Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Building an Emerald City: A Guide to Creating Green Building Policies and Programs

Building an Emerald City: A Guide to Creating Green Building Policies and Programs

by Lucia Athens

See All Formats & Editions

In 2000, Seattle, Washington, became the first U.S. city to officially adopt the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) “Silver” standards for its own major construction projects. In the midst of a municipal building boom, it set new targets for building and remodeling to LEED guidelines. Its first LEED


In 2000, Seattle, Washington, became the first U.S. city to officially adopt the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) “Silver” standards for its own major construction projects. In the midst of a municipal building boom, it set new targets for building and remodeling to LEED guidelines. Its first LEED certified project, the Seattle Justice Center, was completed in 2002. The city is now home to one of the highest concentrations of LEED buildings in the world.

Building an Emerald City is the story of how Seattle transformed itself into a leader in sustainable “green” building, written by one of the principal figures in that transformation. It is both a personal account—filled with the experiences and insights of an insider—and a guide for anyone who wants to bring about similar changes in any city. It includes “best practice” models from municipalities across the nation, supplemented by the contributions of “guest authors” who offer stories and tips from their own experiences in other cities.

Intended as a “roadmap” for policy makers, public officials and representatives, large-scale builders and land developers, and green advocates of every stripe, Building an Emerald City is that rare book—one that is both inspirational and practical.

Editorial Reviews

Metropolis Magazine editor in chief - Susan S. Szenasy

"Shifting your city's complexion from gray to green can be fraught with pitfalls. Luckily Lucia Athens is here to provide thoughtful operating instructions, based on real American experiences in building sustainable cities."
co-directors of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems - Pliny Fisk III and Gail Vittori

"We hope others who read this have the opportunity to expand their worldview by stretching and challenging assumptions and conventions as Lucia has."
Principal, BNIM Architects - Bob Berkebile

"Building an Emerald City is a perfect storm; Lucia is the right person at precisely the right time to provide this guide to creating green building policies and programs. Her experiences working with leading green cities are richly detailed and thoughtfully shared. This is mandatory reading for anyone who cares about our future!"
planning director, City and County of San Francisco and former planning director - John Rahaim

"Cities are in unique positions to address climate change through land use and transportation patterns, and to build sustainable structures. As a local and national founder of the Green Building movement, Lucia Athens's guidance on Green Building is especially useful to all of us involved in City Building."
Metropilis Magazine Editor in chief

“Shifting your city's complexion from gray to green can be fraught with pitfalls. Luckily Lucia Athens is here to provide thoughtful operating instructions, based on real American experiences in building sustainable cities.”

— Susan S. Szenasy

Metropilis Magazine

“Shifting your city''s complexion from gray to green can be fraught with pitfalls. Luckily Lucia Athens is here to provide thoughtful operating instructions, based on real American experiences in building sustainable cities.”

— Susan S. Szenasy

Product Details

Island Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
7.90(w) x 10.40(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Building an Emerald City

A Guide to Creating Green Building Policies and Programs

By Lucia Athens


Copyright © 2010 Lucia Athens
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61091-126-9


Introduction The Promise of Green Building

Sustainability at its heart addresses the challenge of balancing the needs of people with the needs of nature. In many fields—from fisheries management to green business practice, for example—applying sustainable thinking has helped us to understand the limitations of natural systems and the dangerous demands that human systems are imposing on natural resources.

The lens of sustainability presents sobering news, telling us we must find alternatives to our Western, resource-gobbling ways. It would require six planets' worth of resources to sustain the U.S. lifestyle at a global scale.

The media tend to focus on doom-and-gloom news, such as species loss, decreasing biological productivity of oceans, global climate change, and increasing pollution levels. While we cannot turn our back on negative trending of environmental indicators, what is needed is a more positive approach to the possibility of solving our ecological mess. As a society, we need a sense of hope and empowerment to energize people toward actions that make a difference. Sustainable building offers that hope—for design professionals, building officials, and the myriad of human beings that live and work inside buildings.


On the global scale, green building has been identified as a key strategy for addressing climate change. As written in the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, the goal of the agreement is to "meet or beat the target of reducing global warming pollution levels to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012." One of the twelve key strategies in the statement says that these cities will "practice and promote sustainable building practices using the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED program or a similar system."

This latter statement acknowledges the significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions represented by the building sector. Using U.S. Energy Information Administration statistics, architect Ed Mazria has calculated that buildings account for a whopping 76 percent of the total U.S. electricity consumption. Mazria has thrown down the gauntlet by creating the 2030 Challenge, which sets a goal for all buildings to be greenhouse gas–neutral by the year 2030 (see figure 1.1). The U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously adopted a 2030 Challenge resolution in 2006. In addition, as of mid-2009, more than 944 cities had signed on to the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, representing over 83 million citizens. Such public declarations by elected officials provide a clear mandate for support of green building programs. When discussing with your elected officials why they should support green building, be sure to refer to such policy agreements.


