Green building and sustainability are buzz words thrown around more and more often these days. It’s great to see people interested in preserving energy and doing what they can to save the environment, but it seems that few cities really know what it means to actually construct sustainable buildings. That’s where the US Green Building Council and their LEED certifications come into play.
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and it’s a green building certification program that recognizes the best sustainable strategies and practices. In order for a building to qualify for certification, they must meet certain requirements and earn a set number of points to achieve different levels of certification. There are four levels, starting with the basic one – simply, ‘certified’. From there, the ranking goes up to silver, gold and finally the ultimate in certification, platinum. Platinum certification is hard to get, and because of this, it’s the least common type to see. Of course each of the top 10 most ‘greenly’ constructed states have their share of platinum projects, the sorts of buildings that demonstrate what it really means to be environmentally friendly.
As the serious consequences of global warming are already demonstrating, we need to be more sustainable in order to preserve energy sources and to prevent pollution – if only for the sake of our health, the health of future generations and the long-term preservation of our environment and infrastructure. Typically, a large office building or retail outlet will utilize (and waste) a lot of energy just to control its basic functions; not to mention the resources employed in building materials and the wastes that come from building or renovating a new site. Some of the things LEED encourages are alternative energy sources such as solar power – to at least offset some of the energy usage – as well as low-flow toilets and faucets to help conserve water, high-efficiency windows that allow sunlight in without affecting the temperature inside, lights that automatically shut off when people leave the room, and irrigation systems that use rain water, among many others.
There are many ways – from the small to the large, from the obvious to the somewhat bizarre – that we can help prevent further damage to the environment caused by new constructions. These ten states know that, and take sustainability very seriously.
10. Minnesota – 1.55 Sq. Ft Certified Per Person
Minnesota, with a population of 5,303,925 people, has a total of 8.21 million square feet of new construction that passed LEED certification. A total of 51 projects were certified in the state in 2013 alone. There are several levels of certification, with Platinum being the highest level. Minnesota has several notable Platinum certified projects including the Marquette Plaza in Minneapolis, the St. Olaf Science Complex in Northfield, and the Cascade Meadow Science Center in Rochester, just to name a few. Marquette Plaza boasts the largest green roof in the Central Business District, allowing people to relax during lunch or have outdoor meetings. As far as energy consumption goes, Marquette Plaza consumes 100% renewable energy, which includes solar and wind power.
9. Hawaii – 1.71 Sq. Ft Certified Per Person
Hawaii is one of the smaller states in the country, being composed of several relatively small islands, but this state is big on green construction. With a population of 1,360,301, there was 2.34 million square feet of buildings and 17 projects certified in 2013. Some of the projects that have reached platinum certification in Hawaii include the Pearl Harbor Child Development Center, the Hawaii Gateway Energy Center at NEHHA in Kailua-Kona, and the Hawaii Preparatory Academy Energy Lab in Kamuela. The Energy Lab is a high school science lab built on a previously used biological dumping ground. One nifty feature of this building is that instead of air conditioning, the building utilizes a ‘radiant cooling system’. Thermal panels in the roof circulate water and cool it down. The water is then stored in a tank that keeps it cool; then, it’s used for the air handling units during warm days.
8. Colorado – 1.77 Sq. Ft Certified Per Person
The Rocky Mountain State is home to many outdoorsy types, so it’s little wonder that they’d channel some of their love of nature into finding sustainable ways to construct their buildings while being sure to preserve the environment around them. Colorado had 8.89 million square feet and 124 projects certified in 2013. Boulder seems to be a city that takes sustainable especially seriously, having many platinum certified projects including Casey Middle School, Retail Pilot Supermarket, and several facilities attached to the University of Colorado – Boulder. Some of the neat features of Casey Middle School include solar panels that provide solar electricity and double as covered bicycle parking and a roof garden that can be integrated into the school curriculum.
7. North Carolina – 1.80 Sq. Ft Certified Per Person
With a population of 9,535,483, North Carolina had 133 projects and a total of 17.18 million square feet LEED certified in 2013. The state has several platinum certified projects already, including the Recreation Center at Livingston St. Park in Asheville, the NC Botanical Garden Education Center in Chapel Hill, and Optima Engineering in Charlotte. The Botanical Garden Education Center is the first public museum in the state to earn LEED platinum status, and it did so with features like a geothermal heat-exchange system for heating and cooling, elevators that work on traction instead of hydraulic fluids, and cisterns that collect roof rain water that’s then channeled back into landscape irrigation.
6. Oregon – 1.83 Sq. Ft Certified Per Person
Thanks to the city of Portland, Oregon is somewhat known for its sustainable practices already. The city ranks pretty high on many lists – including the most bike-friendly – and offers some of the best public transport in the country. So it should come as no surprise that Oregon as a whole had 47 projects and a total of 6.99 million square feet certified as environmentally friendly in 2013.
