You may have to pay extra for a company that's done a green project before. Specifically, the engineering firm may decide to remain onsite through the entire process, tweaking plans as necessary depending on what happens during construction. “Change orders may be the norm if the onsite engineer sees something happen that's different from the original plan,” says Don Baker, central division water resources practice leader for Kansas City, Mo., engineering, consulting, and construction firm Black & Veatch.

In another scenario, your city can hire an in-house expert—like Tualatin Valley's Welch—to ensure environmentally sustainable products are selected for all projects.

With its focus on transmission pipes and storage tanks, the water district may seem like an odd place for a planet-friendly building approach.

But “it makes bottom-line sense,” says Welch. Since sustainability and finance run hand-in-hand, it seems only logical for a district tasked with an important resource to look ahead and ensure green design in everything it does.

The Bottom Line

So how hard is it to build green? Not very, says Baker.

He says it's getting easier for Black & Veatch to talk to public works managers about spending more upfront, since maintenance costs often are less in the long run. “For example, a best management practice like porous pavement costs more upfront right now, but it will become more cost-competitive as demand rises,” says Baker.

It's becoming the norm for elected officials to look far enough ahead and think expansively for sustainable building to make sense, says Welch. This shift in society shows that more leaders are increasingly just as concerned with the legacy they leave as with the immediate results of a project.

Although green building costs vary wildly right now, it is becoming more main-stream, so prices will continue to drop as cities demand it more.

Demolition derby

Solid waste department spares local landfill 251 tons of construction debris.

Demolition debris accounts for one-quarter of Florida's solid waste stream.

So when the city of Tallahassee renovated its 30-year-old solid waste administration building, gutting everything except the four outside walls and the foundation, one of its top priorities was to recover, recycle, and reuse as much material as possible through the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification process.

Developing a “green” demolition plan that ensures everyone involved—from the contractor to the jobsite superintendent—participates correctly requires expertise beyond that of most solid waste operations.