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Washington lawmakers would require new state buildings be 'green'

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Schools, universities and other public buildings in the state would have to be built to meet energy efficiency, water conservation and other environmental standards under a bill given final approval by the Washington Legislature on Wednesday.

If signed by Gov. Christine Gregoire, Washington would be the first state in the nation to have such a law. She has expressed support for it.

So-called green buildings have been built all over the country in the past few years, using a standard called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Introduced in 2000 by the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington, D.C., the guidelines call for using recycled materials, ensuring better ventilation in buildings and reducing water and energy use, among other standards.

The Green Building Council says high-performance green buildings not only reduce utility costs, but increase employee productivity, reduce absenteeism and in schools, improve student test scores.

The bill that passed Wednesday would use LEED standards and a separate school design protocol to be developed by state school officials.

"If we want to build performance buildings that produce higher test scores, lower costs and healthier workers, we need to move into the 21st century," said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish. "It's good for the kids, it's good for the workers, and it's good for the taxpayers."

Some lawmakers argued that the requirements add additional costs without a proven benefit.

"What's the bang for the buck?" asked Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum. "Do we need this? Is there a real compelling public interest?"

Bill sponsor Sen. Erik Poulsen, D-Seattle, said projects will cost 1 percent to 4 percent more up front, but the energy and water savings will soon offset that.

"The savings they'll enjoy for generations to come far outweigh those costs," he said.

Final approval came on a 78-19 House vote. The bill passed the Senate earlier this month, 32-16.

Before leaving office in January, Gov. Gary Locke issued an executive order directing state agencies to use green building practices in all new construction projects and major remodels of more than 25,000 gross square feet. Other states, including California, have similar executive orders on the issue, but Washington would be the first to have it in state law.

The bill passed by the House requires the new standards on construction projects larger than 5,000 gross square feet. Affordable housing will be exempt, as will cases where a formal review of the project finds the requirements to be not practicable. The requirements will be phased in for state agencies and school districts over the next two years.

Nearly 200 buildings nationwide have been built to LEED standards, according to the Green Building Council. In Washington state, nearly two dozen buildings have already been built according to the standards, and 72 more are under construction. Several cities and municipalities have required new buildings to be built to the standards, including Chicago and Austin, Texas.

Another 1,834 projects nationwide are in the process of being certified, said Taryn Holowka, spokeswoman for the council.

Some of the construction decisions that define a high-performance green building:

  • Locate building near public transportation.

  • Preserve natural habitat around the building.

  • Put lights and other electronic devices on a timer to reduce energy use.

  • Use native vegetation for landscaping.

  • Install low flow fixtures on faucets.

  • Have building's energy use tested by an outside expert.

  • Don't use products that contribute to ozone layer depletion.

  • Use alternative energy such as solar and wind power.

  • Use building materials that have a certain percentage of recycled content.

  • Use building materials that are manufactured within 500 miles of the building site to support the local economy and decrease transportation.

  • Do not allow smoking in the building.

  • Monitor carbon dioxide.

  • Use materials that don't emit toxic fumes.

  • Allow occupants to have outside views, including natural day lighting of work surfaces.

    Source: U.S. Green Building Council

    Related Links:

    Legislature: www.leg.wa.gov. The green building bill is Senate Bill 5509

    Governor: www.governor.wa.gov

    Washington Environmental Council: www.wecprotects.org/Home

    U.S. Green Building Council: www.usgbc.org

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