County Green Buildings Programs Grow By Almost Fivefold

County Green Buildings Programs Grow By Almost Fivefold

The number of county-based green building programs in the U.S. has almost quintupled, growing from a mere eight in 2003 to 39 in just five years, according to a study by the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

The study, "Local Leaders in Sustainability: Green Counties," singled out four — Alameda County, Calif., Hennepin, County, Minn., King County, Wash., and Montgomery County, Md. — for having "solid best practice examples of programs that can be viewed as models."

"These counties are also representative of the original innovators at the county level," the AIA said in releasing its report on July 9. "Partially as a result of policies such as these, buildings across the country have undergone a revolution in terms of the emphasis that is placed on resource efficiency and life-cycle performance."

The report included case studies of the four counties and their extensive eco-friendly programs and services.  Many of them grew out of strong work partnerships among public agencies and private developers groups, the report said.

In focusing first on Alameda County, the report said, "The multifaceted program stands out as one of the best, having independently developed a comprehensive green building rating system ... that is used in the county and beyond."

"We're very excited," Alameda County Sustainability Program Manager Carolyn Bloede said of the AIA's special mention.

The AIA report also noted that Alameda County passed a green building ordinance in 2003.  The first public construction project completed since the measure became law is now a showpiece for green building in Alameda County, Bloede said.

The county's new Juvenile Justice Center opened in spring 2007 after almost three years of construction. As a public structure, it was required by the ordinance to attain at least a silver rating under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards -- the mandatory minimum Alameda County had set for all municipal buildings.

The center was also designed to consolidate all the county's juvenile services at a single location. The 370,000-square-foot complex houses a 360-bed facility, five courtrooms and space for the juvenile services of the district attorney, public defender, behavioral health care, court clerk, sheriff and probation departments.

With a design that emphasizes use of natural light and a myriad of other green features, the center exceeded the requirements set by the ordinance, Bloede said. The county was proud of surpassing the threshold, she added, but didn't have a complete picture of the appreciation for the project until county employees provided feedback about the new green building.

"That was the truly exciting thing," Bloede said. "We started getting emails from people about how much they appreciated having everything under one roof and about how much of a difference it made to work in a building with a lot of natural light. We thought, 'Wow, we really made an impact.' We know how important this is, but people's responses personalized it for us."

In compiling its study, the AIA sought to survey 200 of the most populous counties in the country this year.  With help from the National Association of Counties, the AIA achieved an 88 percent response rate.

"The AIA is committed to advancing the practice of architecture by continuing to promote sustainable, low-impact building features," said Paul Mendelsohn, AIA vice president, Government and Community Relations.

"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," Mendelsohn said in a statement. "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."