Wednesday, September 17, 2008


By Hazel Kahan

SS: What makes a green architect different from other architects?

Theoretically, there should be no difference, but in fact there can be. Being green requires sensitivity to environmental concerns, at both the micro level—to the immediate context of the building—and at the macro level-- to the state of the wider environment.

Green architects who have LEED AP after their names are architects who took the time and effort to become acquainted with the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) green rating system, called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and who passed an exam on the subject.

LEED is a measurable rating system that is also informed by grass roots experience, and is constantly evolving. More information about both is available at

SS: What will it take to turn Southold building codes green?

The easiest way would be to adopt Standard 189p when it is released next year for all buildings except low-rise residential buildings. This is a baseline standard for high-performance buildings devised by ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers-,), USGBC and the IESNA (Illuminating Engineering Society of North America—

For homes, the Energy Star, LEED for Homes, or any other green, home-building, rating system either could be referenced or used to inform the Town's own version. Many municipalities across the country have adopted approaches that combine levels of compliance and verification. Some introduce innovative programs that further a green agenda. For instance, Aspen, Colorado assigns an energy budget to a home. If the building size or use exceeds this budget, that house must either provide the additional energy using renewable sources or contribute to a fund that advances renewable energy. Then the income generated by that fund could pay for the placement of renewables on schools and low-income housing, or even pay for the construction of wind farms.

Locally, Babylon, NY ( has just introduced a program for existing homes that is gaining close scrutiny across the country. Southampton just introduced a bill requiring larger homes to meet more stringent energy criteria.

SS: What steps does Southold have to take to join the ranks of these communities?
To be successful, it is important that a town staff member be the point source for supervising the project and educating both staff and the public regarding the program.

This staff member can be an existing person who should be trained and accredited with the USGBC. The more the Town is committed, the better it is: the “green” coordinator could be within an existing department, such as the building or planning department, in an independent office, or supervised by a Deputy Supervisor directly.

The coordination and communication among departments is critical: by its nature, a green program is interdisciplinary in approach, so there needs to be a willingness for all sections of government to work together. In the final analysis however, people are applying to the building department, so it makes sense to start there. It is also crucial that the Town’s facilities be green and this could be approached from several angles. The origin of focus for green programs varies between municipalities. For example, Austin started with energy conservation, Chicago with beautification, including tree plantings and green roofs, Scottsdale with water and waste management, Arlington County with smart growth concepts and land preservation. Ultimately all evolve to an integrated approach incorporating efficient building design. Some locations, such as Cascadia, Oregon, are challenging builders to develop structures that are regenerative. These man-made environments generate more energy and materials than they consume.

An advisory committee with public input also helps. People assume that a green building costs more. It can, but pay back periods could be assessed for each regulatory item, with the program only requiring actions with limited payback periods, thus advocating fiscal responsibility. Most rating systems offer choices, so that each applicant can pick and choose which applications are meaningful for the project. Governments can either incentivize green building programs or require them. Many municipalities start with a voluntary program and gradually adopt a regulatory structure.

SS: Is Southold undertaking any Babylon-like initiatives right now?

Southold has introduced legislation to allow the construction of windmills on farmland. The preservation of land outside hamlet areas could also be viewed as an important first step to a comprehensive program.

Southold could also look at zoning, regulations and operations to further green agendas. Some of its programs are already sympathetic to this view. But a more comprehensive plan coupled with will and vision could forward a greener agenda. Southold, with its sensitive environmental conditions, should be taking the lead on the development of sustainable communities.

SS: Where should the impetus for a greener Southold come from—the town, the builders or the residents?

It could and should come from all three. For government, leadership means not only reflecting its citizens’ needs but also educating them. The communities I’ve spoken to all advocated education as a key component in their planning process. Some communities had a probationary period for green building programs so that people went through the process, using the experience as both a teaching tool and a way to understand the impacts and tweak programs. With education, people come to realize that the payback period is actually more reasonable than they first thought and the benefits can include unexpected results, such as employee satisfaction.

SS: What is the most frustrating part of being a green architect? What is the greatest barrier to a greener Southold?

People are afraid of two things: increased cost and losing control of their property. They don’t realize that buildings contribute more CO2 emissions to the environment than cars do.

It takes will from the government and will from the people.

Perhaps we could put our suggestions before the board and vote on it. We have an Energy Committee, which has held informative sessions and introduced legislation on wind turbines, so maybe they could become more proactive regarding efficient building practices.

We should be asking: what’s next?

SS: Thank you, Glynis. We look forward to your ongoing participation with Sustainable Southold, the blog and the community. How can our readers contact you?

Yes, I’ll be happy to share what I know. I live here too!

1 comment:

Dinni Gordon said...

I've just built a house in Greenport, trying to use as many green features as possible, and it has been an exciting experience. Sometimes there are frustrating limitations on how green one can be. For instance, solar panels may not be practical if there are lots of trees in the area, and one is torn between the protection of the trees and the harnessing of solar energy. But many small efforts add up to something significant--Glynis points out how much energy is wasted in houses--and, perhpas most impoortant for me, the effort to be green in my own circumstances has given me a much larger understanding of environmental issues of several kinds. Finally, I must say that Glynis is a wonderful exponent of green building--knowledgeable and committed, without being doctrinaire. I should know; she and her husband Hideaki Ariizumi designed my new house!