By Eric Scigliano, Washington Sea Grant
“People really like to get recognition for doing the right thing,” says Washington Sea Grant Coastal Management Specialist Nicole Faghin. “When we want people to take action on their own, we try to use the carrot, not the stick. It’s human nature. People respond better that way.”
That’s the psychology behind green building certification programs like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which recognizes water conservation, energy efficiency, emissions reductions in buildings and Sustainable Sites, which certifies sustainable land use. Homeowners get practical benefits such as permit concessions, higher sale prices and tax breaks. At the same time they get to savor the satisfaction and bragging rights that come with being certified Silver, Gold or Platinum. Often that’s enough, says Faghin: “People get to put up nice plaques, and other people say, ‘I want that too’.” br>
Now, thanks to Faghin and her trans-border colleagues, waterfront dwellers in Washington and British Columbia can enjoy the recognition, together with expert guidance and — perhaps in the near future — practical incentives for doing the right thing on their beaches as well as in their homes. Washington Sea Grant and its Canadian and American partners have created Green Shores for Homes, which awards LEED-style points for sustainable practices such as reducing impervious surfaces (like asphalt or concrete), treating water runoff, planting native riparian vegetation and forgoing bulkheads. The last practice brings a points bonanza.
The idea of shoreline sustainability ratings actually originated to the north, with a nonprofit group called the Stewardship Centre for British Columbia. The late 1990s and early 2000s brought what DG Blair, the BC Stewardship Centre’s executive director, calls “the realization that we need to take care of our shorelines.” Meanwhile, “LEED was just starting to gain traction.” The Stewardship Centre convened a series of workshops on sustainability guidelines for various venues. “The story goes that the facilitators were stuck in traffic, talking about their work, when the idea arose — why not create a LEED for shorelines?”
The Stewardship Centre did just that. In 2010 it released its Coastal Development Rating System (CDRS), which awards LEED-style points for shoreline-protecting practices. But CDRS focuses on large-scale development — parks, institutions, and commercial and multi-family projects — rather than private homes. When the Canadians presented CDRS at the binational Salish Sea Conference, the Seattleites in attendance said, in effect, “Nice idea, but what about private dwellings?”
In Washington state, says Faghin, “we realized that the biggest problem was the single family homeowner. That was whom we should target.” Many government agencies and institutions were working to remove shoreline armoring. But anxious homeowners who lacked expertise and could be swayed by bulkhead-building contractors were still armoring about a mile of additional Puget Sound shoreline each year.
So Washington Sea Grant, the City of Seattle and the island county of San Juan, with funding and assistance from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), worked together with Canadian partners, including the Stewardship Centre and the Islands Trust, to devise Green Shores for Homes. The program is still in startup mode; Faghin and company have so far certified four pilot properties in Washington. But it has already traveled north to British Columbia, where a waterfront homeowner on Vancouver Island’s Qualicum Bay recently became the first Canadian to complete the rating and certification process. Blair says that even though local codes didn’t require the sustainable measures taken, Green Shores documentation expedited the permit process.
A high-density multifamily project in greater Victoria, B.C., is now working on its certification, Blair adds, and local authorities are again proving receptive. “We’re still working to get Green Shores tied into a tax credit system or a low-interest loan program for property improvements,” says Faghin. Already, homeowners greening their shores can impress their neighbors, smooth the way at the permit counter and, best of all, watch their shoreline habitats recover.