The Tualatin Valley Water District, located just west of Portland in Beaverton, Ore., crafted an ambitious plan to make its facility better suited to handle the needs of a growing population while incorporating planet-friendly features.

The master plan for the $5.7 million project came with a good side effect: The facility achieved silver certification in the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, known as LEED Silver.

Tualatin Valley accomplished the feat by designing with sustainable products and processes in mind. While renovating 25,000 square feet of a 1976 multiuse building and adding another 15,500 square feet, planners included several perks:

  • Stormwater is recycled and treated onsite
  • Aboost in energy efficiency and reduced energy use overall
  • The site is more green-friendly with limited construction disturbance, better erosion control, and more plants.

This project is just one part of the district's overall focus on sustainability. Cheryl Welch, sustainability coordinator and financial analyst for the district, integrates sustainability into everything the district does, from its capital improvement plans to building new facilities. When she joined the district in 2001, she worked solely on financial planning. By mid-2002, the department added sustainability to her job description, marrying the two tasks.

Welch uses “The Natural Step,” a Swedish program that helps companies, communities, and governments build and design on a more socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable path. It measures projects against four criteria that encourage natural and sustainable options over man-made resources to determine whether they'll be better for the environment than traditional building and operating methods.

Aside from taking a trip to Sweden to learn from the pros, there are many ways to become a green department, whether you call that goal sustainable design, low-impact development, or green building.

Work With The Pros

The water district turned to local experts at Portland-based Henneberry Eddy Architects. To achieve its goals, David Byrne, the company's lead designer, recommends that a city or public agency tasked with building a new facility start with an ecocharette. At this meeting, the owner, designers, engineering team, and anyone else involved identify goals, assess opportunities, and conduct a financial analysis.

“Once the team understands the operational requirements of a building, they need to talk to the designer, architect, or even a green-build consultant,” says Byrne. Everyone needs to be on the same page and look at the process as a multidisciplinary approach rather than a one-title, one-task approach.

Montreal-based Kevin Hydes, vice president of buildings engineering and the sector leader for sustainable design with design, consulting, and engineering firm Stantec Inc., echoes this sentiment. “We all speak a different language—return on investment, yards of concrete, tons of CO2. Green means something different for everyone,” he says. “We need to bring everyone into one room to start the green conversation.”

In some cases, a request for proposal (RFP) for a new building starts the ball rolling. If the city already has specific low-impact development goals in mind, putting out an RFP will attract companies that have experience in this type of project.