What Makes It GREEN? 2012 Winners Announced

Six Projects Receive AIA Seattle What Makes It GREEN? Award

On April 18, 2012, AIA Seattle announced the recipients of the 2012 What Makes it GREEN? Awards. The winning projects include:

  • Bertschi School Living Science Building, designed by KMD Architects;
  • Bremerton office and studio, designed by Rice Fergus Miller;
  • LOTT Clean Water Alliance – Regional Services Center, designed by The Miller Hull Partnership;
  • Machais Elementary School, designed by NAC|Architecture;
  • Bullitt Center for Sustainable Design and Construction (unbuilt), designed by the Miller Hull Partnership; and
  • Greenfire Campus (unbuilt), designed by Johnston Architects.

Honorable mentions went to:

  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Campus, designed by NBBJ;
  • Biodiversity Green Wall (unbuilt), designed by the University of Washington Green Futures Lab;
  • SIERR Building at McKinstry Station, designed by McKinstry and CTA Design Builders;
  • Swift Building Lofts, designed by High Plains Architects;
  • Walking Mountains Science Center, designed by Mithun; and
  • U.S. General Services Administration Federal Center South Redevelopment (unbuilt), designed by ZGF Architects LLP.

AIA Seattle’s Committee on the Environment established the What Makes it GREEN? program over a decade ago to promote the importance of sustainable building practices, as well as to recognize and learn from the best in sustainable design.

The 2012 What Makes It GREEN? jury was moderated by Brian Geller, Founder & Executive Director of Seattle 2030 District. The four member jury included:

  • Ash Awad P.E., Vice President – Energy & Facility Service, McKinstry;
  • Amanda Sturgeon AIA, Certification Director, International Living Future Institute;
  • Jason Twill, Senior Project Manager, Sustainability, Vulcan, Inc.; and
  • Daniel Williams FAIA, Founder, DWA Design.

For photos and a list of award winning and honorable mention projects, click here. For a list of all projects entered, click here.

Good Sam Puyallup awarded LEED Gold


 Does the Responsible Developer aspire to LEED for health care facilities?

Local Washington cities and health care providers say, Yes!

The latest addition to Puyallup’s MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital, the nine-story, $300-million Dally Tower, has received the Green Building Institute’s LEED Gold award.

The hospital tower, which doubled the space at Good Samaritan, is the state’s first hospital structure to win the Gold award for energy and resources conservation, said Tacoma’s MultiCare Health System, the hospital’s parent company.

The gold award was based on the new building’s water and energy saving features and environment-friendly construction methods.  The building and parking structure replaced surface parking lots and a public street, and also replaced impervious surfaces with permeable green space. The structures added no new impacts to the stormwater system.

Other sustainable features include:

• Ecoroofs, bioswales and rain gardens that gather stormwater runoff.

• An energy-efficient building form that minimizes east-west exposure; sun shades on the windows to reduce heat gain.

• Renewable, recycled and regionally sourced materials; certified wood, low-VOC interior finishes and linoleum and rubber flooring.

• Reduction of potable water use by 20 percent compared with a normal hospital.

• HVAC system with low-velocity ducting, high-efficiency chillers and mid-building air handlers.

• Air drawn 100 percent from outside the building to help control infections, and a heat-recovery system to conserve energy.

The architect for the project was the Good Sam Design Collaborative which included Clark/Kjos Architects and GBJ Architecture. Skanska USA was the general contractor.

Another area hospital serving southeast King and northeast Pierce counties, Enumclaw’s St. Elizabeth Hospital, last summer was awarded a LEED Silver designation. St. Elizabeth is owned by Tacoma’s Franciscan Health System.

So to sum up the attributes of Green hospitals, its good for the environment, it saves energy and reduces costs, it's also gorgeous, and, it's undeniably healthy (see new USGBCCleanMed protocol).  

The Big Green Pay Off

Is investment in green sustainable buildings still paying off?

Absolutely, according to a study of properties managed by CBRE Group Inc. ("CBRE").

Sustainable buildings generate stronger investment returns than traditional managed properties, according to the ongoing study of a national office portfolio managed by CBRE.  The study found that there is a higher value and an increased demand for green, and in particular for LEED® certified buildings, which is demonstrated by increased occupancy and rental rates in comparison with the general market.

The study, which surveys approximately 150 CBRE-managed office buildings and more than 2,500 building occupants, shows how green building performance continues to trend higher than the general market, establishing a clear economic case for the value of green in existing buildings, with mid-sized markets leading the trend.  In particular, aggregated data on LEED certified buildings over three years shows an average 3.1% improvement in both rental rates and building occupancy in comparison to the general market. The 2011 phase reinforces earlier findings that demonstrate sub metering of utilities for tenant space reduces energy costs by 21% on average.

This report should not surprise anyone.  It is the building equivalent of purchasing an electric or hybrid automobile for all the same reasons, it saves energy, costs less to operate and is better for the environment.  Why not build, buy, or invest in one. 

The CBRE report also noted that economic uncertainty can cause downward pressure on an any organization's continuing commitment to sustainability.  Still, survey respondents consider green features important when selecting office space, with a healthy indoor environment as the leading factor. This finding supports other results of the study in which 19% of tenant respondents reported increased productivity and 94% of tenant managers registered higher employee satisfaction in green office space.  The study also shows a growing general awareness of green.

CBRE was ranked #30 among Newsweek's greenest companies in America in 2010, and #1 among the financial services sector.

Recall also that earlier in 2011 the Green Building Opportunity Index came out with the first office market assessment tool to provide weighted comparisons of top U.S. office markets on the basis of both real estate fundamentals and green development considerations.  The Index focuses on the primary factors that influence successful development, retrofitting, leasing and sales of investment grade green office buildings in the largest U.S. Central Business Districts.  It compares a market's relative position to its peers in six categories: Office Market Conditions, Investment Outlook, Green Adoption & Implementation, Local Mandates & Incentives, State Energy Initiatives and Green Culture.  For 2011, the Index has been enhanced by adding five new markets and refining the methodology and data inputs - yielding a more comprehensive view into market influences that determine where sustainable development brings competitive advantages.

As a tool to examine the overall climate for green building, the Index assists a broad spectrum of professionals to determine where the favorable conditions exist.  Investment/pension fund managers and developers can use this data to consider where to put their money and why.  City policy makers, utility staff and planners can examine the data to understand what new policies and incentives might be useful to accelerate green building activity.  Building owners, architects and green building consultants can determine where green development brings competitive advantages, or where it is simply an emerging standard.

