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Virginia witnessed more construction of green buildings and new offices per capita last year than any other state in the nation, according to a study released Wednesday.
The results surprised even the growing industry of environmental architects, engineers and contractors, who said they knew Virginia was making strides, just not this big.
“Wow, that’s something. I had not seen that yet,” said Robert Berz, chairman of the Hampton Roads Green Building Council and a green architect for the Norfolk-based firm RRMM Architects.
The annual report by the U.S. Green Building Council placed only the District of Columbia ahead of Virginia when measuring the per capita amount of environmentally sensitive building space completed in 2012.
Virginia finished fourth in the same survey last year. And like last year, Colorado, Massachusetts, Illinois, Maryland, New York and California all were in the top 10.
Green buildings conserve energy, recycle wastes, use natural light and heating, and lessen their overall carbon footprint. To qualify, they must be certified as LEED buildings, short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – the industry’s most accepted seal of approval.
State and local officials attributed Virginia’s rise to trends centered mostly in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, but also in college towns where more dorms, classrooms and campus facilities are being designed to tread lightly on the environment.
In Hampton Roads, Berz said, the Department of Defense jump-started the changes, pouring millions of dollars in recent years into military bases.
The huge workload stemmed mostly from presidential and congressional mandates, set by both Republican and Democratic administrations, that require the armed services to make their bases more ecologically sensitive, energy efficient and cheaper to run.
Building green is almost always more costly upfront, but savings typically come years later through lower utility bills and disposal costs and less maintenance.
Berz said the push from Washington has had a significant ripple effect in military-rich Hampton Roads: More professionals have come here in recent years and developed their expertise while establishing a new performance norm for the region.
“This is what people want,” he said. “It’s what they ask for.”
Locally, most military bases now contain numerous LEED-certified buildings. Likewise, the Virginia Beach school division has made green design a priority, opening a facility last year that won praises in Wednesday’s report – the student transportation center.
Last year, Norfolk opened a police precinct headquarters certified as green. And the state saw other firsts, according to the report. Among them, the first winery certified as LEED Platinum, in Louisa; the first restaurant certified as LEED Gold, in Alexandria; and a new cancer center in Charlottesville.
Scott Harper, 757-446-2340, firstname.lastname@example.org