Editor’s Comments: The Green House Effect

Jan. 1, 2009

As this article shows, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards are rapidly being adopted for structures as large and diverse as sports venues. But LEED is going smaller, too, with its standards for individual and multifamily homes.

Bringing sustainable design to the level of the dwelling may be one of the most far-reaching things that the US Green Building Council (USGBC) has accomplished. It introduced LEED for Homes in January 2008, after testing and collecting comments on two pilot versions of the rating system. When the USGBC’s founder, David Gottfried, moved into his much-publicized LEED Platinum-certified home last year (it earned 106.5 points of the 136 possible; only 80 points were needed to earn the Platinum certification), the USGBC estimated that 1,100 homes had been LEED-certified and more than 13,500 were in the certification process.

That’s still a small fraction of the total homes built–the National Association of Home Builders reports 1,045,900 single-family housing starts in 2007, though that number has dropped in 2008. Yet sustainable homes are a fast-growing segment of a declining market.

Two years ago, I spoke with Christine Ervin, former president and CEO of the USGBC. She said then that the amazing thing about LEED and green building was that they were catching on so quickly in a market that is traditionally very slow to adopt new ideas. They’ve picked up even more momentum since then. A November article in The Wall Street Journal titled “Green Gap” pointed out that as environmentally sustainable construction becomes more mainstream, we’re experiencing a shortage of people who can do it well, leaving builders scrambling for training. One builder (as well as our own publisher) has predicted green buildings will be “the new normal.”

What does this mean for the stormwater industry? A developer interviewed for an article in our July/August 2008 issue noted that in the sustainable homes he builds, buyers are mainly interested in features like solar panels and energy conservation features rather than the rainwater-harvesting systems he installs. Water, he said, was the “last thing”: “Most people don’t care about stormwater unless they get flooded.” He saw his developments as an opportunity to educate buyers about the stormwater aspect of his designs–lure them in with the sexy solar panels, and eventually get them to notice the homes’ other features as well.

His strategy is a good one for the stormwater industry in general. Green building is growing in popularity, and positioning stormwater management as an integral component of it is a smart move. Already, some manufacturers of stormwater BMPs are doing this by promoting their products as contributing to sustainability, and, in some cases, even showing how they can contribute toward LEED points.

For municipal stormwater programs, too, catching some of the reflected glow of a movement that is popular and in demand is a good idea. Many people, to judge by the ongoing challenges to new stormwater utilities, still perceive stormwater management as something of dubious benefit for which they are being asked to pay a fee. They might accept it more easily if they see it as part of a more comprehensive and more attractive package–perhaps even feel invested in it. You can appreciate, even admire, a sustainable public building, but you can own a green home.

Homes, as well as other buildings, can earn points toward certification for a number of stormwater-related features and techniques including permeable lots, rain gardens, vegetated swales, cisterns, green roofs, permanent erosion control features, and rainwater harvesting. You can find the LEED rating systems, complete with checklists, on the USGBC’s site at www.usgbc.org.

About the Author

Janice Kaspersen

Janice Kaspersen is the former editor of Erosion Control and Stormwater magazines. 

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