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Green Living: Form, Function … and Sustainability

The Arkansas Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is a nonprofit dedicated to “responsible planning, design, construction and operation of the state’s buildings, landscapes, cityscapes and neighborhoods.” The year will be a big one for the organization; not only is it the chapter’s 10-year anniversary, but Arkansas is currently ranked No. 10 in the country for LEED* green buildings. AY contacted Linda K. Smith, the chapter’s executive director, for information on the state of green building in Arkansas; why LEED certification is important; and how homeowners can incorporate sustainable practices into their daily lives.


AY: What has been the Arkansas chapter’s proudest accomplishment during its 10 years?

Smith: Over the last 10 years, we have seen rapid growth in the number of LEED-certified buildings and LEED-accredited professionals within the state. The international USGBC continues its rapid growth across the world with LEED projects in 89 countries. Our chapter is proud of this growth and the sustainable message our members share on a daily basis. Because our members come from diverse backgrounds — designers, builders, owners, facility managers, suppliers, engineers, government and real estate — we reach a critical group of Arkansans committed to sustainability. We were an early chapter of the USGBC with local leaders, like architect Martha Jane Murray and Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines, helping to get our nonprofit off the ground.

AY: What are your goals for the next 10 years?

Smith: Our goals are focused in three areas: 1) continued growth in the number of LEED projects; 2) expansion in LEED professionals and their continuing education; and 3) growth in community awareness of sustainable practices. We want to continue our success in raising awareness with community leaders who are dedicated to a more sustainable-built environment and partner with other like-minded nonprofits for local impact. We expect to see continued growth in the number of new LEED projects and in the number of existing buildings whose owners commit to renovating and maintaining their buildings to meet these rigorous standards. We are recognized within a multi-state area as the key source for leading-edge education for building professionals who want to stay current in their fields. We have began to partner with local community colleges to expand these classes to green jobs training — weatherization, home energy auditors and alternative energy installers.

AY: The Arkansas Chapter has influenced the completion of 52 certified commercial projects and 30 LEED homes. Do you have any favorite buildings or projects from this group?

Smith: This number continues to grow. Three of my favorite projects are the Heifer International, Little Rock (LEED New Construction, Platinum); Frito Lay in Jonesboro (LEED Existing Buildings, GOLD); and the Fayetteville Public Library (LEED New Construction, Silver). These are all highly energy-efficient buildings that showcase beautiful form and function.

AY: There are 41 Arkansas schools participating in the Arkansas Green Schools Challenge, sponsored by the USGBC Arkansas Chapter and the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators. Can you give us any interesting examples of how schools are saving energy during the challenge?

Smith: This is an exciting, new project in which school teams from across the state are paired with a USGBC building professional mentor to find ways to “green their school.” One school is turning off their sprinklers and collecting rainwater to irrigate their grounds. Another school will collect old clothes, make various size cloth bags and encourage students to bring their lunch in reusable cloth bags and for their families to shop with reusable cloth grocery sacks. Another high school is looking to significantly increase their walkers, bikers and carpoolers to reduce student and parent drivers. We are finding the schools are very committed to sustainability and will truly lead the way for their communities. We expect to document more than $100,000 in energy and resource savings with the first year of the Arkansas Green School Challenge.

AY: Arkansas is ranked No. 10 in the United States for LEED-certified buildings. Are you satisfied with this ranking, or do you feel our state should be ranked higher?

Smith: We were very pleased with this ranking, which was calculated using square footage data from 2010 LEED certified projects on a per capita basis. It shows that a small state can compete with larger states, which are often considered more progressive. We are fortunate to have the support of many elected officials who have committed to having their new and renovated state, county and city buildings seek LEED certification.

AY: Why is it important that a community have LEED buildings?

Smith: For state and local government buildings, attaining LEED certification confirms to the taxpayers that the money collected for construction has been used wisely with attention to long-term energy and water savings. Companies and nonprofits that build and operate to meet LEED-certification criteria demonstrate in a very public way that they care about the environment, their employees and the bottom line.

*LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a certification system that measures sustainable building (and maintenance) projects.


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