The world of sustainable, or green, building is rapidly evolving. Until fairly recently, the modern-day built environment provided us with just a handful of grassroots examples of environmentally friendly buildings, and some of these may have been considered anomalies or, at the least, rather odd looking. Today, hundreds of more mainstream examples exist, ranging from college facilities to corporate headquarters to affordable housing. Just ten years ago, few firms, products, and sources of information were available. Today, the availability of information is expanding rapidly. In 2005, a Google search for "green building" resulted in more than six hundred thousand hits. In 2008, the same search results expanded to more than 5 million hits, and in 2009, to 7.3 million hits. Needless to say, there is a lot of information out there, but how do we make sense of it all to create green buildings that are both relevant and successful?

One goal of this book is to provide a mentoring tool for those endeavoring to create green building projects or programs in the public sector or within their organizations. While my experience is largely from ten years as the director of the Seattle green building program and from early work with the Austin green building program (see box 1.1), the tips and lessons provided in this book can be applied to other public jurisdictional authorities, such as at the county, state, or regional government level. In addition, some of the targeting strategies could be utilized by large corporations that develop, own, or manage a sizable building portfolio.

It is my hope that this book will provide valuable lessons and insights regarding the process of moving toward more sustainable buildings, cities, and organizations, with a particular focus on the public sector but with insights that can benefit many types of organizations. It should be instructive to the corporate sustainability officer, public policy maker, public or private building owner, project manager, architect, and student of green architecture.


The success of green building appears to be outpacing many other environmental movements. Renowned geneticist David Suzuki, named one of the 2007 "Heroes of the Environment" by Time magazine along with Al Gore, Robert Redford, and Wangari Maathai, expresses amazement at the adoption and progress of the sustainable building movement's transformation of the marketplace, compared to many other environmental movements. Suzuki is also impressed with the size and participation level of the community pushing the movement forward. This success may be partly because green building differs from reactive movements oriented solely around protest. It provides a proactive solution to a complex web of problems, long-term profitability, and a positive approach people can get behind. Green building creates visible symbols and visceral experiences for how a sustainable world might look and feel, further feeding inspiration in the movement and an increase in supporters.

Leaders in the field have found ways to leverage their agenda within the building industry because of the tremendous resources already invested in design and construction activities. Most of the building projects that end up becoming green are development that is slated to happen anyway. With the appropriate vision, tools, and leadership, these resources can be shifted toward green rather than conventional building. Capital dollars and design team creativity can be captured to create increased levels of ecological integrity in the built environment. Green buildings can become generators, rather than consumers, of power and other resources. This turns the traditional paradigm for grid-dependent and minimum code-compliance building on its head.


Hand in hand with the maturation of the green building movement, sustainable business practices are becoming a key corporate value. Many Fortune 500 companies are now also rated on their corporate reputation for sustainability, including social factors, community and environmental responsibility, innovation, and quality of goods or services. Research is beginning to show that high marks related to sustainability issues can be directly correlated with corporate profitability. Never before has the understanding been clearer that our ecological prosperity is linked to our economic prosperity.

Green facility development, ownership, and tenancy are now understood as a key aspect of smart business practice. Consider the many examples. Toyota Motor Corporation not only markets hybrid automobiles such as the Prius but is also building green buildings to house its own employees. Toyota Motor Sales division's campus headquarters building in Torrence, California, uses a combination of strategies, including solar power, recycled water use, and high-efficiency equipment. The building outperforms Toyota's required 10 percent return on investment, reduces potable water use by 60 percent, and reduces energy use by 60 percent over code. That all adds up to significant operational savings and an award-winning building that has received excellent media coverage, the latter of which also generates corporate value.

Yoshi Ishizaka, senior managing director of Toyota, seems to understand how all this not only protects the company's bottom line but also embodies a new business ethic. According to Ishizaka: "It is our actions today that determine the world of tomorrow. The results of those actions will directly affect the world that our children inherit." Toyota is emblematic of a growing number of corporations that have enthusiastically embraced the green building concept as central to their good business practices. Governments, too, share many characteristics with corporate organizations. They develop, own, and manage facilities. They seek to protect the value of their assets and are concerned with risk management. They employ large numbers of people and share corporate concerns about employee performance, retention, and overhead.


Few entities hold more power to transform the face of urban environments than do city governments. These municipal jurisdictions define the boundaries of urban environs; permit building projects; provide critical safety, environmental, and social services; and are often the single largest owners of urban space, including public lands and rights-of-way. In addition, cities can often be large users of private architectural design and construction services. As major public developers and landholders, cities such as Seattle are significant players in the real estate marketplace. They can serve as clients for a huge number of design, construction, and development service contracts, with large market value. Not only is this impact seen in the architectural services arena, but the public works that result have a huge impact on the enduring fabric of the city. Green government facilities send a message to the public, who help to fund, and eventually visit, these places.

