All King County, Washington government construction and major renovations must strive to achieve the top national green construction rating under Ordinance 2013-0324 unanimously approved last week by the Metropolitan King County Council. 

Green building laws generally follow one of three regulatory schemes. The first regulatory scheme is for a government to require that government owned buildings be constructed to an articulated green building standard. A second, and widely admired, regulatory scheme is when a government offers voluntary incentives to private developers, whether as tax breaks, direct grants or loans, or advantages in processing approvals for green building. And third, a modest number of local governments are mandating by law that all construction and renovations, which exceed a certain square footage, whether public or private, must be constructed to a green building standard.

King County has long fallen within that first regulatory scheme. In 2005, Ordinance 15118 required all new County projects with budgets over $250,000 seek the highest LEED certification “that is cost effective based on life cycle cost analysis” and the limits of available funding. In 2008, Ordinance 16147 increased the goal to LEED Gold certification “as long as there is no cost impact to the Current Expense fund and no more than a two-percent cost impact to other funds, as compared to projects not seeking certification.” That law was set to expire on December 31, 2013.

The new Ordinance will be greener and require, each

.. project shall plan for and achieve a [LEED] Platinum rating as long as a Platinum rating can be achieved with no incremental cost impact to the general fund over the life of the asset and an incremental cost impact of no more than two percent to other funds over the life of the asset as compared to a project not achieving a green building or sustainable development rating.

Taking a step back from a LEED only law, other third party certifications will now permitted,

A project may request use of an alternative green building or sustainability rating system in lieu of LEED or the Sustainable Infrastructure Scorecard. Alternative green building and sustainable rating systems include: the Evergreen Sustainable Development Standard, administered by the Washington State Department of Commerce; the Built Green Four-Star administered by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties; Sustainable Sites Initiative Program, developed by the American Society of Landscape Architects and Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and United States Botanical Garden; Salmon Safe founded by the Stewardship Partners; or the Living Building Challenge administered by the International Living Future Institute.

Of note by a separate ordinance, the County’s Auditor is reviewing green building, including the balance of dollar cost versus environmental benefit. The Ordinance will be phased in, by August 1, 2014, after revisions in response to the audit.

Jeremy Sigmon at USGBC has written approvingly about the new Ordinance. And King County is applauded by some for joining Greensburg, Kansas (the tornado destroyed town) as only one of two local governments mandating government building to a LEED Platinum standard. But many critically ask, is it a misuse of a “voluntary third party green building rating system” for a government to mandate by law that government owned buildings be constructed to that “voluntary” standard?