According to Cushman & Wakefield the 2011 Green Building Opportunity Index's top 10 markets overall shows that five cities on the West Coast are on that prestigious list:  (1. San Francisco; 5. Los Angeles; 8. Portland; 9. Seattle; and 10. Oakland).  One very recent entry into the green sustainable office market in Portland is making news.   

Portland’s city council approved plans for the Oregon Sustainability Center last week (see image above). The city and its project partners hope the Center will be the world’s first and tallest mixed-use office building to achieve Living Building status.  The decision to support the Center represents the city’s commitment to build (and pay for) a sustainable building.  With a construction budget of $62 million, the 150,000 square foot tower will cost 15 to 20 percent more than comparable buildings in Portland’s downtown area.  The city’s fiscal pledge to green building recognizes a return on investment bigger than rental income.

The project is jointly supported by the Oregon University system, the Portland Development Commission, the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, and an assortment of for-profit and non-profit groups with interests in sustainability and social equity.  In June of 2011, the Oregon state legislature held their approval for funds on the conditions that private sector tenants were found and signed to leases, and that the city of Portland foot the costs of architecture and engineering services.  Ultimately the Center will be owned by the city and the Oregon University system.

Sustainable buildings at the commercial and institutional scale are relatively expensive to build. Innovations, especially in the early stages, often come at a premium.  Some of the Center’s premium technologies include triple-glazed glass, solar panels, a high capacity underground water tank, and a geothermal well system that will provide heating and cooling.  The energy saving and energy generating materials make up a heavy, but worthwhile expense. 

Targeted for a 2012 groundbreaking, the Oregon Sustainability Center is an example of the importance of total buy-in for sustainable building.  Mayor Sam Adams understands the value of the experience: “We’re never going to be the biggest city, but I want us to be the scrappiest, most successful international city.  To do that you’ve got to invest in innovation.”

So not only is the market for green sustainable buildings currently viable, the City of Portland is betting $62 million that the trend will continue into 2013.  


Seattle Bites the Green Bullitt


At the end of last month, the City of Seattle broke ground on The Bullitt Center, located at 1501 East Madison Street, which is touted to be the greenest commercial building...in the world. 

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn claimed the $30 million Bullitt Center project will create green jobs on every level, the 94 jobs for the construction workers who will receive green building training on-site, the future 141 permanent jobs for employees in the building and the people in the green building industry who will teach classes and receive green building certificates at the project’s Center for Energy and Urban Ecology.

So Seattle voters, in recession, new jobs are good but is this project just another green monument that may prove to be a drain on taxpayers?  

No, says the Mayor and the Bullitt Foundation.  The new Bullitt Center will be taking net zero building trends to new heights.  This six story tall, 52,000 square-foot office building is designed to be both a net-zero energy building and a net-zero water building while managing all of its own waste needs.  It will produce as much energy as it consumes, provide all of its own water, and process all of its own sewage.  It will also use only 1/3 as much energy as an average, similar-sized building – or half as much as a certified LEED platinum building!
Achieving these goals may not be an easy feat but if successful, will make the building much more affordable to operate.  Some of the green technologies used in the building include: 
  • A triple-glazed curtain wall system
  • Windows that open and close automatically depending on outside conditions
  • A closed-loop geothermal system
  • Radiant floor heating and cooling
  • Extensive daylighting thanks, in part, to taller than average ceilings and windows
  • Rooftop solar system designed to generate 100 percent of the building’s energy needs
The green tax dollar savings allegedly won't stop after construction is complete.  Tenants in the building will be required to use electronics that are extremely energy efficient and are designed to automatically shut down at night.  Although this sounds like a Machiavellian requirement for tenants to meet, four of the six floors have already been rented out.
If the project delivers the expected performance ratings, then kudos will be in the offing to the design and construction team behind this premier green building project, the Miller Hull Partnership, Point32, Schuchart Construction and PAE Consulting Engineers.
The project's success would probably be good for the Mayor's performance rating too! 

How Green Is My City?

Does the Responsible Municipal Developer and its citizens aspire to be the "Greenest?" 

Absolutely and the competition is fierce, as it should be, after all it's a matter of civic pride!


Our blog has showcased the many laudable efforts of local and state governments, citizens and private developers to implement green and sustainable development practices (the preservation of open spaces; control and capture of storm and rain water; energy savings; green electric highways; reclamation of brown fields and the construction of passive homes).


So how does our Emerald City compare to other great cities?  Well that depends on the source. 

We looked for objectivity and think we found it in Siemens Global's US and Canada Green City Index  (which was also cited by Time.com).  Siemens' rating was based on some fairly broad comprehensive objectives and methodology.


The objective criteria was to measure and compare the performance of 27 major US and Canadian cities, based on their commitment to reduce their future environmental impacts.  The goal of the index was to allow a comparison of cities against their peers and to study innovative projects which other cities may want to follow.


The methodology was based on the work of other Green City index sites (global) and included 31 quantitative and qualitative indicators in nine categories: CO2; energy; land use; buildings; transport; water; waste; air and environmental governance.


Based on the criteria and the fact the study included Canada, we should be proud that Seattle was #4 with a score of 79.10.  Our score was heavily based on the fact Seattle had set, and met, many environmental goals over the last 10 years and Seattle ranked #1 in the buildings category because it was among the first cities to mandate LEED-certification for municipal building projects.


The City of Seattle has done a fantastic job of setting goals and obtaining the necessary commitments from its citizens to create green and sustainable projects and communities.  Seattle's ranking was no accident but was a result of a great vision and a lot of hard work and expense.


Seattle is a great place to live and work and we can all be proud of this ranking.  


More US Homes Should Be Passive



Should Responsible (American) Developers build more "Passive" homes?

German developers answer, Jawohl, bauen der Passiv Haus!   

On June 9th the Passivhaus Institut issued a press release recapping the 15th International Passive House Conference that was held in Innsbruck, Austria.  Highlights included 1200 attendees from 50 countries and 100 exhibitors presenting Passive House components.

A "Passive House" (see above) is essentially a super insulated virtually air-tight building that is primarily heated by passive solar gain and by internal gains from people, electrical equipment, etc.  Energy losses are minimized and any remaining heat demand is provided by an extremely small source.  The intended result is an impressive system that saves up to 90% of space heating costs.  Think of it as a 1,650-square-foot version of that super-insulated bottle that keeps your coffee hot or your iced tea cold, except in reverse.  Its ultra-tight shell keeps extreme temperatures out, most of the time with little to no mechanical intervention.  And its main power sources are things nature provides for free: sunlight, shade, earth, and breezes.

