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July 9, 2008 > U.S. Green Building Council opens in Silicon Valley

U.S. Green Building Council opens in Silicon Valley

Eco-friendly council opens local branch

By Ethan Chou

In a society obsessed with rapid results, the adverse effects of industrialization on our environment have only recently come into more widespread public awareness. Even with heightened awareness, few people realize just how much energy is being used in everyday living, depleting resources and creating pollution. Nationally, almost 40% of greenhouse gas emissions are produced by individual homes and businesses, much of it due to inefficient buildings. Most see little incentive to switch to "green" buildings, as costs are significantly higher than conventional structures. However, recognizing the ultimate cost to the planet, a group of architects, engineers, contractors, homeowners, and concerned citizens in the area have decided to take action.

The U.S. Green Building Council, a nation-wide non-profit organization founded to "improve the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of buildings," has recently started a local branch as a division of the Northern California Chapter in order to better address area-specific needs.

"It's different [in the Silicon Valley] than in San Francisco, the technology, the brainpower, the ties with the third world. There are numerous green buildings and technology already here, it was only natural to form a branch," said Founding Secretary Ron Fong, a senior civil engineer with the City of Fremont. Clearly, residents of the area agreed that there was a need for a local office of the USGBC; "It took twenty weeks between the idea to form and approval, the fastest in USGBC history."

The Green Building Council trains people to verify that buildings are in fact "green," and help owners, architects, engineers, and contractors construct environmentally friendly structures. While the local branch does not conduct its own research, it is a place for information about new green standards and technology. Similar to Underwriters Laboratories, an independent entity that determines whether or not consumer products are safe, the Council rates buildings according to a system designed by the national USGBC. The Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) green building rating system sets a standard for measuring the sustainability of construction, and has gone a long way to encourage environmentally responsible development.

The Silicon Valley Branch formed to promote this system as a way of standardizing and improving design through networking of those involved in building and education of the public, especially students at universities. Although the group's first official meeting was recent - June 10 - many council events have had overwhelming success. On one such occasion, a venture capitalist came to speak about his plans to build a green house; with room for 163 people to attend, there was a waiting list of around 100.

The U.S. Green Building Council's work is an important addition to the environmental protection activities already occurring in California. The state has eliminated energy production from the burning of coal, limiting its power production to dependence on natural gas, hydroelectric power, wind energy, and nuclear reactions. According to Fong, the average person in California produces 600 pounds of greenhouse gases per year, while the national average lies between 1100 and 1300 pounds; the state as a whole uses the same amount of energy today as it did in the 1970s, despite a doubling of the population.

The Council is an excellent way for people worried about the state of the planet to get information on how to improve the environment in their own homes. "Making good choices when selecting materials in building and remodeling houses" is a helpful first step in the process, a habit that the U.S. Green Building Council is trying to foster. Through their efforts and the efforts of concerned members and citizens, hopefully the world will be changed for the greener.

For more information, feel free to attend USGBC meetings held on the second Tuesday of every month and subscribe to the chapter email list at

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