Green building/green energy, the catchy theme song of environmentalists for so long, is being hummed increasingly by government at various levels.
The extent to which public agencies are picking up the melody was outlined Tuesday at one of the 14 seminar/workshops sponsored by the Homebuilders Association of Southwest Colorado. The gatherings and 24 brown-bag lunches to be held throughout the year are the way incoming association President Greg Mantell-Hecathorn wants to bring homebuyers and remodelers, business owners and maybe some foot-dragging members of his own association aboard the "green future" bandwagon.
Building "green" means using renewable and nontoxic materials and striving for energy efficiency. The goal is sustainability - the utilization of resources and the planning of human activities in such a manner that there will be something left for future generations.
Outlining what their agencies have done were Eric Aune, La Plata County's community development director, Greg Hoch, the city of Durango's director of planning, Walt Serfoss, La Plata County's sustainability director, and Aileen Tracy, executive director of the Four Corners Office of Resource Efficiency.
In an interview last month, Mantell-Hecathorn said green building and energy efficiency are well received in theory but there have to be monetary and health incentives before they are put into practice widely. Once there is a demand for green, energy-efficient buildings they will be built, he said.
"We don't have to talk to the believers," Mantell-Hecathorn said Tuesday evening at the seminar/workshop held in the Strater Hotel theater. "We want to educate homeowners, business people and home builders, so get involved because we're taking off."
Serfoss said La Plata County actually began to invest in sustainability in the mid-1990s by opening a recycling drop-off station and switching out incandescent light bulbs for more energy-efficient ones. In succeeding years, the county created a hazardous-waste program, joined the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, conducted a greenhouse gas inventory, sponsored a scrap-metal recycling campaign and partnered with Tracy's organization to promote energy efficiency regionally.
"This year we're going to start a rural recycling drop-off point," Serfoss said. "The more we can educate people about sustainability, the more sustainable we become."
Aune said the county wants the word sustainability to become part of the everyday vocabulary. He noted that an 18-month process to develop a new comprehensive county land-use plan will begin soon.
"We'll be asking tough questions," Aune said. "How do you want La Plata County to look in 20 years? Do you understand LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)? How do we proceed with development?"
Aune said everyone's opinion is solicited.
"We don't want to ramrod this through," Aune said. "We don't want to do it without public input."
Tracy said 4CORE, as her organization is known, has a grant from the Governor's Energy Office - which it must match - to offer rebates for insulation and solar thermal panel projects.
4CORE is funded by La Plata County, the city of Durango, BP and La Plata Electric Association.
Hoch said city councilors want to move the community toward sustainability and that Assistant City Manager Greg Caton will lead the effort. Hoch then tore through a three-page list of possible sustainability-oriented requirements for builders.
Among the topics were lighting, landscaping, tree preservation, surface-water management, retrofitting of doors and windows, ground-source heat pumps, evaporative cooling systems, tankless water heaters, solar-thermal systems, locally sourced materials and radon mitigation.
Hoch didn't know what issues could arise, but he said he doesn't anticipate that builders would be forced to do something that doesn't make sense.
"We want to talk to you about issues," Hoch said. "We can probably agree on where we'll go together."
Hoch said that while his work has brought him into contact with builders for 15 to 20 years - "many times under duress" - it hasn't been a head-butting relationship.
"We don't see you in an adversarial role," Hoch said. "You are partners. When there's a problem, I hope you'll let me know."