It really is impossible to put your arms around the number of green building and energy performance policies and codes that are sprouting up all across the nation.  When a project involves private commercial development or public investment, one of the most discussed issues is whether the cost of obtaining LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council is worth the investment.  And so the cost versus certification debate continues … and one county in Montana has found the middle ground.

Finding the Middle Ground in Green Building

Yesterday, commissioners of Missoula County, Montana approved a policy that encourages and promotes green building practices, as long as they save money in the long run.  According to chair of the Commission, “This is the closest thing we’ll come to having an energy policy. If the feds won’t do it and take the lead, I’m just honored to be a part of this.”

The policy directs county offices and departments to “incorporate” or “support the use of” LEED methods and techniques when designing, remodeling and operating public facilities. Unlike other counties in the United States that have recently required a specific level of LEED certification, the Missoula County policy will require “the highest level achievable under LEED that’s cost-effective based on the long-terms cost and the limits of available funding.”

As state and local leaders are racing to develop and implement new building practices—whether they incorporate USGBC’s LEED, Energy Star, Green Globes, or some other rating system—I think the compromise by Missoula County is a step in the right direction.  Such a policy would allow the public or private developer to incorporate cost-effective criteria in its development plans, while at the same time would require that owners and developers adhere to sustainable building practices.

There remains one problem: consider the owner who seeks the highest level of LEED certification that is cost effective based upon its long-term costs and limits of available funding and it is determined that LEED certification would not be possible. What then? Have they complied with the local building policy or code?

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