Green Building

Saturday, December 15, 2007

THE EXPLOSION of development in the Washington area speaks to its vibrancy and the opportunity that many seek and find. But this good fortune is a double-edged sword. The buildings and roads constructed to meet the demand take a toll on the environment. That's why this week's vote by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to recommend green building techniques for its member jurisdictions is welcome.

COG's recommendations center on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) ratings, which are considered the gold standard of green building. We're talking solar panels, the use of recycled construction materials and green roofs that not only insulate but also absorb water. The added benefit is that the runoff trickles into area waterways at slower speeds, and it is cooler and has fewer pollutants. It may sound quixotic, but more such construction will improve the environment.

The Potomac River could certainly use the help. It recently received a D+ grade from the Potomac Conservancy, signaling an end to three decades of improvement in river water quality. The increased levels of chemicals in the river flowed from increased development along its banks and abutting its tributaries.

COG's vote applies to new local government and commercial construction. The idea of applying the standards to existing buildings, schools and residential properties is being explored. Some area schools have already gotten a LEED rating; Great Seneca Creek Elementary School in Montgomery County and T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria are two of them. Even though the council's vote was not binding, local governments are likely to go along. The District uses LEED ratings in construction projects, as do the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery, Prince George's and Prince William.

A standard green building code across the metropolitan area makes sense. New facilities shouldn't disrupt the natural environmental flow but blend in with it. That means buildings need to become more energy efficient and roadways must no longer be conduits for pollutants that foul the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. The sooner more jurisdictions adopt LEED and other green standards, the better off we'll be.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company