Not all of the platinum certified projects are in Portland; there’s the Nike Child Development Center in Beaverton, the Oregon State University – Energy Center in Corvallis, and the Hood River Middle School Music and Science Building in Hood River. In fact, the Hood River Middle School Music and Science building isn’t just self-sustaining, it actually produces about 1% more energy than it uses. Not only that, but it also offers a unique educational opportunity by using plexiglass walls to showcase exactly how the walls are put together. Students can see directly into the facility’s pump room to help them understand how everything works.
5. California – 1.95 Sq. Ft Certified Per Person
It probably comes as little surprise to see California on this list. After all, the state is known for taking the environment rather seriously, especially in places like San Francisco and Berkeley, often considered to be “hippie” heaven. In the state of California, there were a whopping 595 projects totaling 72.73 million square feet certified in 2013 alone, adding to the already large number of green projects in the state. Some of the existing platinum projects include Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton. the YMCA Teen Center in Berkeley, and the Center for community Forestry in Beverly Hills. When it came to the Teen Center, the YMCA board even let a teen task force participate in the design process, giving them a stake in the project as well as creating quite the learning experience for them.
5. New York, Tied with CA – 1.95 Sq. Ft Certified Per Person
In 2013, New York had 259 projects, a total of 37.84 million square feet, LEED certified, tying it with California when adjusted for population. Some of the platinum projects currently existing in New York include The Silhouette in Brooklyn, the New Headquarters for the Barton Group in Glen Falls, and the Dorothy D. and Roy H. Park Center for Business and Sustainable Enterprise in Ithaca, part of Ithaca College. The Dorothy D. and Roy H. Park Center was one of the first 100 buildings in the world to receive platinum LEED certification, and it’s one of two buildings with platinum status on the campus.
4. Massachusetts – 2.09 Sq. Ft Certified Per Person
With a population of 6,547,629, Massachusetts had 13.68 million square feet certified in 2013, spread out amongst 101 different projects. The state has a total of 681 LEED certified projects already, including 74 that are certified as platinum. Some of these projects, all completed before 2013, include the Harvard Business School’s McCulloch Hall in Boston, the Atlantic Wharf in Boston, and Griswold Hall in Cambridge. Atlantic Wharf is a mixed-use center with offices, retail and lofts, and it’s also Boston’s first “green” skyscraper. One of the features that helped this building gain platinum certification is the use of harvested rainwater in the cooling tower that helps the HVAC systems use up to 15% less water than normal.
3. Virginia – 2.11 Sq. Ft Certified Per Person
Virginia isn’t a state that usually comes to mind when considering green practices, but it should be. After all, Virginia had 160 LEED certified projects, and a total of 16.87 million square feet certified in 2013 alone. Some of the past projects that have been certified LEED platinum include Commonwealth II in Chantilly, the Smith Aquatic Center in Charlottesville, and JDM Office Space in Falls Church. The Aquatic Center was certified for platinum status through systems such as ultra-violet and CO2 pool water treatments that improve the air quality and reduce chemicals used in pool maintenance, a rooftop solar system, and high efficiency glazed windows to provide more daylight to the occupied spaces thus requiring less usage of indoor lighting.
2. Maryland – 2.20 Sq. Ft Certified Per Person
Maryland may be a small state, but when taking into consideration their population, it still managed to put out 119 projects which were LEED certified in 2013. That equals about 12.70 million square feet. Some existing platinum projects include the Baltimore Medical Systems in Baltimore, Gaithersburg Olde Towne Youth Center in Gaithersburg, and Robinson Nature Center in Columbia. You would expect a nature center to be somewhat green, but the Robinson Nature Center goes above and beyond with geothermal heating/cooling, porous paving, solar panels and innovative water conservation techniques.
1. Illinois – 2.29 Sq. Ft Certified Per Person
Illinois is another state that might surprise you, especially considering it’s #1 on our list. But when you look at Chicago especially, there are a lot of green projects going on in the Lincoln state. They had 171 projects, and 29.42 million square feet certified in 2013. But Chicago isn’t the only city striving for sustainable building. Past platinum certified projects come from a variety of cities, and include the Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Bolingbrook, the Business Instructional Facility in Champaign, and 550 West Washington in Chicago. Hidden Oaks Nature Center is yet another nature center on our list, but this one is pretty neat. It’s built between two large oak trees to simulate a “tree house” feeling. The building utilized site-harvested timber, recycled and locally available materials, and photovoltaic panels that supply the building with energy while sending excess output back to the grid. It emphasizes green building in every way while allowing people to immerse themselves in nature.