The City of Seattle, for example, owns over one thousand buildings, totaling nearly 7 million square feet. The operational impacts of maintaining these buildings are huge. In addition, it owns and manages 2.5 million square feet of parking and yard space, and nearly 215 million square feet of green and open space. The City also owns the electric, water, and solid waste utilities that set utility rates and provide conservation incentives. The City permits land and building development within the city limits. As the keeper of the keys for building codes and most utility services, the City wields tremendous power over the building sector and the built environment.

As the first entity to formally adopt LEED™ (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, the passage of Seattle's sustainable building policy in February 2000 sent ripples through the public and private sectors. The announcement of the policy was met with a flurry of press and public recognition. If Seattle had the courage to do this, who would step up next? Many other municipalities and jurisdictions followed suit by formally adopting LEED as Seattle did. Those using LEED now include the states of California, Maryland, and Washington, and the cities of Portland, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Dallas, and Boston, to name just a few. The Seattle policy has been replicated by many, and Seattle's Green Building Program hosts fact-finding missions from far-flung locales, including New Zealand and China, and from cities closer to home, including Vancouver and Boston. It appears that the courage and leadership demonstrated by Seattle paved the way for the widespread adoption of what has now become the premier green building rating system in the nation.

The link between public leadership and market transformation holds fertile ground for innovation and evolutionary change. The widespread adoption of green building by the public sector can easily create the tipping point toward sustainable cities. Government can lead the way, taking the initial risks and not only exploring how green building can financially benefit building owners but also demonstrating how it can provide environmental and community stewardship benefits. According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), as of December 2008: "Government owned or occupied LEED buildings make up 26% of all LEED projects. There are 1,151 LEED projects registered to the federal government, 1,516 registered to state governments, and 2,319 registered to local governments." The government sector has a clear mission as steward of the communal good and public trustee of sensitive ecological systems, energy and water resources, public health, and high-quality, thriving urban and neighborhood environments. Not only does the public expect government to protect their health, welfare, and safety, but—as they become savvy regarding the urgency of a sustainable future—they also expect government to lead the way.

Trail blazing can be wearisome work. Those who follow the first pioneers can hope to find their path easier. Those who came first can provide a road map to help others find their destination more easily. I hope to spare other pioneers from having to entirely "reinvent the wheel" in creating green building programs. Armed with the tools this book provides, may your efforts go further, faster, and with fewer bumps. There is no singular pathway to success, and all I can do is share my own unique perspective. The endgame, if we are successful, is that the creative genius of others can build on what has already been done in order to raise the bar. Together, we hold the potential to collectively catapult us toward the future we envision.

This book begins by discussing how to build support for your program by gaining leadership endorsement through such techniques as establishing how green building can help to solve many urban and global sustainability challenges. Because creating green building policies and programs is a process of transformational change and innovation adoption, next there is a chapter on how to leverage and manage the change process in the green building industry and within your own organization. The following chapters provide examples and guidance on policy development, providing green building services (such as educational programs and technical assistance), and creating green codes and incentive programs. The book concludes with guidance on how to measure the impacts of green building programs to determine progress and justify your program. It takes a look ahead at opportunities on the horizon for green building programs. At the end of each chapter, I summarize takeaway lessons and tips that you can refer back to as you undertake policy and program development.


Building Support for Green Building Initiatives

When faced with the task of developing a green building program, you may feel daunted. But take hope: green building is a concept that in many ways is easy to get others to rally around. It can foster a positive, visionary approach to environmental and social stewardship, reinforcing activities that take us in the direction we want to go, versus trying to stop people from doing undesirable activities. It can capture multiple benefits and attract a broad range of partners. Whatever your situation, whether or not you already have elected officials and managers that see green building in their city's future, there is no time like the present to get started. One parable about time goes like this: In an ancient land, an emissary at court presented the king with the gift of a fruit tree. When the emissary had left, the king called his royal gardener. When the gardener saw the tree, he said, "Your majesty, I must tell you that this tree will take many, many years to bear fruit." The king's response: "Then I command you to plant it right NOW!" The time to act is now, so let's get started.

This section of the book provides strategic guidance on gaining initial support and ongoing funding of a green building program. This includes identifying political and stakeholder advocates, justifying the need for a program, and locating the program within an organizational structure. This guidance can be used for programs that focus on internal policies for building projects as well as for programs focused outside the organization (the private sector in the case of government programs).


Excerpted from Building an Emerald City by Lucia Athens. Copyright © 2010 Lucia Athens. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

The former manager of the City of Seattle Green Building Program, Lucia Athens is now a senior associate and sustainable futures strategist for CollinsWoerman, a Seattle-based planning, architecture, and interior design firm specializing in innovative and sustainable solutions. She is the 2008 winner of the Puget Sound “Better Bricks Award” in the category of “advocate.” She previously taught landscape architecture at the University of Georgia.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews