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April 24, 2003
In 1993, a handful of government and building-industry organizations formed a national association called the U.S. Green Building Council. Their mission was to transform the building industry into a “green” and environmentally friendly practice as quickly as possible.
By 1996, the council had grown to 150 organizations. A task force charged with predicting the future of the green building movement presented its findings that year at the council’s annual conference. The task force estimated that at the rate green building practices were being adopted, it would take 200 years to transform the market.
At that same conference, the council rolled out the draft version of a green building rating system called LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
Roll forward to 2003. The U.S. Green Building Council now includes about 2,700 organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada. The Cascadia chapter, which comprises Oregon, Washington and Vancouver, B.C., includes around 13 percent of the organization’s membership.
Cascadia also claims around 18 percent of the LEED-certified buildings in the country (over 10 million square feet) and about 16 percent of the registered LEED projects, which number over 800. In the Northwest, 336 professionals are accredited to administer LEED projects.
This concentration of minds with a common goal has begun to transform the region at a rate that would have been mind-boggling just six years ago.
What is developing in the Northwest is a rapid-fire preview of what is gaining momentum throughout the world. Perhaps the confluence of politics, economics and social concern was ripe, but this corner of the country has embraced the green building movement with energy and resolve.
Forging green policy
In 1998, Seattle developed a sustainable-building plan that called for setting building performance guidelines as well as several leadership goals, including incentives, that clear the regulatory path and provide education. The Cascadia Region Green Building Council developed a similar plan the following year, upon which the council based its mission.
At the same time, a number of local governments began to establish policies that made it clear that green buildings were an important part of the future. In 2000, Seattle became the first city in the region to adopt the LEED rating system as the performance standard for new city buildings. Quick to follow in 2001 were King County and the city of Portland. A year later, after careful research into other existing systems, British Columbia adopted LEED as the accepted green building standard for its new buildings.
Some of the most interesting work in high-performance buildings is taking place in Canada. Highly efficient insulated wall systems and double-skin exterior walls are being used and tested in Vancouver. The Telus Corporate Building downtown applied such a system to a renovated building.
The C.K. Choi Building on the University of British Columbia campus uses composting toilets and a stormwater detention system. New buildings in Portland and Seattle are cutting energy use by 20-40 percent by applying green building guidelines at the first stages of design.
Increasingly high-tech systems are beginning to show up in speculative development such as the building-integrated photovoltaic panels at Block 4 of Portland’s Brewery Blocks.
Challenges for the future
Over the next 10 years, the greatest challenges to the green building movement will be time and economics.
The region’s capacity to react to the environmental impacts of today’s decisions will increase exponentially. Transportation is the greatest of these impacts. As the region moves away from an oil-based economy, the modes of transport will have to change rapidly to clean fuel sources. Hydrogen, hydroelectricity and wind-generated electricity can be generated locally and are the most viable economically.
The study of systems and systems-thinking has enabled designers, developers and city officials to discover links to aspects of their community never before understood. Businesses and communities are taking steps to create new models of sustainable development.
Sustainability and the restoration of damaged natural systems is at the top of the agenda for many organizations in the Northwest. The challenge for all of them is to find funds and resources to fulfill their missions.
There may be a silver lining in this period of transition on two fronts. The first will be the increase in necessary and desirable jobs related to the environment.
“Our firm has doubled in size in the last three years,” said Kevin Hydes of Keen Engineering. “Most of the growth has come, I believe, from our sustainable agenda and increasing green building portfolio.”
As a part-time professor at Portland State University, this author has observed that students in all disciplines expect to find a job that is not only financially satisfying, but beneficial to the environment.
The second benefit of things to come is that as green buildings (and sustainability in general) become more accessible at the technical and economic level, issues of social responsibility will gain an equal footing.
This, said Mark Hertsgaard, author of “Earth Odyssey,” “is the most important issue to resolve in this century. The world looks to the U.S. to do the right thing by example.”
If our region gets it right, the U.S. will look to the Northwest for the best examples.
Logan Cravens is an architect at SERA Architects in Portland, a LEED-accredited professional and an officer of the Cascadia Region chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.