Seattle to the World: Green Factor

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Making sustainable landscapes the new standard.

In January 2007, the City of Seattle adopted a new set of standards to consider when permitting development in Seattle's neighborhood business districts. The policy, known as the Green Factor, requires commercial developers to meet a landscaping target, by incorporating selections from a predetermined menu of sustainable landscaping techniques.

The landscape solutions that developers can choose from range from simple choices, like shrubs and trees, to more comprehensive additions like green roofs or green walls, permeable pavement or natural drainage systems. Each square foot devoted to one of these elements is awarded a value (its "green factor"), and developers are required to achieve a total end score of .300, or 30 percent of their project's total footprint. Vertical and off-ground elements like green roofs and walls, and layered elements like rain gardens with trees planted on top, give landscape designers flexibility within that percentage.

The policy updated an older landscape standard, which was primarily directed toward aesthetic improvement, says Dave LaClergue, a land use planner with the Department of Planning and Development. "Stormwater is the big issue for water quality in this area, and this is a way to incorporate some of these principles into the landscaping standards," he says. "People are increasingly aware of the ecological value of landscapes."

So far, the new policy has worked as intended, motivating developers to think outside the already-worn paths for adding green space to a project. In order to make it to the goal, they often must include at least one of the more extensive projects. According to LaClergue, all of the 40 projects that have been reviewed by the DPD thus far include a green roof, porous pavement or a green wall – or a combination.

The Green Factor program, the first of its kind in the U.S., was based on landscaping requirements established in Berlin, Germany and Malmo, Sweden. Since its implementation in Seattle, La Clergue says the DPD has received requests for information from other cities wanting to look into standards of their own, including Bellingham and Fife, Washington, as well as Orlando, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. And the DPD is working to improve and expand on the plan, adding newer tools like structural soils to the checklist, and customizing a Green Factor standard that can extend to multi-family residential developments.

Why it's Worldchanging:
Although you'd be hard-pressed to find a developer in the Northwest who is unaware of sustainable landscape design options, these professionals are often so focused on the bottom line that good intentions are frequently sacrificed as the design process enters its final phases. With the Green Factor in place, developers and designers are forced to come up with creative solutions to meet their necessary green goals. The result is good for the environment -- providing additional resources for managing stormwater while providing habitat for urban birds and insects and helping mitigate the heat island effect. And they are products that developers can be proud of for other reasons also, including improved energy efficiency, cutting-edge green design, and overall a more pleasant atmosphere that the people who inhabit or even walk past the space can enjoy. Though the Green Factor has been in place for less than two years, we're confident that within the next decade the new standards will pay off in a noticeably healthier, greener Seattle.


Photos courtesy of Seattle DPD. Note these are only samples of green landscaping; the first projects permitted to Green Factor standards are not yet completed.


This post is part of the series, "Seattle to the World: 100 Best Innovations from the Emerald City."

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