The money helped nearly 500 Southwest Virginians in a 21-county region — unemployed and dislocated workers as well as those holding down construction jobs. The goal was to “green” their existing skill sets. Pontious found herself working with area builders, learning lots about the values they place on environmental safeguards. “There are builders in this area that are going green already,” she says. “The ones who aren’t going green ... a lot of them understand this is coming, no matter what. I think people generally understand how we need to take pressure off the planet.” “Green,” according to those in the construction industry, is a relative term. It’s hard to say how many buildings use the array of programs and technologies available. The U.S. Green Building Council’s Southwest Virginia chapter points to more than a dozen buildings that are LEED certified, referring to the council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. That’s a green building rating system offering voluntary guidelines for construction practices. The group’s website, usgbcswva.org, lists some projects that have achieved certification, including two with “gold” status, Wytheville’s Gatorade Bottling Plant and Roanoke’s Claude Moore Education Complex. Gold is one step below platinum, the top LEED certification level. In Floyd, the Village Green commercial center boasts the largest solar array in Southwest Virginia with 108 panels. Roanoke’s Carilion Riverside Clinic and the Western Virginia Regional Jail in Roanoke County are both LEEDcertified. The $78.5 million jail has many sustainable features, including waterless urinals, low-flow toilets and a vacuum plumbing system. While the green features added $1.5 mil-
Photo by Alisa Moody
Jackie Pontious learned about green construction from builders.
lion to the cost, savings in water and energy usage are expected to repay that investment in three to five years. Roanoke has one of the few planners in the country certified in Passive House technology — which can save up to 70 percent in energy
Illinois and Maryland with 29.7 million square feet of LEED space. Only Washington, D.C., had more per capita. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency def ines green buildings as structures promoting resource efficiency, waste reduc-
Roanoke has one of the few planners in the country certified in Passive House technology – which can save up to 70 percent in energy use. use. An example of this type of construction is found at Virginia Tech’s Malcolm Rosenberg Hillel Center, the first religious building in the country meeting Passive House standards. These and other projects have helped move Virginia to the forefront of the green building movement. While the state used to be a straggler, it was ranked as the No. 1 state in 2012 by the USGBC for new buildings certified as meeting LEED standards. Virginia jumped ahead of Colorado, Massachusetts,
tion and human and environmental health. Agency statistics say that approximately 170,000 new commercial buildings are built each year, while only 44,000 existing buildings are demolished. On the residential side, statistics point to a 2007 report that counted 128 million housing units. Between 2005 and 2009 alone, approximately 7.2 million new residences were built. Many young Americans worry that, without environmentally responsible and sustainable building, Mother Earth won’t have a fruitful