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  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.  


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. 


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.


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.

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.

Better Building Local and National Events

What are some noteworthy local and national events related to better building? 

Here’s a quick list:

April 22 Carbon Credits Seattle, WA

May 5-7 Living Future 10 Seattle, WA

May 16-18 NAHB National Green Building Conference Raleigh, NC

June 5-6  Seattle Green Festival