Oct 23 2017Share

Desert City Helped To Launch Green Building Movement

By Warren Tenney

The idea of constructing buildings that use less water and energy and more Earth friendly materials didn’t begin with large commercial projects. Building green started with homes and in Arizona it started with homes in the City of Scottsdale. In 1998, Scottsdale became one of only five cities in the country to offer homebuilders green building certifications. The city patterned its Green Building Program after those already underway in places such as Austin, Denver and Kitsap County, Washington. In 2001, Scottsdale added multi family and commercial buildings to its Green Building Program. All AMWUA cities now have programs that encourage green building and Scottsdale’s program remains one of the most active in the Valley. 

During the construction boom of the mid-2000s, Scottsdale offered homebuilders expedited plan reviews and building permits if they met the city’s Green Building Program requirements. As a result of this incentive more than half of all homes built in Scottsdale during these boom years are city certified green buildings. Scottsdale now encourages green commercial building by allowing developers to exceed height and density requirements in certain commercial districts of the city in exchange for meeting the city’s Green Building Program requirements. A Scottsdale certified commercial building earns a Green Certificate of Occupancy with a plaque. Since Scottsdale’s Green Building Program began the city has issued more than 1,300 green building permits, including 45 for commercial buildings.

Here’s a statistic that helped to stimulate the green building movement. In 1946 the average U.S. house was 1,100-square-feet and the average family was about five people. By 1996 the average house was 2,200 square feet for a family of 2.6 people. That’s four times the area per person. Many cities, architects, researchers and environmentalists began to realize this building expansion needed to be fueled by Earth friendly innovations. These innovations include energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, cool roofing, window glazing and paving materials that minimize the heat-island effect. Green builders also use recycled-content materials, water-efficient appliances and plumbing fixtures, and low-water-use native landscaping that offers plenty of shade. 

Scottsdale’s Green Building Program was specifically designed for desert living. For example, guidelines require builders to minimize the use of drinking water for irrigating landscape and to meter all water sources in the building to track daily use. If green builders must use water softeners, these softeners must regenerate when needed, not on a set clock schedule. The softener’s briny waste can’t be discharged into the wastewater system. In January of this year, Scottsdale also made using smart irrigation controllers part of its Green Building Program requirements. 

Watching the success of green homes, a group of industry professionals and green building advocates created the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to encourage commercial builders to go green. USGBC developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program in the late 1990s and in 2002 began sponsoring an annual green building educational conference and expo called GreenBuild. LEED certifies the most innovative green commercial buildings in the country. There are 845 LEED certified buildings in Arizona, including 61 in Scottsdale. 

The Green Building movement has been so successful and extensive it shifted the market place. Using green building materials, appliances and fixtures once cost more but today the market is flooded with competitive green products and innovative options. Building green no long costs more. Some green building methods also have been incorporated into local and national building codes. In Scottsdale, high-efficiency plumbing fixtures were once a part of the Green Building Program. In January, using high-efficiency plumbing fixtures became part of Scottsdale’s building code requirements for all new construction in the city.

Want to learn more? Scottsdale offers a free lecture series by green building experts, such as designers, builders, researchers and conservation professionals.

Photo: Optima Camelview Village in downtown Scottsdale. Architect is David Hovey and Associates. Developer is Optima DCH Development.

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit

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