As with other technology, Germany and other European nations are far ahead of the US.  According to Builder more than 20,000 single and multifamily homes have been built in Europe but only a dozen have been built in the US.  Builder [online] (and other sources) stated that the additional cost for a Passive House was only 10-20 percent more that a standard home.  Hmm, spend 10-20 percent more and save up to 90 percent of future space heating costs?  Do the math in your area and given how long the home should perform, decide if it is worth it for you.

If you want to see one of the few Passive home projects in the US you do not need to go far.  There is a completed project called Courtland Place in Seattle's Rainier Valley and a nine unit  project in development called Urban Olympic multifamily Passive House


Wind Wars Episode I-PNW Energy Companies v. BPA

Does the Responsible Developer avoid conflicts in Renewable Energy Production that could lead to litigation?  Apparently not all of the time.

At the end of last month we reported the Bonneville Power Administration's ("BPA") decisions to allow more water to be spilled over dams and to shut down many wind turbines.  We speculated that the decision would create conflicts that could lead to litigation.  And so it has, the Wind Wars have begun.

A coalition of five PNW energy companies (Iberdrola Renewables, PacifiCorp, NextEra Energy Resources, Horizon Wind Energy and Invenergy have filed a one hundred and thirteen page complaint with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC").  The coalition claims to have invested $6 billion in renewable energy generation in the region.  The coalition is howling mad and alleges that BPA violated the Federal Power Act by using its control of the region's power grid to breach its contracts and seize transmission rights. 

The American Wind Energy Association ("AWEA") also filed a motion to intervene with comments in support of the coalition, decrying BPA's alleged acts as discriminatory in favor of its own interests, and further voicing its support for the energy companies' allegations.  

"BPA is using its control of the region's transmission system and exploiting unusually high water levels to break contracts," said Rob Gramlich, senior vice president for public policy at the AWEA and former FERC policy advisor. "Contracts cannot be broken for wind or anything else.  BPA, a government-owned monopoly, cannot play by different rules and shred contracts with private companies. FERC can rise above the politics and adjudicate based on facts and the law".

According to BPA's newsroom it was aghast that the complaint had been filed.  BPA spokesman Mike Hansen stated "We are disappointed that this filing has proceeded as we are participating in mediation sponsored by FERC that we believe is worthy of effort". 

BPA also argues the complaint is overblown because the BPA already has authority to limit wind generation, particularly during periods of overgeneration. “We have the legal authority to implement the Environmental Redispatch policy and, in addition to that, we believe our transmission contracts also give us the legal authority to limit generation,” stated Hansen.

BPA's position is unlikely to keep it out of the courts or away from an expensive and protracted  battle at FERC.  Other Northwest energy companies are expected to blast these and other BPA policies in the Ninth District Circuit Court of Appeals by alleging BPA actions are in violation of the Northwest Power Act.  Individual companies and utilities may also file actions to recover losses from BPA for its actions this spring in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.


Stay tuned, this is a major, reoccurring conflict with very high stakes.  Anticipate it may take a long time for the wind wars to blow over. 


Proving Green=Energy Savings


Does the Responsible Developer need to track Green energy savings?

Absolutely, whether voluntary or mandatory, it is your best interest as the Responsible Developer because it means you are saving money or at least offsetting the cost of the money you spent on all that Green energy saving technology.  If can also show you that your building performs better which makes it more attractive to tenants and prospective buyers!

If tracking energy use is voluntary, you still need to do it as part of good risk management.  You need to at least track performance before any applicable warranties have ran, because monitoring will tell you if actual performance is within the guarantees, warranties or performance specifications for your building.  If before that time energy use and cost are unexpectedly high it may indicate you have a problem that needs to be immediately investigated.  While there is probably a contract requirement for you to timely notify the applicable design professionals and contractors, it is always a good idea to consider hiring a unbiased and objective energy use audit consultant (link is a sample reference only there are many available locally).  This becomes critical when, in the face of well documented sub-par energy performance, your project team is doggedly representing that all is as it should be.

If tracking energy use is mandatory (yes many state and federal authorities are requiring mandatory production of records showing energy consumption) then you have no choice. 

Locally, as of today, May 12, the City of Seattle's Department of Planning and Development is requiring that 800 commercial property owners of non-residential buildings over 50,000 sq. ft. must start tracking energy use and must report on October 3, 2011.  Then, for both non-residential and and multifamily residential buildings over 10,000 sq. ft., annual reporting begins on April 1, 2012 (no not a belated April Fools joke). 

These effected property owners must employ use of the EPA's Energy Star Portfolio Manager that is used to set "energy use benchmarks".  This energy information must then be provided to the parties in real estate transactions (buyers, tenants and lenders).

So with this information becoming generally available to players in the RE market,  this new "energy bench marking" is expected to be used by local RE agents to help owners see where they stand in the market and how competitive their building(s) are regarding energy use.  Kidder Mathews was already working with its clients to do this voluntarily and has not had much push back from owners.

So again, whether mandatory or not, spending money on tracking the energy performance of your buildings means businesses and consumers that value green built will be willing to pay more, if you have empirical proof of performance.     

You're Invited to Learn More About the Bullitt Foundation's Living Building

On May 4th, the Bullitt Foundation is hosting a free event to showcase the Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction.  The Cascadia Center is designed to be the world's most efficient commercial building built in the world, and the nation's first mid-rise commercial building to achieve "Living Building" certification.  "Living Building" certification requires the Cascadia Center to achieve 20 benchmarks, including the on-site production of 100% of the building's energy and water needs.  The center would also be evaluated after one year of the building's operation (a response to the criticism that LEED-certified buildings fail to perform to green design standards over time).

Previously, the Capitol Hill blog and the Responsible Developer blog reported on the project opponents’ attempt to block the State’s most sustainable building with, ironically, the State’s most fundamental environmental law (SEPA). Earlier this month, a Hearing Examiner heard the SEPA-based appeal, and the Bullitt Center substantially prevailed. Currently, the project opponents are contemplating appealing the Hearing Examiner’s decision to Superior Court. While the building is a prime example of sustainable development, the Cascadia Center is unfortunately also a prime example of how SEPA can be used to delay a project and increase project cost. Earlier this year the Responsible Developer blog discussed the role of SEPA and sustainable development, which is available here.

Bullitt Foundation (owner), Point32 (developer), Miller Hull (architect), and the project’s proponents for moving the Cascadia Center forward. I’m looking forward to learning more on May 4th.

