Friday, April 20, 2012

Green Building Progress in the Southeast: Part 1

Jeremy Sigmon, LEED® AP BD+C
Director, Technical Policy
U.S. Green Building Council

Take a seat. Lose your stereotypes. Grab a few hush puppies and a glass of sweet tea. Here’s a few highlights you may have otherwise missed about how energy efficiency and green building is moving forward in the Southeast.

Part One: Mainstreet Green in Music City

The Nashville Ledger reports today: “when it comes to new houses, green is the new granite.” Healthy, high-performance homes in Middle Tennessee are not only in high demand, they are emerging as part of homebuyers’ minimum expectations. The Ledger cites estimates that builders are supplying approximately one third of new residential construction starts with a green building label. The Volunteer State is home to more than 1,000 homes that are participating in the LEED for Homes program, including 246 that are already certified, 199 (or 80 percent) of which are designated as affordable.

Green buildings and green homes are generally designed to create comfortable, healthy indoor environments that reduce our impact on the environment while saving energy, water and money. The City of Nashville sees a further benefit of one of the less frequently applied green building methods to reduce the strain on both Metro Nashville’s combined sewer system and also the Cumberland River.

Yesterday the City’s Metro Water Services proposed an incentive to help offset the cost of building green roofs in Metro Nashville. The proposed ordinance would offer a five-year credit against monthly sewer charges equal to $10/sq. ft. of eligible green roof space. The proposal is justified by citing the plain and simple facts: that green roofs will “reduce and slow the volume of Stormwater runoff,” which will not only “lead to savings in operational costs associated with storing, pumping and treating combined sewage,” but also “prevent flooding of storm sewers and overflows in combined sewer systems.”

It’s important that the Water Services Department of the City of Nashville and Davidson County made this proposal, given the very measurable benefits to water management that green roofs provide – especially in urban environments. What’s even more compelling is that the proposal goes on to acknowledge the many benefits of green roofs extend well beyond the department’s scope.

The proposed ordinance goes on to say: “Green roofs can offer other benefits to the urban environment, as well…Reduce heating and cooling costs; reduce the heat island effect and improve air quality; provide fire retardation; extend roof life; reduce noise; add habitat for plants and animals; [and] add beauty and space.” Green buildings can employ dozens of these technologies, designs and strategies that provide a healthy diversity of benefits that are often overlooked. (Learn more about green roofs here).

The Middle Tennessee Chapter of USGBC works closely with the city, businesses and the public to connect the many inter-related benefits of green homes and buildings not only to the increasingly savvy homeowner, but to commercial building owners who increasingly connect with the business case for LEED. Importantly in today’s still sluggish economy, especially in the Southeast, growth in those two sectors combined means jobs, jobs, jobs.

In April of 2010, Mayor Dean established a goal of making Nashville the greenest city in the Southeast. The mayor’s vision for a greener Nashville is well under way, making key investments in not only building energy efficiency for homeowners, but also open spaces, a public bicycle program, urban agriculture and more. What good news can we expect next?


  1. I've been going over the USGBC policies ever since I saw a post about it on the FEMA Blog ( Personally, most of the new homes for sale all over the US is not up to date in terms of Green methodologies. I really hope that USGBC and other government agencies can push forward the green agenda in house construction.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Debra. I couldn't agree with you more. That's why USGBC has launched an advocacy campaign specifically focused on breaking down one of the biggest barriers to green homebuilding: that most communities do not have a way of evaluating, comparing and rewarding green homes (in terms of higher valuation) as compared with non-green homes. For more information on the campaign, see: "Highlight Green Homes by Greening the MLS."

      It's important to note that there has been a lot of progress, too, as this article suggests is true in Middle TN. Note this McGraw-Hill research from earlier this year that finds that green homes now represent 17% of new homes as compared with 2% in 2005. The research also shows a trend towards the majority of builders building an increasing percentage of their projects green.

      Improving the information flow through a "green" MLS is one important way of generating interest in green homebuilding through assurances that there's a way to sell it at a fair price when the time comes. I hope you'll join us in our campaign!