In my last post, I reviewed the City of Seattle’s lofty sustainability goals, but Seattle isn’t the only local government division in Washington State to take a leadership position.

Larry Phillips, Metropolitan King County Council member, recently shared that, “King County’s commitment to green buildings balances two kinds of green, protecting both the environmental and tax dollars, by ensuring project costs aren’t substantially increased in order to meet environmental building standards.”

This was in response to King County’s unanimous passing of Ordinance 17709, which requires all King County government construction and major renovation projects to strive for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design LEED Platinum designation. Some may see this as a natural progression for the County, which has put sustainability at the forefront of the conversation for well over a decade.

Five years ago, King County committed to LEED Gold for all public construction so it’s upping its green standards with its new ordinance. The county offers many green tools and educational programs to promote sustainable projects. Critics may see the goal of LEED Platinum as unattainable due to the constraints of public budgets and the perceived expense of Platinum projects.

We’ve had the opportunity to work on a couple of King County Platinum projects that may shed some light on this concern.

USGB logo LEED Platinum

Making the Financial Case for Platinum

The County has made it clear that project teams are to strive for this lofty goal only if it is financially responsible. Project managers must show that the project will not incur any “incremental cost impact to the general fund over the life of the asset” as compared to a typical building. Also, only “an incremental cost impact of no more than two percent to other funds over the life of the asset” is allowed as compared to a typical project.

If these fiduciary measures cannot be met the ordinance encourages the use of other green rating systems, including Built Green and Living Building Challenge. This puts King County at the top of the leader board by encouraging people to build green through the standard that most closely aligns with their project’s values.

Projects Reflect Values, Not Points

King County has elevated one value above all others and that is its commitment to the communities surrounding its projects. According to an article in EDC highlighting the Bow Lake Transfer Station’s recent overhaul, “They didn’t pursue sustainable building in order to earn credits; they earned credits because the credits represented features that were important to the community and important for the efficiency of the building and for the health of the environment.”

The article credited the county with being “genuine in their intentions, and as a result the communities have embraced them wholeheartedly.” This is the key to a successful sustainable building at any level. Strive to achieve the most change and use as many best practices as possible, regardless of the corresponding credits.

Success Stories

The County owns several Platinum projects that successfully embody this approach of using meaningful strategies that improve the project performance and the surrounding communities, rather than chasing points with a lot of high-tech, high cost solutions.

Bow Lake is the latest transfer station Paladino has worked on with the county, along with great designers and teammates, to achieve impressive results. This project reduces lighting costs by 50% and water use by 57%.The capital improvements implemented at Bow Lake required little cost and the strategies implemented with a higher than typical cost are expected to pale in comparison to the savings generated by infrastructure and utility cost savings, keeping in line with the new ordinance’s requirements. Based on previous projects, Bow Lake can expect to achieve a 94% ROI on the passive lighting features and an 80% reduction in energy costs, saving a minimum of $162,900 annually.

Shoreline Transfer Station

Shoreline Transfer Station – image courtesy KPG

Shoreline recycling station is an example of the ability to achieve Platinum without breaking a budget. It was also the first industrial building in the world to achieve Platinum certification. Many of the green features in this project have been implemented elsewhere in County facilities, such as harvesting rainwater from the roof to wash the station floor and flush toilets and using a clerestory design to reduce the need of ventilation by 80%.

These are the types of creative, low-tech solutions that allow for such high aspirational projects to come in on budget. Perhaps most importantly, the sustainable features of the project help make the transfer station an unobtrusive neighbor rather than a community nuisance.

Water quality tests have shown that Thornton Creek, which runs through the project site, is in better condition now than it was before the project was built.

Could a team come back to the county and say that striving for Platinum just can’t happen? Of course. There will be cases where it’s simply not possible under these new guidelines. Before that happens, hopefully the project team will review the County’s existing Platinum projects and other projects completed within similar regulations.

We’ve actually found that manufacturing facilities can attain a LEED Platinum certification well within a LEED Silver budget. By working together and learning from the success of other buildings, we can continue the trend of making Platinum the new norm.

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Melony Pederson is a Sustainability Analyst, LEED® AP ID+C; ND in Paladino’s Seattle Office

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