As the discussion about global warming advances from “How serious is this, really?”, to “Seriously, what are we going to do about it?”, local governments have a key role to play in promoting greener ways of thinking.
In Everett, the City Council is poised to take a meaningful step in that direction next week when it considers an ordinance that would set greener standards for new municipal buildings. Put forth by council members Brenda Stonecipher, Paul Roberts and Drew Nielsen, it would require new city facilities 5,000 square feet or larger to seek Silver certification with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.
That means stricter rules for site selection, water use, energy efficiency and use of environmentally-friendly materials, to name a few. The result is slightly higher construction costs – 2-5 percent higher, experts say – but facilities with a smaller environmental footprint and lower operational costs. Obvious savings will come from lower water and energy bills, but benefits will also be realized in cleaner working areas with fewer toxins and irritants that can cause respiratory illnesses.
But the larger benefit may be symbolic – the city is making sustainable building a community priority. “The city needs to sort of put its money where its mouth is,” Stonecipher told a Herald reporter. By doing so, she realizes, the city will further encourage environmental consciousness in private-sector construction.
Everett already has made positive moves toward building green. Its downtown plan offers incentives for builders who earn LEED certification, and its agreement with OliverMcMillan to develop riverfront acreage includes a commitment to build to LEED Silver standards. Plus, Everett’s Ray Stephanson is one of about 200 U.S. mayors to have signed a climate protection agreement, pledging to try and cut greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2012.
The green-building ordinance is a natural step in this progression. And it’s a fiscally responsible one – if the council finds that achieving the Silver standard on a particular municipal project isn’t feasible, financially or otherwise, it can bypass the rule. The ordinance makes clear, though, that meeting the standard is the city’s intent, and future councils will be expected not to blink easily.
These rules are modest, practical steps that will help nudge the community to a greener institutional mindset. For communities whose citizens take the threat of global warming seriously, they’re the kinds of steps that must be taken.