Fairfax County Strengthens Its Green Building Policy
July 1, 2014
Fairfax County strengthened its green building policy in its land use plan, encouraging higher standards for residential and commercial development.
The county first adopted a green building policy as part of its Comprehensive Plan in 2007, and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ action today improves and refines this existing policy. The policy applies to residential, retail, office and other projects for which approval is being sought through the county’s zoning process. The policy does not mandate developers to meet green standards, but it provides guidance on the county’s recommendations for new or renovated buildings that require zoning approvals.
“Fairfax County’s Green Building Policy is a major component of our Board’s Environmental Agenda and my own efforts toward making Fairfax County a leader in energy efficiency,” said Fairfax County Chairman Sharon Bulova. “Business leaders understand the value of this policy not only for its environmental benefits, but also the savings they achieve and the competitive advantage of low energy costs.”
The amended policy offers incremental improvements rather than wholesale changes:
- It updates the policy to reflect advances in available green building rating systems.
- It continues to support LEED® certification or equivalent, particularly for certain proposals within higher density areas of the county, and extends this support to industrial areas.
- For residential proposals, it expands from a previous focus on ENERGY STAR® Qualified Homes to support green building rating systems that incorporate additional green building concepts.
- It adds support for higher levels of green building performance when proposed developments have relatively high levels of intensity or density.
- It adds green building guidance for development in public-private partnerships.
- It adds support for infrastructure needed to install electric vehicle charging stations.
- It encourages collecting data on the water and energy use for individual green buildings. This data would be anonymous and aggregated in order to help buildings owners, developers and the county evaluate the costs and benefits for green building.
In the six years since the policy’s adoption, the county has received well over 100 commitments from developers for the design and construction of green buildings.
In addition to this policy for private development, the county committed to build its own facilities to meet green standards.
Since 2008, Fairfax County has built 16 certified green buildings. Except for two buildings, all were certified through the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design rating system or LEED for short. The majority of these buildings received LEED Gold certification, the second highest certification. This rating also exceeds the county’s policy, which calls for LEED Silver certification.
Green buildings reduce water and energy consumption, thereby reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Based on the county’s greenhouse gas inventory released last year, 63 percent of these gases in 2010 were produced by energy consumption from residential, commercial, industrial and government buildings. However, the energy used by county government buildings, including schools, only generated 2.42 percent of emissions.
Fairfax updated its green policy at the direction of the board. When it adopted the policy in 2007, the board requested the Fairfax County Planning Commission to update the policy at a future date.
To amend the policy, the commission and county staff worked with developers, environmental organizations, community groups and others.