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Tucson ripe for ‘Green’ building opportunities

Downtown Tucsonan

Published February 2007

by Mae Lee Sun

In December of 2006, the U.S. Green Building Council’s Southern Arizona Chapter, met for the first time in Tucson, an example of a national trend of architects, builders, government and business leaders coming together to collaborate on plans to reduce energy demands on the environment. It also marks the first time in a generation, according to local green building consultant and author Jerry Yudelson, that the public has shown concern about energy costs, creating a competitive and profitable market for ‘Green-based’ business and construction projects.

“We’ve gotten to the point as a society where no one can laugh away the problem of global warming anymore. When given the choice, consumers are more inclined to favor green building projects and are willing to pay for homes and workplaces that are healthier and more energy efficient,” says Yudelson, who is also a USGBC-certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED, AP) and current chairperson of the USGBC’s annual Greenbuild Conference and Expo which will take place in Los Angeles this coming November.

As a LEED consultant on an 800-acre residential development in Texas, an eco-resort in Puerto Vallarta and as a LEED advisor for the Presidio Terrace multi-unit housing project in Downtown Tucson, he is ahead of the curve locally in securing a green-based future for himself. According to a recent report in Barron’s—one of the nation’s top business and financial weeklies—those in the construction and real estate industry, including investors who, unlike Yudelson, fail to keep up, will be finding themselves scrambling to make a profit as standard building practices become obsolete.

Architect Dave Burns, his two partners and two additional registered architects of the downtown architectural firm of Burns Wald-Hopkins, were key players in jumpstarting Tucson’s green building scene back in 2001. They were chosen to design Pima Community College’s Desert Vista Plaza Building—Arizona’s first LEED pilot project. BWH has since completed several other LEED certified projects, including a sports facility for PCC and Davidson Elementary School for Tucson Unified School District.

The 22-million-dollar environmental studies laboratory and office building at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, the firm’s current project, will be completed in May 2007 when BWH will apply to the USGBC for LEED platinum certification, the highest level given on the organization’s rating scale for energy performance. There are less than twenty buildings worldwide with platinum designation.

Burns says that greening is growing as more and more businesses, including municipalities, buy into the “triple bottom line”.

“In addition to its value in the marketplace, if a sustainable building is well loved, it will last for years and that’s what you get when you create a healthy physical environment, which results in a better place to work on a social level as well,” Burns says.

Leslie Liberti, the City of Tucson’s Office of Conservation and Sustainable Development department’s first director, agrees, saying that building ‘Green’ is really the only way to create a thriving city core and preserve future development. Liberti says that contrary to what most people believe, green-building results in lower overall costs by having to be more efficient and creative with existing natural resources. If we don’t have the resources, quality of life diminishes and the area won’t attract new industry or residents.

“If you look at cities like Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, they’ve all made the word ‘sustainability’ common in the public’s language. Even in Scottsdale, they’ve had green building initiatives since the mid-1990s. One thing we’re hoping to do here is create a vision of sustainability that a broad range of people can relate to, like supporting infill development and providing expedited reviews for green projects. It’s not about trading in your home to live in a Quonset hut. The incentive is an opportunity to establish a competitive advantage,” says Liberti.

While Liberti, Burns and Yudelson are busy tracking the development side of greening, Natasha Winnik, co-founder of the Tucson chapter of Green Drinks (a casual environmentally-oriented networking group) and proprietor of Originate Natural Building Materials Showroom, says that most of her business over the past three years the store’s been open has actually been driven by individual consumers asking for products such as bamboo flooring, non-volatile organic compound (NVOC) paints and recycled glass tiles. They first become aware of them through seeing advertisements in national lifestyle magazines such as Dwell and Natural Home. Although more expensive than standard building materials, product sales have increased at Originate because homeowners are sending their contractors in to source materials. As a result, Winnick says gross sales in 2005 grew at a rate of five times what she’d taken in at the end of 2004; something she says is indicative of the industry as a whole.

With growing demand for all things Green, Yudelson, hopes the USGBC chapter here in Tucson will continue to move forward in its education and networking efforts by attracting more high-level professionals like Burns, Liberti and store owner Winnik, who will quite likely be carrying his fourth book on the subject, Green Building A to Z, due to be published sometime this spring.

For meeting times of the USGBC-Southern Arizona Chapter, call 520-207-9759.

Written by maeleesun

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