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The Real Deal 

by Ann M. Colford

What does it mean for a project to be built in a sustainable manner? Well, 15 years ago, the United Nations' World Commission on Environment and Development defined sustainability as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." But translating that definition into building design and construction methods has taken time. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a nonprofit member organization made up of representatives from across the building and design industries, came into existence in 1993 and promulgated the first national standards for green building seven years later.

Called the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System, the voluntary standards provide a framework for assessing how well a building meets sustainability goals. Building owners, designers or contractors may seek LEED certification, which may be displayed and used in promotional material. The initial standards addressed only new commercial construction, major renovations and high-rise residential projects, but the USGBC is evaluating draft standards for existing building operations and commercial interiors as well. Membership in the USGBC now exceeds 1,000 organizations, from the AIA (American Institute of Architects) to retailers like Starbucks; here in the Northwest, both Seattle and Portland have adopted LEED standards for city construction projects.

It takes more than standards to make green building a reality, though. In an effort to get to the practical application of sustainability standards, the Northwest EcoBuilders Guild (NWEBG) is joining with the Spokane Chapter AIA and the Interdisciplinary Design Institute of WSU-Spokane to co-sponsor a seminar called "Doing Sustainable Design and Construction in the Real World," to be held Friday morning, January 24 at WSU-Spokane. Workshop leader Elizabeth Powers is an associate with O'Brien and Company, a Seattle-area firm that specializes in sustainable design-build consulting, education and research. She is a LEED-accredited professional and a graduate of the Sustainable Building Advisor Certificate Program. Powers will share her insights into the LEED standards, along with other local green-building standards in the Puget Sound area; she'll also discuss how to make sustainable building practical, workable and affordable.

"We'll look at what we think it takes to get green building to happen," Powers says. "We'll talk about LEED and how to use it, and then give examples from our work, both LEED and non-LEED projects."

The LEED standards are certainly achieving recognition as the national standard for green building, Powers says, but there are other standards that pre-date LEED - especially the residential BUILT GREEN efforts through local homebuilders' associations - and those standards are worth noting as well. Among her current projects, some are LEED projects and some are not, but all share the same vision of sustainability.

"All of these projects are drawing from the knowledge represented by LEED, but not all are going for the LEED certification," she says. "We encourage all of our clients to look at LEED seriously. The marketing value of LEED is amazing, but you need to think about what you're trying to accomplish."

That kind of focus on the practical aspects of green building is one of the hallmarks of Powers' approach, according to Jim Wavada, the Sustainable Building Specialist with the Eastern Regional Office of the Washington Department of Ecology and a member of the Inland Chapter of the NWEBG.

"A lot of building recommendations and standards are limited by what local codes allow," he explains. "From [Powers'] experience in the Puget Sound area, she'll talk about how to meet the green building standards within what the codes will allow, and what has proven to be the most doable under current codes and financing."

To illustrate the variety in sustainable building, and its span from public policy to financing to bricks and mortar, Powers plans to talk about several recent projects with O'Brien and Company:

n LEED guidelines for Kitsap County capital projects

n Sustainable building standards (non-LEED) for the North Kitsap School District

n The Merrill Hall reconstruction of the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington

n A private commercial development in Seattle called 307 Westlake

n The sustainable - but non-LEED - Tillamook Forest Interpretive Center for the Oregon Department of Forestry

On Jan. 23, prior to the workshop, Powers will address Wavada's Sustainable Design and Building class at WSU-Spokane. The class takes place every Thursday evening from 6:30 to 9:30 pm; each session addresses a different facet of sustainable design and building. In addition to students who take the class as a semester-long seminar, working professionals from the community may sign up to attend one or more class sessions.

"The idea was to have a core of students, but then to open the class to working professionals," Wavada explains. The combination of academic theory and practical experience is meant to benefit both the students and the professionals.

To register for the Friday morning workshop, call Jim Wavada at 509-329-3545. The cost is $30, and architects who attend are eligible for three continuing education credits. For information about the ongoing Sustainable Design and Building seminars, call the Interdisciplinary Design Institute at 509 358-7920.

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