The Western North Carolina Green Building Council was established in 2000 as a volunteer effort by a handful of conscientious builders who wanted to educate others on the health and environmental impacts of design and construction. In the intervening years, the group has grown and provided direct services and weatherization education to 6,000 professionals and homeowners throughout the state.
“We were one of the first organizations in the Southeast to focus on green building and sustainability as a whole,” explains the council’s new executive director, Sam Ruark-Eastes. “Our mission is to advance sustainability in the built environment through community education, measurable standards and regional action.”
In addition to hosting ongoing classes and events for homeowners, builders and real estate professionals, the council is perhaps most visible through the production of its annual Green Building Directory. A resource guide and professional directory with a circulation of 25,000 copies, the directory offers insights about up-fitting homes, the latest in sustainability-related policy issues, tips from experts and reports on cutting-edge green building projects that are underway locally.
With the economy picking up and increased demand in Asheville’s housing market, Ruark-Eastes says the WNC Green Building Council is now poised for expansion and plans to increase education and advocacy in the coming years to help steer the local housing market. In addition to the attraction of living in environmentally attuned dwellings, he notes that green-built homes hold their value better over time.
“We’re at that moment where builders and architects realize that if they want to provide a house that is high-quality and attractive to smart buyers, then they need to build green,” Ruark-Eastes says, noting that 50 percent of all new home construction in West Asheville is certified GreenBuilt NC.
GreenBuilt NC, formerly known as “Healthy Built,” is a statewide certification developed and administered by the council. GreenBuilt NC ratings not only grade energy efficiency, but also erosion control, use of native plants, water conservation and retention, indoor air quality and material nontoxicity.
While LEED (a certification developed by the U.S. Green Building Council) has far-reaching name recognition and market appeal, GreenBuilt NC offers builders a more accessible rating system, with easier submission guidelines, lower fees and a quicker turnaround time, says Ruark-Eastes.
The council also administers the EnergyStar and LEED certification programs and is partnering with local architects to bring the Living Building Challenge to our area, including hosting a Living Building Challenge competition. The challenge’s certification standards are rigorous and wide-ranging and take sustainable building to the next level, including such factors as net zero energy use and local sourcing of all materials. The certification program is run by the International Living Building Future Institute, based in Portland, Ore.
“LEED is to the Prius what Living Building Challenge is to the Tesla,” says Ruark-Eastes.
And for owners of existing homes? In 2014, the council launched the pilot program Green Gauge, which allows owners of existing homes to learn how green their property is and where they can improve it in order to achieve extra sustainability “points.”
“It’s a really simple 1-10 scale,” explains Ruark-Eastes. “Homeowners work with a professional to understand their Home Energy Score. Then they boost their Green Gauge score with additional points for things like LED lighting, rainwater catchment, nontoxic paint, recycled materials and edible landscaping.”
With a grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation to expand the program, the council will be launching Green Gauge in greater North Carolina over the next 12 months, starting first with Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro and, of course, Asheville.
Like all of its certification programs, the council’s intention for Green Gauge is to provide a meaningful framework that not only raises the bar for how we build our homes but also supports a market that is driven more and more toward environmentally responsible living.
Integral to such efforts is providing ways for homeowners to increase their property value through green improvements. While MLS listings currently cite a home’s Energy Star, LEED or Green Built rating, the Green Building Council’s aim is to have the MLS include Green Gauge scores as well.
For more information, visit www.wncgbc.org.