The Bullit Foundtion’s Cascadia Center Event
Wednesday, May 4th
6:00 – 7:30pm
Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall
At Benaroya Hall
200 University Street
Seattle, WA  98101

Green Building Means Green Infrastructure

Do Responsible Public and Private Owners incorporate Green, Sustainable components into infrastructure to better manage stormwater?  Absolutely, and locally we have some excellent examples.

First here's the concern, as eloquently expressed by a member of the American Association of American Geographers ("AAG") as part of an annual meeting being held in Seattle this week:  

"America's water infrastructure is in crisis.  Nationwide, conventional urban and exurban storm water management systems increasingly require extensive replacement and repair, leaving residents susceptible to flooding, infrastructure breakdowns, and contamination risk.  However, estimated stormwater systems rehabilitation costs run in the billions, an expense that many municipalities are unable to meet. To address this problem, officials in several U.S. and international cites are increasingly turning to an urban design based alternative, termed green infrastructure to to supplement conventional surface and subsurface drainage systems."

 King County has made just such a proposal for the Barton Basin area.  KC plans to design and build "green stormwater infrastructure" ("GSI") to control combined sewer overflows.  The GSI project will consist of planted areas call "rain gardens" between sidewalks, curbs and others areas in several locations in West Seattle.  This is the first "green" project KC Wastewater will implement.  The goal is to have these rain gardens trap millions of gallons of water a day that would otherwise enter the combined sewer system.  

Seattle Public Utilities is also heavily promoting the use of what it call Natural Drainage Systems projects ("NDS").  These systems also rely on open spaces of trees, smaller plantings, swales, soils and small wetlands to absorb water and filter out contaminants like oil, paint, fertilizers and heavy metals-before those contaminants reach our lakes, streams and Puget Sound. 

For you bloggers who may be homeowners and green do-it-yourselfers, SPU also has another link for called "Residential Rainwise Program" that encourages the use of landscape designs that incorporate the use of cisterns, rock filled trenches, grass strips, rain gardens and use of porous pavers (instead concrete or asphalt).  The Department of Ecology has a great guide for protecting waterways entitled "Protecting Aquatic Ecosystems."

In case promotion of green infrastructure in recession may not sell with some voters, perhaps some negative reinforcement may help.  For a really disastrous local example of what can happen when too much contaminated stormwater and wastewater enter our waterways, take them on a drive to lower Hood Canal on a gorgeous late summer day.  Go for a walk on the beach.  If the timing is right, they may see the red algae bloom in the otherwise blue water and the dead sea life littering the shoreline.

A sad but poignant reminder why all public and private owners need to work together to fund the protection of our priceless waterways. It is the responsible thing to do.     


The Right Time To Develop Green Highways?


Despite national, state and local budget woes, should the Responsible Developer pour more money into green sustainable transportation?

The US Departments of Commerce and Energy, along with the Washington Departments of Commerce and Transportation, say YES!

Given the civil unrest in North Africa and the Middle East and concern for disruption in the flow of oil, record high retail gas prices are predicted for this summer.  There may not be a better time to own a Chevy Volt, Ford Focus, Nissan Leaf (or if you are rich, see above) a Tesla Model S, or other all electric car.  The problem is, on a long drive, where do you stop to "fill" up? 

As you may recall in 2010 the DOC awarded the State of Washington $1.3 million for a series of electric car charging stations on I-5, in part to implement the nation's first "electric highway", a 1350 mile strip starting in Mexico and ending in Canada.  This is known as the "West Coast Green Highway."  

WSDOT also expects to create another section of green highway by the end of this summer, the Stevens Pass Electric Vehicle Highway.  WSDOT is holding two meetings to provide more information and to help local partners prepare for alternative fuels.  The meeting will be held on March 8th in Leavenworth and March 9th in Sultan

General Electric is also sponsoring a local event to promote "EVs" (electric vehicles).  The GE EV Experience Tour will be held on March 15th in Seattle, at the Experience Music Project.  The workshop will include technical and business tracks for developing EC Ecosystems, strategies and facilities.  Also, you Responsible Developers, heads up, GE is also looking to partner with public and private owners, property managers, electrical contractors and commercial and residential builders. 

While you are there you can even test drive some of GE's EV fleet vehicles (sorry no Teslas).

Still, imagine the day when you are cruising along I-5, for work or pleasure, where there is less engine noise, less exhaust fumes and when you stop to "fill up" your EV, your hands do not smell like gasoline and the only money you spend is in the EV convenience store....on health food.  Kidding, it's likely junk food will still be sold too, because no matter how driven we are, we're still Americans. 


Foster Pepper's Kelly Angell Earns LEED Green Associate Designation

Kelly Angell, an associate in Foster Pepper’s Real Estate practice group, has earned the LEED Green Associate credential from the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). The LEED Green Associate credential is for professionals who support green building design, construction, and operations, and have demonstrated knowledge of green building principles and practices and LEED.

GBCI provides independent oversight of professional credentialing and project certification programs related to green building. GBCI is committed to ensuring precision in the design, development, and implementation of measurement processes for green building performance (through project certification) and green building practice (through professional credentials and certificates).

Established in 2008 to administer certifications and professional designations within the framework of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED® Green Building Rating Systems™, GBCI continues to develop new programs and offer the marketplace validation that building certifications and professional designations have met specific, rigorous criteria.

At Foster Pepper Kelly's practice is concentrated in real estate law with experience representing clients in acquisitions, dispositions, development, leasing, and financing of commercial, mixed use, retail, and multifamily projects. She is a regular contributor to Foster Pepper’s Better Building: The Responsible Developer’s blog at http://www.responsibledeveloper.com.


Green Developments Reach the Puget Sound Shores

 Efforts to reclaim formerly contaminated and publicly inaccessible sites for new sustainable developments are popping up along the shores of the Puget Sound, from Tacoma and Bremerton in the south to Bellingham and Port Townsend in the north. These new projects aim to achieve LEED gold and LEED platinum, with visions to restore marine habitat and provide public access and economic vitality to the urban waterfronts.

A recent article in the Daily Journal of Commerce described the projects occurring along the Puget Sound Shores:


The city of Tacoma successfully reclaimed Fort Wells, a former Superfund site. The waterfront development underwent an extensive cleaning and remediation effort. The area now supports water-dependent and water-oriented uses including maritime business, education and recreation facilities, residential buildings, museums, and retail and commercial buildings. The increased use of the area both ensures that members of the public can enjoy the waterfront, and helps offset the high costs of cleanup and restoration.

