Green Building Efforts in Alaska

denali-copy.jpgThe Pacific Northwest has a reputation for being progressive when it comes to green building, with Washington and Oregon setting the pace. But where does Alaska fit into the picture, and how do its green building efforts measure up?

With regard to the LEED program, Washington and Oregon each have certified or registered projects numbering in the hundreds. By comparison, Alaska has only three LEED certified buildings (A National Weather Service facility, a visitor’s center at Denali Park, and the Homer City Library) and less than 20 projects currently registered.

What accounts for this difference? Chris Stephens of the Anchorage Daily News reported in October that, “In Alaska, past development and environmental battles have given the word ‘green’ a lot of baggage for some.” Fairbanks builder Mike Musick, who has been working to develop more environmentally-friendly home building techniques in Alaska since the 1970’s, tells the Alaska Business Monthly that educating consumers as well as builders is the key to increasing demand.

But the state’s interest in sustainable building is growing. Organized efforts took shape last year when a group of Alaskan citizens formed the Anchorage Sustainable Building Initiative (SBI). The SBI seeks to “promote the adoption of ordinances, incentives and practices that will achieve the vision of sustainable site and building design practices” in the city.

A major step forward occurred on January 1st of this year, when the Alaska chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council joined the Cascadia Region Green Building Council, a chapter that already covered Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. With the support of Cascadia, Alaska should be able to advance its efforts quickly. The Cascadia GBC’s online January newsletter states that it will seek funding for an Alaska State Director this year, as well as organize programming for the state. In a press release dated January 9th, it is stated that the Alaska branch of the GBC hopes to move sustainable building beyond the urban areas into smaller rural communities.

One factor that is spurring Alaska to step up its efforts? “The emerging reality of climate change is becoming readily apparent throughout the Northwest, more so in Alaska and British Columbia,” says Lynn Barrett, chair of the Alaska branch of the GBC, in their press release.  So with the effects of climate change becoming more and more visible in the far north, perhaps we can expect to see a greater push for change coming from that region also.

Image Credit: National Park Service