Green by Design: Local Building Councils Are Guided by Environmental Principles. (Currents)

By Reilly, Trish | E Magazine, May-June 2002 | Go to article overview

Green by Design: Local Building Councils Are Guided by Environmental Principles. (Currents)


Reilly, Trish, E Magazine


About 50 people had gathered in the auditorium at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art to hear urban planners, architects and energy engineers talk about the environmental challenges facing South Florida. There was concern about the low attendance, but also optimism that a movement was being born.

"One hundred and fifty years ago, New York's Central Park was built because of the efforts of just a few people," says Daniel Williams, an urban planner and architect. "This is our community, our responsibility. We need to immediately make a plan and persevere."

David Benjamin, conference organizer and founder of Third Planet, a nonprofit organization that provides green design consulting services to communities around the world, is helping to spread the word by convening the South Florida Green Design Council, a group of architects, engineers, health care professionals and concerned citizens who meet one evening a month. The group has met with an environmental physician to discuss the effects of airborne toxins, a University of Miami economist who presented a view of the financial impact of the pending Everglades Restoration project, and a hydro-ecologist who talked about the dangers of using underground injection wells for water storage, as planned in Florida.

As small as South Florida's design council is, it is not alone. Another group meets in Miami to discuss the greening of county-owned buildings, and a group of construction professionals interested in green building issues has formed in Palm Beach County. Some of these groups are part of a statewide organization, and some are part of a national network.

There are councils in other countries and even a World Green Building Council. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) was formed in 1993, and membership has doubled each year for the past three years, with more than 1,000 member organizations today. The group helps to promote and disseminate information about sustainable building practices to its members, who in turn bring that information to their clients.

"We try to promote a more holistic approach to sustainable design," says Peter Templeton, who manages a USGBC quality control program called LEED Certification. "It is a standard definition of what is green--a rating system that allows us to assess a building to determine what its environmental impacts are. We look at five categories: the site, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, material and resources and environmental quality."

The USGBC LEED certification is a self-assessment, and it is gaining support across the country. Local and state governments in such places as Portland, Oregon, New York City, Seattle and Austin, Texas are beginning to utilize the program as an incentive, and in some cases a requirement, for new buildings. Maryland may soon adopt LEED standards for all state building projects. The USGBC conducts workshops across the country to help builders, architects, planners and government officials learn how--and why--to meet the high environmental standards.

"We were just astonished when 200 people showed up for our first meeting," says Bob Maddox, director of communications for the Connecticut Energy Cooperative and president of the Connecticut Green Building Council, founded last fall. …

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