The Center for Urban Waters is on target to become Tacoma’s first LEED platinum building. The 50,000 square foot, $23 million environmental lab and research facility opened last spring and is the first new project on the east side of the Foss Waterway.

The building acts as a hub for research on urban waterfronts, houses offices and labs for the city’s Environmental Services science and engineering group, and houses both the University of Washington’s Environmental Studies group and the Puget Sound Partnership. The Puget Sound Partnership is the state-sponsored group charged with developing a long term plan to clean up the Puget Sound.

The building has numerous sustainable features and a goal of achieving “net zero” energy use. The building minimizes runoff and filters water with rain gardens, a green roof and ground level cisterns. These on-site water treatment systems provide up to 50 percent of the building’s water for toilets, and 100 percent of the building’s water for irrigation. The porous pavement on the public walkway allows water to filter into the earth. Several intact dead trees were placed to attract migratory birds to the area. There were also trees placed in the water to provide habitat for marine mammals and fish.

Port Townsend

The Northwest Maritime Center recently made its debut in Port Townsend. The building, which was 15 years in the making, serves as the new home for the Wooden Boat Foundation and as the center for maritime education and the craft of wooden boats. The two-building, 27,000 square foot, $12 million project is the first LEED gold building on the Olympic Peninsula.

The site had a long history of industrial use. It was originally the home of a sawmill, and was later used as an oil terminal and tank farm for decades. Cleanup of the site included removal of over 2,400 tons of contaminated soil.

Over 60 percent of the site is open to the building, in an effort to provide the public with the opportunity to enjoy the shoreline. The new dock also provides moorage for large visiting vessels. The unique heating system uses the temperature differential between nearby seawater and ambient air instead of a traditional gas heat pump. Water source heat exchanger plates were installed under the new pier to use the temperature of the Puget Sound to efficiently heat and cool the two buildings.

The buildings include sustainably harvested woods throughout the structure. The new dock includes stainless-steel panels that reflect sunlight back into the water, which helps migrating and juvenile fish. Over 3,000 square feet of eelgrass was planted to provide nursery grounds and protection for fish, shellfish and marine mammals.

Point Wells 

Just north of Richmond Beach, the 61-acre, $1 billion Point Wells project is the most ambitious waterfront development in the making. Once completed, the project could add up to 4,500 new residents over a 20-year period. This would more than double the population of Richmond Beach.

The project site, which is currently inaccessible to the public, served as an oil tank farm for decades. The site, however, has great potential with a shoreline that stretches three quarters of a mile. Environmental cleanup and shoreline and habitat restoration is estimated to cost $20 to $30 million.

Construction of the project, which could begin as early as 2016, is expected to occur over a 15 to 20 year period. It may add up to 3 million square feet of mixed use buildings. The developer has planned several amenities for residents and guests, including a community center, a boardwalk and bike trail, a public transportation hub (including a Sounder station), a large beach plaza, amphitheater, p-patch opportunities and abundant open space and wetlands.

The sustainable features will include on-site sewage treatment and construction of a biomass plant fueled by agricultural waste brought in via train. The wastewater management system will also include a water system to collect rainwater to use for toilets and irrigations. The site aims for a 96 percent carbon emission reduction, from 1,100 tons per year to 25 tons per year.

These three projects are examples of the transformation of the Puget Sound shoreline that will continue for years into the future to help reclaim urban shorelines and provide a healthy, sustainable urban environment.

Obama's Better Building Initiative Aims to Improve Energy Efficiency and Reduce Costs

In the Better Building Initiative, President Obama proposes new measures to improve energy efficiency in commercial buildings around the United States. The initiative aims to make commercial buildings 20 percent more energy efficient over the next decade by encouraging private sector investment with incentives to upgrade offices, stores, schools, municipal buildings, universities, hospitals, and other commercial buildings.

The goal is to increase cost effective upgrades that will reduce energy bills and save business owners money. The hope is that this cost savings will be used to hire more workers, invent new products, and create shareholder value.

The initiative calls for a reform of existing tax and other incentives for commercial building retrofits, and proposes a new competitive grant program. President Obama is also asking corporate leaders to commit to making progress towards these energy goals. The President’s budget proposal will include efforts to make American businesses more energy efficient through several new initiatives:

  • President Obama is asking Congress to redesign the current tax deduction for commercial building upgrades to make the current deduction a tax credit that is more generous and will encourage building owners and real estate investment trusts to retrofit their properties.
  • President Obama is also making an effort to address the financing access problems for building retrofits. The Small Business Administration is working to encourage lenders to take advantage of increased loan size limits to promote new energy efficiency retrofit loans for small businesses. Further, the President’s budget will also propose a new Department of Energy program that will guarantee loans for energy efficiency upgrades at hospitals, schools and other commercial buildings.
  • The President’s budget will also propose new competitive grants to states and local governments that streamline commercial energy efficiency standards to encourage upgrades.
  • President Obama is challenging CEOs and University Presidents to have their organizations set an example in saving energy. Committing to a series of actions to make their facilities more efficient will make the organizations eligible for many benefits including public recognition, technical assistance, and best practices sharing with their peers.
  • The Obama Administration is also working to implement reforms that will improve transparency around energy efficiency performance and provide more training in energy auditing and building operations.

The end goal of the Better Building Initiative is to increase energy efficiency in commercial buildings by 20 percent and create a potential cost savings of $40 billion per year.

Irony Alert: Washington State's fundamental environmental law is being used to block the construction of the State's most sustainable building

This year, the Bullitt Foundation planned to construct the Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design in Seattle's Central District, designed to be the world’s most efficient office building built to date, and the nation’s first mid-rise commercial building to achieve “Living Building” certification. "Living Building" certification requires the Cascadia Center to achieve 20 benchmarks, including the on-site production of 100% of the building's energy and water needs (100% is not a typo). The center would also be evaluated after one year of the building's operation (a response to the criticism that LEED-certified buildings fail to perform to green design standards over time). Ultimately, the Bullitt Foundation envisioned developing the Cascadia Center to be a local and national model for innovative sustainable development. However, the Cascadia Center is quickly becoming a model that demonstrates the barriers to innovative sustainable development in Washington State.

Recently, a nearby building owner filed an administrative appeal challenging the Cascadia Center because the project’s developer did not prepare an Environment Impact Statement ("EIS") under the State Environmental Policy Act (Chapter 43.21C RCW, "SEPA"). The building owner (whose building's views would be blocked) argues that an EIS is required because of the purported environmental impacts by the departures to the land use code provided in the City’s design review process and provided in the City’s Living Building Pilot Ordinance (now codified at SMC 23.40.060). The departures were needed to design the building to meet Living Building certification standards. Because of the building owner's collateral attack, the project is now stalled in litigation for the foreseeable future.

