Washington state passes ‘green’ building law

If contractors want to snare a state building contract in Washington state, they’ll have to go “green.”

In early April, Washington became the first state to legislate that new public buildings must meet environmentally friendly design and construction standards. Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the law, which uses the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building rating system for state-funded projects larger than 25,000 square feet and for major renovations.

Rick Slunaker, assistant director of government affairs for the Associated General Contractors of America, said most of the law’s provisions are acceptable and doable by the construction industry.

“We can build just about anything, you just have to tell us what you want and how much money to pay for it,” Slunaker said.

The LEED rating system was launched in 2000 by the U.S. Green Building Council to evaluate the environmental impact of buildings — the guidelines of which call for using recycled materials, ensuring better ventilation and reducing water and energy use, among other standards.

Green buildings reduce utility costs, increase employee productivity, reduce absenteeism and in schools and improve student test scores, according to the USGBC.

Slunaker said AGC’s biggest concerns with the law concerned how the LEED certification process meshed with construction contract procurement law, and what legal issues contractors faced if projects weren’t certified green after completion.

“[We wanted to know] what, if any, liability may exist in those circumstances,” he said.

Both concerns were addressed in the final revision of the law and in an addition that gave contractors the option of using alternate green building certification should the project warrant.

The new law will exempt affordable housing and cases in which using the green building code is impractical. The requirements will be phased in for state agencies and school districts during the next two years.

Nearly 200 buildings nationwide have been built to LEED standards, according to the Green Building Council. Pennsylvania and Connecticut currently have LEED legislation in the works. A number of states — Arizona, California, Oregon, Maine, New Jersey, New York and Michigan — have policies that encourage the use of LEED standards.

More than 30 municipalities and counties also have policies incorporating LEED.

In Washington state, nearly 24 buildings have already been built according to the standards, and 72 more are under construction. Another 1,834 projects nationwide are in the process of being certified.

AGC recently announced its new headquarters would adhere to green building codes. That project is slated for completion in late summer.

Slunaker doesn’t think contractors should worry about increasing government adoption of green building standards.

“Company’s that are actively involved in a variety of projects aren’t going to see significant changes in how they approach things,” he said.

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at pbeeson@randallpub.com.