimal impact on the environment.

Internal training is another education option. For example, LSW Architects offers "LSW University" training sessions to their employees.

"There’s a lot of change," said Wyckoff. "Trying to keep up with it is daunting." He said that with the amount of innovation in materials and equipment, the frequency of training sessions had "increased significantly."

As evidenced by the upcoming conference, despite the challenges offered by an emerging field, sustainable development and building is being embraced on many levels.

"I think it has excited the industry," said Wyckoff. "To understand something new and see it succeed is exciting."

County sustainability

Indeed, there is already a lot of interest in sustainable development in Clark County. Buckley said "this region is really on the cutting edge of sustainable concepts. Other states are playing catch-up."

For example, the Firstenburg Community Center is, according to Tim Haldeman, Vancouver’s Director of Facilities, the first community center in the Pacific Northwest to be LEED gold-certified. The Vancouver School for the Blind uses an "eco-roof," which consists of panels planted with low-maintenance vegetation.

Buckley is providing LEED project management for the new Clark College building at Columbia Tech Center, which will feature, among other sustainable techniques, low-maintenance, non-toxic, and regionally manufactured/harvested materials, and a two-and-a-half story "Trombe" wall which furnishes passive solar heating.

Piper said that the County is considering some pilot projects that will use the most progressive sustainability design and construction techniques, such as eco-roofs and using gray water for landscape irrigation. These techniques, he said, although on the leading edge of sustainability, are not actually allowed by current codes. One such project will be the new Veterans Administration housing. Since federal land is exempt from county codes, Piper said they could "play in the sandbox" with this project. He is hoping that the information presented at the conference will encourage local governments to examine their regulations in light of sustainability.

Greening the private sector

The private sector, too, is "going green." First Independent Bank is building a new branch office on their Hazel Dell site; according to spokeswoman Tammi Olund, the new building will be LEED certified at the silver level, and will set the standard for all First Independent new construction. The new Gateway II medical facility, currently under construction in Salmon Creek, has set its sights on LEED gold certification.

Another groundbreaking local sustainable project is the "Sustainable Street of Dreams" being proposed by County Commissioner Steve Stuart, who is working with New Tradition Homes and other builders. Currently in the preliminary stages, this project would showcase a mix of sizes, shapes, and densities of homes and demonstrate "real sustainability at the neighborhood level," said Stuart.

A hallmark of much of the sustainable development occurring in Clark County, said Buckley, is that builders are not just "building green for the sake of being green." Rather, they are "finding a balance" in using sustainability techniques that make sense for both the environment and for businesses and consumers.

"There are a lot of great things going on in Clark County," said Holmes enthusiastically. "A number of private businesses are recognizing that sustainability is not only the right thing to do, but that there is also business value in retooling our practices."

SW WAshington sustainability conference and trade show

Hilton Vancouver Hotel and Convention Center,

301 W. Sixth St.

June 21 & 22, all day

$190 per person


With nationally known sustainability experts as keynote speakers and breakout session presenters, the conference offers a "Sustainability 101" type introduction to the topic. Sessions will address sustainable economic development, renewable energy, green building, low-impact development, sustainable agriculture, and the "greening of business." At the end of the two-day event, a visioning session will enable participants to identify specific local issues and solutions. Several of the sessions will count toward continuing education credits for members of the Southwest Washington chapter of the International Code Council. And, it won’t be all work – there is an evening reception planned that will include music powered by solar panels.

LEEDing the Way

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), is the de facto standard for sustainable building practices in the U.S. Based on a point system, the LEED standard assigns points in six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation and design process.

Four levels of LEED certification are possible:

Certified – 40-50% of non-innovation points

Silver – 50-60%

Gold – 60-80%

Platinum – over 80%

Building industry experts, including architects, engineers, landscape architects and contractors can become a "LEED Accredited Professional" by paying a fee and successfully completing an exam administered by the USGBC.

Sustainable Economic Development

County Commissioner Steve Stuart says he is "excited about the conference" and is looking forward to brainstorming about "how we can move forward" with sustainable economic development in Clark County.

He stated that sustainability was on the cusp of "huge growth," and he wants to make sure Clark County is a part of that. "Why not us?" he asked.

In particular, Stuart is looking at ways to motivate businesses that develop, manufacture, and market sustainable technologies (including wind, solar, biofuels, biomass and geothermal) to locate in Clark County. He said that our area has a significant competitive advantage over many other areas, because of the existing semiconductor/microchip industry base, which uses many of the same types of "clean room" and manufacturing techniques as are used in solar panel manufacturing. The employment base, too, is similar.

"If you can do semiconductors, you can do solar," said Stuart.

According to Stuart, the county should ensure that the infrastructure is in place to support these new businesses, that land is available for development, and that the permitting process is streamlined enough to allow for timely development.

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