Ironically, one of the largest barriers to innovative sustainable development is the State Environmental Policy Act, a law originally intended to be a protective shield for the environment.

Generally, development projects that do not meet a City's SEPA threshold exemptions are subject to the SEPA review process, which may or may not include the preparation of an EIS (which, is costly to prepare and takes many months or even years to complete). As demonstrated by the Cascadia Center, the SEPA review process is vulnerable to legal appeals, providing a tremendous amount of uncertainty for urban development, especially innovative sustainable development that may require departures from established code requirements. Regardless of SEPA's initial environmental intentions, in reality, the SEPA process increases the uncertainty and cost of urban development, providing a disincentive for innovative sustainable development.

To encourage urban development, the Washington Legislature has amended SEPA to dispense qualifying projects from SEPA review at the project level if a non-project EIS has been previously completed at the planning level. This is what many call "upfront SEPA," and several cities in Washington State have effectively used upfront SEPA to encourage urban development. Washington State has authorized several forms of upfront SEPA, including planned actions, optional local infill exemptions (RCW 43.21C.229; WAC 197-11-800(1)), utilization of regulatory requirements in lieu of SEPA review, and RCW 43.21C.420. The City of Seattle did not complete a non-project EIS for the Cascadia Center project area, and, as a result, the Cascadia Center remained vulnerable to SEPA-based appeals.

The Cascadia Center's legal woes demonstrate that sustainable development remains vulnerable to SEPA-based legal challenges. It is likely that sustainable development will remain vulnerable to “environmentally-based” challenges unless cities complete upfront SEPA or SEPA itself is dramatically amended. Until then, sustainable developers should consult with a SEPA attorney to develop a strategic plan to minimize the cost and delay of defending their project should a SEPA-based challenge arise.

Cascadia Center Details:

Project owner: Bullitt Foundation
Project developer: Point32
Architect: Miller Hull


Tacoma Housing Authority (“THA”) celebrated the completion of the last phase of the ambitious HOPE VI redevelopment of its Salishan housing development on December 8, 2010. Phase III of New Salishan received a LEED Platinum certification, the only public housing authority development and the largest residential development of any sort in the nation to receive this designation. Completion of Phase III marks the achievement of one of THA’s major strategic objectives to develop and manage its properties to improve the local and global environment. 

Salishan’s LEED Platinum certification is just one of many awards received by THA for this ambitious project, some of which were previously reported on this blog. Phase III completes the over 1350 housing units in New Salishan of affordable and market rate rental housing, single family homes for sale, along with commercial and community buildings, and parks, all on a brand new infrastructure.

Phase III features a plethora of sustainable design and maintenance features. A bio infiltration swale system in the landscaping keeps 90% of storm water on site. Housing units feature ductless mini split heat pump HVAC systems, air barrier systems to tighten the unit envelope and reduce air infiltration, insulated foundations and increased unit insulation, windows with a U-factor of .26, low flow water fixtures, low VOC and no-added urea formaldehyde materials, and almost 100% hard surface flooring. 

In order to ensure Salishan’s sustainability and future energy saving performance, THA is also providing comprehensive training for property management staff and occupants to capture and maintain the designed energy improvements. In addition, each unit comes with a Tacoma Power “PayGo” meter. Each meter is connected to the internet, enabling occupants to see in near real time their actual energy consumption and costs. This allows residents to compare power usage from laundry day to an ordinary day, or the effects of using different appliances. 

Today, more and more owners, developers, and property managers (including the U.S. government) are realizing the importance of properly maintaining sustainable buildings to achieve their energy savings and sustainable benefits and instituting training programs and manuals to help owners, managers, and tenants learn correct maintenance procedures.

Congratulations to THA on completion of Phase III of New Salishan and its LEED Platinum certification.

Cleaning Up (and Greening Up) the Mercer Mess

If you live or work in Seattle, you probably know that after more than forty years of debate, construction is now underway to fix the notorious Mercer Mess. What may surprise you, though, is that the Mercer Corridor improvement project is considered to be a model of responsible development.

If you are unfamiliar with the Mercer Mess, it is a circuitous one-way route running east/west through the South Lake Union neighborhood, connecting Interstate 5 to Elliott Avenue West, and it carries over 80,000 people per day. Built in the 1950s as a temporary route, the corridor divides neighborhoods, hinders development and creates traffic congestion that not only clogs city streets but impacts the entire regional highway system. Fixing the Mercer Mess has been one of the City’s most significant transportation challenges for decades; but after breaking ground in September 2010, Phase I of construction to widen and improve the corridor is well underway.

Major transportation projects present a unique opportunity for cities to implement environmentally-friendly solutions on a large scale, and Seattle has risen to the challenge. In a recent Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce article, “Mercer Street: From a Mess to a Model of Sustainability,” Roger Mason and Angela Brady report that in addition to reducing congestion and increasing mobility, the Mercer Corridor project incorporates many notable sustainable elements such as:

  • A reduction in impervious area by 0.5 acres;
  • Natural drainage provided by a “wet median” and rain gardens;
  • Undergrounding utility lines;
  • The deconstruction, salvage and eventual re-use of a historic building;
  • A tree canopy along the corridor, including more than 260 trees, 10,000 shrubs and other landscaping;
  • Enhanced safety and accessibility for pedestrians and bicyclists; and
  • Public art installations.

Want to learn more? The Seattle Department of Transportation’s website has information on the planning process, project funding, construction updates and an overview of the entire project here.


A Big Conference... and a Big Lawsuit

USGBC's annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo attracted more than 28,000 attendees at its show in November in Chicago.  Meanwhile, an outspoken building energy consultant in New York filed a class action lawsuit against USGBC and its founders, claiming USGBC is misleading builders and consumers about the energy performance of LEED certified buildings.

Retired General Colin Powell was the keynote speaker for Greenbuild, speaking on the necessity for passion and optimism in effective leadership.  Other speakers included USGBC President, CEO, and founding chair Rick Federizzi, Chicago's mayor, Richard M. Daley, and other government and industry speakers.  The conference showcased hundreds of new eco-friendly products and options, from a "smog eating" roofing tile manufactured by MonierLifetile LLC to a Caroma dual flush toilet that includes a hand basin on its top, allowing users to wash their hands in clean water that is immediately recycled to the toilet tank below for the next flush.

