Exploring The Spread Of Green Building Programs

By Steve Hudson | September 28, 2010

If you're still not sure whether green building programs are catching on, here's a statistic for you: Since 2003 the number of counties with green building programs has risen from eight to 39.

If you find it easier to think in terms of percentages, that represents an increase of 487.5 percent.

Why are we seeing all of this attention to green construction? Many see the data as indicating that the building sector is the greatest single contributor to carbon emissions in the United States. Clearly, that represents a challenge. And the implication of that challenge is this: The building sector thus has the greatest potential for carbon reductions.

What does that mean in practical terms, and how are municipalities responding? To explore the issue, the American Institute of Architects set out to examine the eco-friendly initiatives of U.S. counties. To that end, AIA commissioned a study — it's entitled "Local Leaders in Sustainability: Green Counties" — of green building initiatives in the top 200 counties, by population, in 2008. That represents more than 168 million folks, or a little more than half of the country.

Working with the National Association of Counties, AIA surveyed planners, building officials and sustainability managers. The resulting report clearly shows the spread of green building programs. It also takes a look at best practices and provides tools for policymakers too.

"Buildings account for the largest source of energy consumption in America," the report notes. "As such, they offer the greatest opportunity to effect positive change in our environment."

Adds Paul Mendelsohn, AIA vice president, Government and Community Relations: "The AIA is committed to advancing the practice of architecture by continuing to promote sustainable, low-impact building features." He continues, "Green building policy is an important part of this process, and it is heartening to see all of the effort being put forth by local leaders. The experiences of these counties make it increasingly clear that investment in high-performance building programs is an efficient and popular use of taxpayer dollars."

The survey's findings are interesting. Speaking with 147 of the 200 counties, AIA found that 39 (representing a population of almost 43 million) have a green building program. An additional nine counties from the survey group are in advanced stages of developing green building programs, suggesting even more green activity in the future.

Florida Green Building In The Spotlight

A significant portion of the report spotlights a number of Florida counties which are, the report notes, "representative of the original innovators of green building policy at the county level." In fact, five of the 17 Florida counties surveyed (representing about 5.8 million residents, or about 35 percent of Florida's population) have green building policies in place.

These counties, the report notes, "saw high performance buildings as an opportunity to improve their allocation of funds and establish sound, long-term practices," and the report adds that they "were willing to explore new means to embark upon that path."

"Partially as a result of these policies," the report continues, "buildings across the country have undergone a revolution in terms of the emphasis that is placed on resource efficiency and life-cycle performance."

Other counties, which might be considering green building programs, are urged to "look to these communities" to see how it has been (and can be) done.

Recommendations For The Future

For counties who want to get in on the excitement, the report includes several recommendations:

  • Build a broad coalition including architects, builders, planners and design and construction professionals to be part of policy proposals.
  • Hire a full-time director of sustainability to coordinate efforts between departments, assist with long-term plans, recommend new policies and avoid failures in communication.
  • Train and accredit county employees in whatever rating system the community plans to use.
  • Work with regional governments to avoid patchwork and independent programs.

And for the construction industry? The green movement is not going to go away. It's gaining momentum, and the impacts on what we build and how we build it are certain to increase in the months and years to come.

No matter what market segment you're in, make sure that your company is on top of the green construction issue. It will only mean green for your own bottom line.

Interested in seeing the complete report? Find it at www.aia.org/SiteObjects/files/LLeadersCounties-fullreport.pdf.