Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties initiates Built Green environmental building program on March 17, 1999.

  • By John Caldbick
  • Posted 9/20/2009
  • Essay 9164
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On March 17, 1999, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBA) approves a mission statement for Built Green, a residential building program designed to help home buyers and owners identify environmentally friendly homes.  The program uses a rating system, based on checklists of building practices identified as environmentally friendly, and grants “Built Green” certification to new construction and remodeling projects that meet specified standards. Built Green starts with just four participants, but will grow dramatically over its first 10 years.  By 2009, it will have 182 member companies and more than 13,000 residential units (single family homes, apartments, and condominiums) in King and Snohomish counties will be certified "Built Green."

A Broad Mandate

That simple, one-sentence mission statement will lead to major changes in the way many residential structures are designed and built. It reads:

"Our mission is to promote environmentally friendly home building methods and practices, and to enhance our communities through leadership in sustainable development" (Built Green website).
The Master Builders Association developed the Built Green program in partnership with King and Snohomish counties. Other local governments and corporations also provided funding. Major sponsors in 2009 include Puget Sound Energy, Whirlpool Corporation, and Northwest Energy Star. The program's approach is comprehensive, and includes individuals and organizations representing virtually every aspect of residential housing, from architects to builders to public utilities.  

Threatened Salmon Spawn an Idea

The original impetus for the Built Green program came from a March 1999 report by the National Marine Fisheries Service that added seven Washington salmon populations to the endangered or threatened species lists, joining six salmon and steelhead runs that had been designated earlier. Coincidentally, in that same month, the National Association of Homebuilders was holding its first annual Green Building conference in Denver, Colorado, where the first Built Green program run by a home-building organization had been started in 1995. Master Builders Association Executive Officer Sam Anderson proposed a similar local building program for King and Snohomish counties.

One of the first tasks was to pick someone to run the effort, and Peter Orser of Quadrant Homes became Built Green's first director. Anderson and Orser realized that certain aspects of the home-construction industry -- particularly land development, transportation, and the manufacturing and use of building materials -- had potentially heavy impacts on salmon spawning areas. They decided that with careful planning and cooperation, a program like Built Green could contribute to the survival of salmon runs and the possible renaissance of the fisheries that had relied on the abundance of earlier days.

Following the successful Colorado model, the MBA adopted the trademarked "Built Green" name, and Anderson and Orser set out to recruit participants representing a wide range of interests. Getting the program up and running effectively required the active involvement of the building trades, architects and engineers, manufacturers and suppliers, state and local government agencies, utility companies, lenders, developers, environmental groups, and community representatives. Anderson and Orser reached out to all of them. 

Checklists Show the Way

Working cooperatively, and again guided by the Colorado model, these first Built Green participants developed four comprehensive checklists of environmentally friendly building practices, designating some as mandatory and assigning numerical values to hundreds of others. Separate checklists were developed for new construction of single-family homes, both custom and production; remodeling projects; multifamily residences (apartments and condominiums); and entire communities, which included neighborhoods and developments. Not losing sight of the original impetus for the program, the organizers included in the checklists more than 150 items directly related to protecting and preserving salmon.

Built Green was not intended to merely voice environmental aspirations, but rather to define and reward practices believed to result in tangible benefits for the environment. The way the program is implemented can be illustrated by considering the checklist for single-family homes. A particular project can be awarded either a three-star, four-star, or five-star rating. Each of these three categories has a list of mandatory requirements and a necessary point total to qualify for Built Green certification, with the three-star certification requiring the fewest points (180) and the five-star requiring the most (500).

Point scores are based on a list of hundreds of recommended, environmentally friendly practices, subdivided into four broad categories: Site and Water, Energy Efficiency, Health and Indoor Air Quality, and Materials and Efficiency. Each category has several subcategories, and each of those has a list of specific practices. For example, under Site and Water, a builder would be allowed four points for retaining 30 percent of the existing trees on a lot, and up to 15 points for installing cisterns for rain-water collection. In the Energy Efficiency category, one point is awarded for installing ceiling fan wiring, while a whopping 50 points can be earned by building  a "Zero Net Energy Home That Draws Zero Outside Power or Fuel On a Net Annual Basis."

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

In the decade since its start, the Built Green program has been a remarkable success, with more than 13,000 homes certified as Built Green. Entire developed communities have also been certified, including Snoqualmie Ridge, Redmond Ridge, and Issaquah Highlands. Each of these projects left untouched hundreds of acres of open space and forest, and Issaquah Highlands preserved 150 acres of wetlands. In addressing the program's original concern, more than 4,100 fish-friendly projects have been certified since 2001.

Each year the MBA sponsors a Built Green Conference and Expo, which is designed to educate members of the local and regional building industry on green building practices, products, and projects, and to encourage and inspire them to adopt environmentally friendly methods of site preparation and construction. The 2009 conference, held at Bellevue's Meydenbauer Center, featured 75 distributors and 20 educational programs. The keynote speaker was noted environmental activist and attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Each year's conference also includes an awards ceremony that recognizes significant achievements in Built Green practices in both development projects and residential housing.

The two men who started the program in King and Snohomish counties remain active in the industry in 2009. Sam Anderson still serves as the MBA's executive officer, and Peter Orser has gone on to become the president of Quadrant Homes. 

Sources: "Single Family Checklist," Microsoft Excel file from Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties Built Green website accessed September 3, 2009 (; Built Green Colorado website accessed September 3, 2009 (; Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties Built Green website accessed September 3, 2009 (; Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties Built Green website accessed September 3, 2009 (; Robin Rogers, "The Fish That Spawned Built Green,"  Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties website accessed September 3, 2009 (

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