Written by Rob Pressly, NACo Program Manager.
Counties throughout the U.S. are turning to green building strategies to simultaneously reduce their environmental impact and lower operational costs through energy and water conservation. Green building rating systems, such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design Rating System (LEED) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program, provide a framework for counties to sustainably construct and operate public buildings and meet county sustainability goals.
The LEED Rating System, for example, looks at a building through five main categories: Sustainable Sites; Water Efficiency; Energy & Atmosphere; Materials & Resources; and Indoor Environmental Quality. Projects must meet the prerequisites within each category, but can earn points for meeting additional credits. The points from each category are tallied and used to determine a score for the building; the higher the score, the higher certification level the building achieves.
Recognizing the environmental and financial benefits of green building techniques, counties are using LEED standards to construct new public buildings and retrofit existing buildings to be more efficient. Additionally, as of January 2013, 58 counties have enacted policy requiring new construction and major renovations to meet a minimum level of LEED certification. Counties participating in green building practices have seen significant energy reductions and cost savings, benefitting both the county and county residents. For example:
- Chatham County, Ga.’s Southwest Branch Library costs 30 percent less to operate than buildings similar in size and design. The county’s newest library and first LEED-registered building employs a number of energy saving techniques, including: xeriscaping, or the use of native plants to reduce water use in landscaping; reflective roofing materials to minimize solar heat gains; and occupancy sensors to automatically turn off lights when rooms aren’t occupied.
- Fairfax County, Va.’s Dolley Madison Library has reduced its energy usage by 20 percent and water usage by 30 percent through maximizing the amount of natural light into the building and using low-flow water fixtures and energy-efficient lighting. The library was also the first in the county to use a green roof, which decreases the amount of stormwater runoff and reduces the amount of energy required to cool the building in the summer.
- Allegheny County, Pa. has implemented energy and water saving techniques in 22 of the largest county-owned buildings, reducing electricity by 3.5 million kilowatt-hours and using nearly 89,000 fewer gallons of water per year. This translates to saving the county $2 million annually and reducing its carbon dioxide emissions by 6,000 tons per year. The county has also partnered with NORESCO to develop a training program to teach county employees ways to reduce energy usage at work and home.
These three counties are just a sample of those across the U.S. that are setting an example for sustainable operations for local governments.
To provide further insight into how green building strategies can help your county meet sustainability goals, NACo is hosting the Grow Your County’s Green Building Industry: Policies, Codes, and Incentives webinar on Thursday, November 21 from 2:00 – 3:15 PM ET. Register today to hear speakers from Montgomery County, Md., Sarasota County, Fl. and Cadmus discuss best practices and solutions to common pitfalls implementing county green building strategies.