Thurston County takes lead in building green

Gov. Jay Inslee, like most Washingtonians, is passionate about clean energy. He accurately recognizes the enormous job creation potential of the energy efficiency and green building industry, not to mention millions of dollars in possible consumer savings across the state.

Inslee and his staff need only take a few steps off the Capitol Campus to find a vibrant interactive laboratory of green building innovation and design in Thurston County.

He would need to look no further, for example, than Saint Martins University, where students and faculty are moving into the new Cebula Hall this month.

Cebula Hall – the new home for Saint Martin’s engineering program – is loaded with environmentally friendly features. The 27,000-square-foot facility includes a geothermal energy system, solar panels, recycled building materials, water-saver landscaping with native plants and grasses, and an area for a rooftop garden.

Zella Kahn-Jetter, dean of engineering, said “it is an incredibly sustainable building.” Students also will be able to monitor the building’s solar-energy use and get a first-hand look at how its high-tech systems work. “The building almost becomes an interactive laboratory,” Kahn-Jetter said.

Cebula Hall isn’t the first “built green” facility in the South Sound – it is just one of the newest.

In fact, Thurston County seems to have more than its fair share of facilities that meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification standards.

LEED certification is now common among state buildings, in part, due to rules requiring state building to be built green. Significant state green buildings include Seminar Building II on the campus of The Evergreen State College, Building 22 on the Campus of South Puget Sound Community College, and the new 1500 Jefferson building that now houses the Department of Enterprise Services and Consolidated Technology Services on the eastern edge of the state capitol campus.

The LEED certification can be seen in local public buildings, such as the Olympia City Hall, the LOTT Administrative Services Building, Olympia’s new fourth fire station off Stoll Road and the Thurston County public works campus off Tilley road.

LEED certification is also becoming common with private development. Notable buildings include the Public Utilities Association building off Union in Olympia, which was also the first in the state to achieve the coveted Platinum, or highest, LEED rating.

Others include the Washington State Employees Credit Union downtown Olympia branch and the Sunset Air office and administrative building in Lacey.

Buildings that met the strict LEED certification were once rare. Early LEED certified buildings were notable achievements for what was possible.

But built green is becoming so common here in the South Puget Sound area that Thurston County could represent the new standard for communities across the state.

Inslee has expressed strong support and interest in renewable energy and sustainability efforts, and Thurston County is showing how to achieve those goals.

Obviously more can be done to encourage sustainable development and to facilitate the use of the LEED certification and design. Studies show that Washington state homeowners spend more than $5 billion each year to illuminate, heat and cool our offices and residences, and that building inefficiencies waste about 30 percent of that energy consumption.

But nothing builds successes like success itself, and Thurston County provides lots of success from which to build upon.