- by Peggy Rowland
“We like to say our green building mission statement is, ‘Oh, come on, it’s not that hard’,” says Sarah Hadskey, chair of the steering committee for the Memphis Regional Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Hopefully that message will begin to take root in the Memphis community as the environmental movement gains momentum and exposure worldwide.
The formal mission statement of the chapter is to “educate the Memphis Metropolitan and Greater MidSouth community in the art and science of sustainable design and construction practices, and to guide the community into regular implementation of such practices.”
USGBC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding sustainable building practices, has more than 70 regional chapters across the country. The two-year-old Memphis Regional Chapter of USGBC has around 60 members and gained full chapter status in June of this year. Hadskey, one of several founding members of the local chapter, expects the membership to double next year.
“Sustainable design is a very old idea,” says Hadskey. “It’s just a matter of remembering how to do it.”
She likes to compare green building to building in the 1850s, before the luxuries afforded by electricity, air conditioning, cars and overnight delivery.
“It’s not a new idea at all; it’s just that we forgot about it,” she says. “In 1850, we used to always build buildings this way [green], because we didn’t have air conditioning yet, so we made them green. We made them work, because we had to live in them whether or not we had air conditioning.”
Hadskey notes that in those days, building materials came from a local source, and homes and buildings were designed to fit the climate of the region. She gives older New Orleans, La. homes as an example - very high ceilings and windows opposite each other to allow cross breeze.
Bob Land, vice chair of the steering committee for the local chapter of USGBC, defines a green building as being “sensitive to its use of natural resources, not only while it is being constructed, but also after it is occupied.” Land, one of the founding members of the local chapter, adds that green homes typically use less water and energy and have better indoor air quality.
Land, an architect at Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects, is currently working on several green projects, such as a model green doctor’s office. The firm also recently completed work on a football stadium for St. George’s Independent school in Collierville that uses 40 percent less energy than a typical sports field, while still providing the same foot-candles, a measurement of light intensity.
According to the USGBC, green building offers numerous environmental, economic, health and community benefits. Some of these include protecting ecosystems, improving employee productivity, reducing operating costs and improving air, thermal and acoustic environments. Green building contributes positively to the overall quality of life while reducing the strain on local infrastructure. To access some studies about the benefits of green building, visit the USGBC website, www.usgbc.org.
“Membership is open to anybody who has anything to do with buildings, which is basically the entire population of the world,” says Hadskey. Chapter members gain networking opportunities as well as the chance to serve on committees.
Any individual may be a member at the chapter level, but national membership is corporate. Full-time employees of national member companies have membership at the national level as well. Membership at both the national and chapter levels combined includes the ability to vote, serve on the board and have local chapter benefits.
The current membership of the Memphis Regional Chapter of USGBC includes concerned citizens, architects, contractors, interior designers, manufacturers’ representatives, lawmakers, engineers, janitorial personnel, facility managers and government officials.
Some organizational chapter members include MLGW, University of Memphis Architectural Program (a national and chapter member) and the City of Germantown (Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy). The chapter encourages local code officials and City Council members to join. Of the current chapter members, 26 members are also members of USGBC at the national level.
Jack Cowan, a chapter member and owner of cowanhouse, works primarily with diagnostics and consulting for green homes in Shelby County and Nashville, Tenn. Cowan defines his business as a healthy home performance business and works with several existing programs, such as Energy Star and Home Energy Concepts.
“Green building is all I do,” says Cowan. “It always helps to have an organization to network with.”
The USGBC developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System through a consensus-based process guided by LEED committees. LEED encourages sustainable green building and development practices by creating and implementing universally accepted tools and performance criteria. The rating system promotes sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, proper materials selection and good indoor environmental quality. LEED for Buildings is applied to both new construction and existing buildings (LEED EB).
Cowan wants to get more involved with USGBC’s LEED for Homes as it is unfolded in this area, and says there are good first steps a homeowner can take to green an existing home.
“Education is the primary thing,” Cowan says. “Take the time to learn what to do. Part of education and awareness is to find someone to do diagnostics so you have a reference point to see where you are as far as performance.”
LEED is used by many people who may be members of USGBC at the chapter or national level, including architects, lenders, real estate professionals, landscape architects, interior designers, engineers, facility managers and construction managers. And LEED isn’t limited to the United States – there are LEED projects in progress in 41 different countries.
Hadskey believes LEED has been so successful because it values a diversity of perspectives from different disciplines. The LEED rating system also allows for building owners, homeowners or others to choose how green they want to become. LEED certifications for buildings include Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
“So many people have a misconception that green building costs a lot more, and that’s just not so,” says Hadskey. A recent study, “The Cost of Green Revisited” by Davis Langdon, found that many projects are achieving LEED within their budgets and within the same cost range as non-LEED projects. Any additional costs to meet LEED certification are usually paid back within a few years by energy savings alone.
Although Memphis does not yet have any LEED certified buildings, Tennessee has eight, including the Multiprogram Research Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which earned the only Gold LEED certification in the state. Neighboring Arkansas has two LEED Platinum certifications – the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and the Heifer International Center, both in Little Rock, Ark. Memphis does currently have some projects registered to become LEED certified, and Hadskey expects the first building to gain certification in the spring of next year.
“We need more everyday people to say, ‘we have to have this’,” says Hadskey. “This is what we require. This is what we need in our city. Not just LEED, but we need to have a greener city. We need to increase our test scores and have better places to live and work and walk and so on.”
Recently, LEED for Homes and LEED for Schools were introduced. LEED for Schools addresses specific needs of schools and recognizes the unique nature of construction for schools. Each regional chapter will have a trained Green Schools Advocate who works with parents and others to help encourage green schools in their communities. The Memphis chapter is currently looking for a Green Schools Advocate, who does not have to work in the building profession.
The local advocate for LEED for Homes, Jim Lutz, trained at the national headquarters of USGBC in Washington, D.C. As director of the Center for Sustainable Design and professor of architecture at the University of Memphis, Lutz has been involved with TERRA (Technologically and Environmentally Responsive Residential Architecture), a high-performance, healthy and sustainable home that will serve as a demonstration home. University of Memphis students and others in the community, such as USGBC members, have been working to help make TERRA a reality. It will likely be the first home in Memphis to be LEED certified.
As far as the future plans of the Memphis chapter, Hadskey hopes the chapter will prove the case for green building locally and continue to make it easy and friendly to practice green building. Hadskey would also like to see more building owners step up and ask for LEED certification. The chapter also wants to work closely with other green groups in town to accomplish shared goals.
You can find more information about the local chapter of USGBC on their website. To learn more about LEED for Buildings, Schools or Homes (including registered or certified projects by state or city), visit the following USGBC sites: www.usgbc.org, www.buildgreenschools.org, or www.greenhomeguide.org.