I’m loving the spirited competition in green building that seems to be emerging among Northwest cities. Of course, Portland and Seattle have well-established programs, but Northwest cities big and small boast an impressive roster of energy-smart buildings. The latest (and possibly greatest) addition comes from Vancouver, which busted out with a new convention center that is surely one of the all-time grooviest buildings :

A sprawling, six acre green roof that’ll be the largest ever, for a non-industrial application. Designed by LMN Architects out of Seattle (which itself has become a hotbed for cutting edge green architects), it posts some fairly remarkable stats: 400,000 individual indigenous plants, which will help regulate the building’s temperature.

The Vancouver building also has black water treatment systems and desalination machinery to water the plants, a heat pump that uses seawater, and cooling via radiant floor. The bottom line is a water-use reduction of 60% to 70% over similarly sized convention centers.

Very cool. Let’s add it to the list of flagship green buildings in the region. I wouldn’t be surprised if it made the next ranking in the American Institute of Architecture’s annual Top 10 Green Projects List.

But there’s more to green building than creating awesome new places. There’s also greening our existing stock of buildings. So I was thrilled to see Seattle roll out an excellent new program this week—one that deserves more fanfare than it seems to have gotten in the press. (See here, here, and here, with the best coverage coming from the Seattle P-I.)

  • Seattle’s program does a bunch of good stuff, but I want to focus on just one element here. It takes a very smart approach to financing home energy retrofits, a subject we’ve written about here and here. First, the city will provide a hefty subsidy to home energy audits, marking them down from $600 to $95. Then, using federal stimulus dollars, the city will loan homeowners money to make energy-saving upgrades. And homeowners pay back with the loans with the money they save from using less energy. 

    This is brilliant. Truly, brilliant. Saving money by saving energy is a win-win.

    In fact, Seattle’s program is actually a win-win-win type situation:

    Seattle City Councilman Richard Conlin said. “They’re going to help working families pay their bills; they’re going to cut climate-changing emissions; and they’re going to create jobs.”

    Yep, the program has a green jobs measure too. And not just hypothetical future jobs, but real practical jobs in the here-and-now. That’s the city will also ramp up a training program at South Seattle Community College for energy auditors and efficiency technicians—skills that are, apparently, in much demand—enough to generate an estimated 230 jobs.

    I’ll take it: a couple hundred jobs during a recession. Jobs that will save people money by reducing energy use and climate emissions. This is exactly the sort of thing we need more of—and it’s another example of the Northwest setting the bar.

    Now, my only question is how long will it take Portland and Vancouver and other Northwest cities to rise to the challenge?