COB, SConnect working on green building incentives

By Nick Hartrich, Green Building and Smart Growth program manager for Sustainable Connections

The city of Bellingham – a community praised for its successes as a leader in sustainability – was recently recognized as the No. 1 Smartest Small City in the Nation by the National Resources Defense Council for our achievements in green space, transportation, energy conservation, air quality and green building.

Meanwhile, the last two years of the Sustainable Connections’ Green Building & Smart Growth program has seen close to 3,000 participants attending a workshop, tour or conference dedicated to green building and innovative land use solutions. While these figures demonstrate a strong public interest and a growing national recognition as a leader in sustainability, there is a local perception that a lack of predictability in code interpretation is hindering the absorption of green building practices into the market.

These local effects mirror regional and national trends. Climate Solutions and Clean Edge Inc. recently identified green building design services as one of the areas with the greatest potential for green job growth in the Pacific Northwest. However, they also identified outdated building codes and the absence of “a streamlined process for green building permitting and approval” as significant hindrances to the realization of the economic potential of this sector. In addition, McGraw-Hill and the National Association of Home Builders project that the market value of green building construction will increase to $60 billion by 2010. This is a significant increase in market share, and the No. 1 factor that they anticipate will contribute to this success is an unprecedented level of government initiatives.

A solution: FIVE/12
Sustainable Connections and the city of Bellingham have responded to the building community’s challenge and worked in partnership to develop the FIVE/12 Agenda, a program to reduce green building barriers by creating at least five tangible green building incentive success stories over 12 months in 2009.

As part of this process, the FIVE/12 Agenda documented Bellingham building professionals’ interest in green building incentives. Examples: incentives for green building include areas surrounding reduced permit time, tax/fee incentives, technical assistance, low impact development incentives, density bonuses, etc. The Agenda also evaluated current barriers to green building based on building professionals’ experiences with the city of Bellingham.

Several themes related to green building challenges consistently surfaced from the building community. They include the following observations:

  • Green building’s integration into the market has been delayed by a lack of consistency in code interpretation.
  • Incentive creation should take into account the possibility of “greenwashing” – the existence of projects which appear to be sustainable but are not.
  • Future incentives and related legislation should be heavily publicized in order to increase their use.

The city’s efforts
City of Bellingham staff worked diligently to answer the call of the building community and integrated components of the FIVE/12 Agenda into their 2009 strategic plan. The five concepts the city will employ by end of 2009 include:

Developing a green permit review team
An interdepartmental team has been established to review BuiltGreen, LEED, and comparable “green” building designs and applications. A designated lead for the team serves as project manager for green building projects, which will result in a more coordinated and efficient review.

Create a system for reducing permit review time
The dedicated green permit review team will review green building projects in an integrated, rather than linear process, which yields greater efficiency and improved outcomes.

Identify, analyze, and make available to the public alternative methods for green construction
Alternative methods and materials for green construction will be developed into policy with the intent to streamline the allowance of these alternatives by avoiding repetitive interpretations, thereby providing greater predictability to the public.  (Most recently, clear code interpretation guidelines were published for waterless urinals and solar photovoltaic installations).

Incorporate LEED for Neighborhood Development prerequisites and other sustainable frameworks into urban villages
Urban Villages comply with the essential components of LEED-ND, and a proposal is being made in the city’s comprehensive plan update to use LEED-ND as a tool to measure the long-term sustainability of proposed Urban Village master plans.

Analyze effectiveness of “Green Factor” program

The Green Factor is a scorecard for low impact development techniques and landscaping requirements that result in an increase in the quality and quantity of landscaping provided with new development.

Next Steps
As 2009 comes to a close, Sustainable Connections will be dedicated to supporting the city of Bellingham staff in implementing integration into their strategic plan and reporting success stories. The city’s recent hire of two new employees (Jim Tinner, City Building Official and Ted Carlson, Director of Public Works) has already shown strong interest and support for ideas brought about by the FIVE/12 Agenda. Both the city and Sustainable Connections will continue to develop strategies to build on these successes that drive momentum in a community that is supportive and responsive to green building. Keep an eye out for future accomplishments and achievements. The only question left is which 10 incentives will there be for 2010?

For questions about the FIVE/12 Agenda and other green building resources, please visit or email

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