USGBC also announced two new green building rating systems, LEED for Healthcare and LEED for retail, along with the LEED Volume Program, designed to meet the certification needs of high-volume property developers, in anticipation of more robust building times ahead.  For more information, visit www.usgbc.org/leed.

Meanwhile, on October 8, 2010, Henry Gifford of Gifford Fuel Saving, Inc., filed a class action lawsuit against USGBC in federal court in New York City.  The lawsuit alleges that USGBC committed fraud and false advertising when it claimed LEED certified buildings save more energy than non-certified buildings.  The suit relies heavily on a study commissioned by USBGC and performed by the New Buildings Institute in March, 2008.  Based on this study, USGBC announced in April, 2008, that LEED certifed buildings were 25-30% more energy efficient than non-LEED buildings.  The suit claims the study and press release are misleading and points to Gifford's critique of the study, published in 2008, that concludes LEED buildings are, on average, 29 % less efficient.   USGBC's answer is due to be filed by December 28.  Commentators have questioned the validity of the lawsuit, although, as previously pointed out in this blog, USGBC has been responding to criticisms that its rating system does not measure actual energy performance of a particular building.

More to come on both fronts, stay tuned!

New Salishan Continues to Shine

The City of Tacoma was one of two "Large City Winners" of The Home Depot Foundation's second annual Award of Excellence for Sustainable Community Development.  Tacoma's selection was based on its support of sustainability city wide, and the Phase 2 completion at Salishan, a Tacoma Housing Authority award-winning residential redevelopment community.  The Home Depot announced the awards on December 3, 2010.  As the winner, Tacoma will receive a grant from The Home Depot Foundation for $75,000. 

Salishan began as government housing for the tremendous influx of families to the Tacoma area to work in the war effort in 1942.  After the war, the government gave the property to the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) and it became a major part of THA's affordable housing stock.  In 2001, the Tacoma Housing Authority began an ambitious plan to replace the worn out infrastructure and unsustainable structures.  The project cost over $225 million, and increased the number of housing units from 855 to over 1350.  "New Salishan" is a mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhood of affordable and  market rate rental housing, single family homes for sale, commercial and community buildings, and parks, all on a brand new infrastructure.

The cornerstone of the project is its environmentally responsible design and features, from extensive bio-infiltration swales that keep 91% of rainfall on site, to a THA education, training, and retail center designed to be certified as a LEED Gold project.  The project added or rebuilt three elementary schools, a middle school, a library, and a medical and dental clinic, along with the THA center, all within walking distance of New Salishan's residents.

To enhance the community even more, THA and others sponsored the Salishan Shine Project. Combining grants of funds, materials, skills, and labor, including volunteer adults and children living in New Salishan, the Shine project built and equipped playgrounds for children of all ages, installed outdoor art, developed outdoor gathering areas to garden, cook, or just sit, and constructed scenic pedestrian bridges over the creek running through the community.

The City was cited for its planning and operational commitment to sustainability, throughout its comprehensive plan and all phases of City operations and practices.

Foster Pepper is proud to represent both the City of Tacoma and THA.  Congratulations on this award, and yet another feather for New Salishan's cap.

Beginning a Conversation on Equitable Transit Oriented Development

Taxpayers in the Puget Sound region have invested nearly $15 billion to build up to 100 new transit centers by 2025. The transit centers and the development that accompanies the transit centers will largely shape how this region accommodates growth and encourages economic development. Previous light rail investments in South Seattle demonstrate several challenges that accompany transit investments. The Puget Sound Regional Council reports that light rail investments in South Seattle displaced local businesses and escalated land values near transit centers, thereby limiting opportunities to develop transit oriented affordable housing.1   Similar to South Seattle, many of the planned transit centers are to be located in the region’s most dense and diverse communities. This fact raises a critical planning question, how can this region encourage transit and transit oriented development without displacing established neighborhoods?

To answer that question, the federal government recently awarded a $5 million grant to a Puget Sound regional consortium2  to encourage equitable transit oriented development. With over 1,000 grant applicants, the Puget Sound region was one of 45 award recipients selected by the U.S. Department of Housing and Development (“HUD”). In all, HUD released nearly $100 million in grant funding with the goal of connecting housing with jobs, schools, and transportation. Grant insiders report that the Puget Sound region received substantial grant funding because of the grant’s emphasis on planning for equitable transit oriented development. Specifically, the $5 million grant for the Puget Sound region will fund:

  1. Neighborhood Engagement: Engage low-income and minority residents in the transportation and transit oriented development planning process. (~$500,000)
  2. An Affordable Housing Action Strategy: Establish an affordable housing land bank that acquires property near transit centers for affordable housing purposes.3  The strategy will also develop new land use and regulatory tools to encourage transit oriented development. (~$1,500,000)
  3. Transit-Corridor Planning: Establish a forum for local governments to act cooperatively, rather than competitively, to enact regional housing, transportation, and economic development goals. (~$1,000,000)
  4. Development Modeling: Develop a computer-modeling tool that allows planners to visualize, communicate, and analyze the cost/benefits of different development scenarios. (~$750,000)
  5. Pilot Projects: Enact equitable transit oriented development pilot projects in Bel-Red, Northgate, and the Tacoma Dome transit centers. ($1,000,000)
  6. Grant Administration ($250,000)

Responsible Development is more than achieving LEED certification. Responsible Development also requires sensitivity to neighborhood issues and a willingness to address those issues. It remains unknown whether the grant will result in a substantive regulatory framework that encourages equitable transit oriented development. Such development will require the cooperation of local governments, neighborhoods, and developers. However, the fact that eighteen project partners cooperated to secure this grant is one indicator that we should expect some substantive outcomes from this conversation.


1 See, Puget Sound Regional Council’s Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Proposal, 4-5, available here

2 Project partners include: A Regional Coalition for Housing (ARCH), the City of Bellevue, the Cascade Land Conservancy, the City of Everett, King County, King County Housing Authority, North Seattle Community College, Public Health – Seattle & King County, Puget Sound Regional Council, City of Redmond, City of Seattle, Seattle Housing Authority, City of Tacoma, Tacoma – Pierce County Heath Department, the University of Washington’s Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies, and the Urban Land Institute – Seattle District Council

3 The grant does not provide funding that capitalizes the land bank.


Leadership in Energy Design... and Performance?

Seems as if green building is not only here to stay, it is the one bright light in the otherwise dark or dim construction industry. Nonetheless, there is growing criticism--and response---about perceived deficiencies with the current LEED rating systems.

