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Gov. Schweitzer

WA State Legislators

It’s So Easy Building Green

At Clackamas High School, students have two things every student should have: fresh air and natural sunlight, instead of the blue glow of fluorescent tubes. It’s a better place to learn and a better place to work. And that’s because the high school was built to the new green building standards. Washington is the first state in the nation to pass a high-performance green building law.

It should not be the last.

What Is Green?

Every year, taxpayers in Washington state spend billions of dollars for new schools, universities and office buildings. We decided to be smarter with our money by passing a flexible national standard called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The new standards are better for taxpayers, better for students and better for workers.

Not only are these buildings better for the environment, but they save money every month—in lower costs for power and water—and boost the performance of workers and students.

Green buildings are proven to:

  • Increase student test scores by 20 percent,
  • Reduce worker absenteeism by 15 percent, and
  • Cut energy and utility costs by 30 percent.

It’s common sense. People perform better—and don’t get sick as often—when they have natural sunlight and fresh air coming through windows instead of recirculated, stale air. Ever get sick after a long airplane ride? That’s because you’re breathing everybody else’s air for hours and hours. You catch what they have.

Green buildings also encourage recycled construction material, preserve natural habitats for wildlife and use native plants for landscaping.

Architect Allison Capen of Seattle says green buildings create healthier workplaces and classrooms that boost productivity and learning. “Green buildings end up saving a lot of money,” Capen says. The new Clackamas High School, for example, saves $80,000 a year just on utility costs.

How It Works

This reform is flexible. It doesn’t create a bunch of red tape or a new bureaucracy. Instead, it sets a clear goal, then lets architects and builders achieve it in different ways by a point system. (Visit for more.) Our law requires all state buildings and schools larger than 5,000 square feet to be built to these new high-performance standards.

As this new standard is accepted around the country, our architects will lead the way, bringing jobs and work to our state.

Good for Jobs

The old myth is that you have to choose between jobs and a clean, healthy environment. High-performance buildings are proof that this myth is wrong.

Energy costs are skyrocketing. Clean water is getting scarce. Building smart saves money on energy and water—and gives you higher productivity for the workers or students inside. We believe building green is an important part of having a healthy environment—and that a clean environment is a job-maker.

Washington state is home to world-leading businesses like Microsoft, Costco, Boeing and, and we believe our healthy environment is a key reason why. No world-class company that pays high wages wants to be located in a toxic moonscape. When we’re trying to attract the smartest workers in the world, a big selling point our businesses use is our environment: hiking, fishing, kayaking, and mountain climbing.

So we believe the green building reform adds to the environmental advantage of Washington, the Evergreen State.

Other states looking to pass this reform should look to our experience. We built a coalition, a team that included architects, labor and business leaders.

The Apollo Alliance ( is working to form coalitions like this around the nation, and Washington state is proof that it works.

The Right Thing

This reform is the right thing to do for our students and workers, for the taxpayers and for the environment.

Buildings have changed through the years as insulation has been added, fire codes have saved lives, plumbing has been added and electric lights have been installed. It is now time to design buildings considering the impact on the community they are built in, the environment they are built in, the jobs that produce the building materials, the health of the people inside, the cost of running the buildings and how the buildings affect learning.

Green building is a new idea whose time has come. The new environmentalism is about where we live, how we work and what we do for our children. Green buildings are leading the way.

This article was first printed on

Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, and Sen. Erik Poulsen, D-West Seattle, serve in the Washington state legislature; Dunshee is chair of the Capital Budget Committee and Poulsen is chair of the Water, Energy and Environment Committee.




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