We have reported robust predictions for green building in previous blogs. Green building now accounts for nearly one third of new construction in the U.S., up from 2 percent in 2005, according to McGraw Hill Construction. Currently, LEED certification comes after construction of the particular structure, with no relationship to that structure's operational performance in terms of energy efficiency or carbon footprint. Green building certification does not ensure lifelong energy efficient performance, something critics believe should be accounted for in a green building rating system.

USGBC responded to this criticism by launching its Building Performance Initiative last summer. After a series of area summit meetings with local, state and federal government representatives, USGBC chapters, developers, architects, engineers, builders, and other construction professionals, USGBC has created the Building Performance Partnership (BPP). BPP is collecting water and energy use data from LEED certifed buildings, which are required to be reported under LEED's 2009 rating systems. Recently, current LEED certified building owners were invited to participate in BPP.

USGBC assures its users that reports will not be used to decertify existing certifications. In a recent press release, USGBC states BPP "will result in the population of a comprehensive green building performance database and enable standardization of reporting metrics and analytics to establish new building performance benchmarks." Currently, more than 120 projects are participating in BPP, and USGBC says these projects will receive a basic performance report in time for its Greenbuild 2010 conference in November this year.

Critics don't think this goes far enough, and think the federal government should lead the charge to establish building performance requirements. Phil Bernstein, vice president of Autodesk, Inc., a San Rafel, Calif., engineering and design software company, suggests "The USBGC should make it so that the LEED Platinum plaque pops off the wall if the building fails to perform."

Expect continuing developments and requirements in the green building performance arena, from USGBC and other rating agencies, along with the federal, state and local governments. In the meantime, I am pleased to report that our Seattle office building recently achieved a LEED Silver rating under LEED's existing buildings program... more to report later!


New "Upfront SEPA" Law Provides A Voluntary Tool To Encourage Infill Development

The 2010 Washington State Legislature amended the State Environmental Policy Act (“SEPA”) to provide cities with a new voluntary tool to encourage urban infill development. This tool, or as many call it, “upfront SEPA,” encourages urban infill by providing greater regulatory certainty for infill development. The 2010 amendment bars administrative and judicial appeals of SEPA compliance for infill development when a city prepares a nonproject Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) that analyzes the environmental impacts of future infill development at the planning stage. This is the Legislature’s latest attempt to accommodate projected population growth in urban areas in order to avoid rural sprawl and the conversion of forest and agricultural resource lands.

Although SEPA already contained several provisions designed to facilitate infill development, the 2010 SEPA amendment, RCW 43.21C.420, improves upon the previous measures. Specifically, the amendment:

  • Eliminates all SEPA-based appeals for infill development projects if: (1) the city completes a nonproject EIS for comprehensive or subarea plan policies and the development regulations designed to accommodate such infill development; (2) the infill development is consistent with these comprehensive or subarea plan policies and development regulations; and (3) an application sufficient to vest the project is submitted within a period specified by the city, not to exceed ten years.
  • Explicitly authorizes cities to charge a late-comers fee to recoup the costs associated with preparing the nonproject EIS.
  • Requires increased public notice to encourage early public participation in the planning and nonproject SEPA review processes.

Only cities meeting statutorily defined eligibility requirements may exercise the authority granted by the 2010 SEPA amendment. Eligibility extends to any city with a population over 5,000, located in counties governed by the Growth Management Act, that has a designated mixed-use or urban center subarea, or meets specified urban transit criteria. In Eastern Washington, different transit-oriented eligibility criteria apply to cities located outside of Spokane County.

If a city elects to invoke the 2010 amendment, the city is subject to several requirements:

  • The city must establish comprehensive or subarea plan policies and development regulations that allow and encourage high density infill.
  • The city must complete a nonproject EIS for the plan policies and development regulations that analyzes the environmental impacts of development consistent with the policies and regulations.
  • The city must consider establishing a program for the transfer of development rights from county-designated agricultural and forest resource land to the area targeted for infill.
  • The city must hold a public meeting before a scoping notice is issued for the nonproject EIS. Notice of the meeting and notice of the scoping must be mailed to all property owners within the subarea and other interested parties outside of the subarea.

The amendment is lengthy, containing numerous detailed provisions governing eligible cities, authority to recoup the nonproject EIS preparation costs, and immunity from SEPA-based appeals. Some of these provisions vary for local governments depending on population and region of the State. Nonetheless, the 2010 SEPA amendment provides cities with an effective voluntary tool to encourage urban infill development.

For additional information on the amendment, please contact Jeremy Eckert (eckej@foster.com; 206.447.6284) or Dick Settle (settr@foster.com; 206.447.8980).*

* Foster Pepper land use attorneys, Pat Schneider, Tayloe Washburn, Dick Settle, and Jeremy Eckert, were deeply involved in drafting the 2010 SEPA amendment (ESHB 2538, 2010; RCW 43.21C.420). The legislation was endorsed by the Climate Action Team, received unanimous approval from the State Senate, and nearly received unanimous approval in the State House.


Green is Good, But is it Enough?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between green building and sustainable development.  “Green” and “sustainable” are often used interchangeably when talking about responsible development, but they aren’t always synonymous.  While a “green” building may have achieved a significant reduction in energy consumption, it might not be a good example of “sustainable” development.  Green buildings and the efficiencies they create cannot really be considered sustainable unless they also address the broader impacts of development.  For example, an otherwise green building may actually generate a high carbon footprint if its occupants have to make a long daily commute, all alone in their cars, to get there.

Architects Joshua Prince-Ramus, Randolph Croxton and Tuomas Toivonen agree that “green building” alone is not sufficient to achieve a meaningful reduction in our ecological footprint.  In a recent article, they suggest that maximizing the existing infrastructure in our urban cores must form the basis of a sustainable future. As Prince-Ramus puts it, “urban living itself is the embodiment of sustainability.”

In addition to increasing urban density, Prince-Ramus and his co-authors present several other strategies that can be implemented to incentivize growth and development while reducing our overall carbon footprint, including the use of urban growth boundaries, transferrable development rights, community-based metrics of sustainability, and the development of more flexible urban structures that can accommodate a variety of uses.  While these aren’t necessarily new concepts, Prince-Ramus suggests that perhaps they should play a larger role when considering the overall impact of a project’s design – so that in addition to “greening” the technical aspects of design and construction, the development itself can help to positively change human behavior.  In other words, truly sustainable development requires a holistic approach, one that incorporates systemic solutions such as increasing density, limiting sprawl, and changing our automobile-centric ways.

Do you agree with Prince-Ramus and his colleagues?  What long-term strategies do you think will be most effective in reducing our ecological footprint while encouraging responsible development?