For the first 15,000 or so years of human occupation in Virginia, structures were fully organic and sustainable. Native Americans made shelters from local materials, primarily tree branches, bark, and reeds. Even transportation vehicles and military fortifications were manufacture from renewable resources. Trees were carved into the shape of a canoe, or placed vertically in the ground to establish a protective palisade around a town.
Colonists soon built structures from brick, using local clay heated with local wood. Glass was usually imported from England, but starting in the 1700's Virginia's iron deposits were converted into nails, door hinges, etc. Nails were valued enough to be recycled; old structures would be burned and the nails extracted from the ashes for re-use.
In the last century, a revolution in chemistry has allowed builders to use new products, creating vinyl-covered townhouses. Consumers can choose appliances and furnishings that come from great distances, and are made of materials that can not be recycled. Between the end of World War II and the energy crisis of 1973, few home buyers considered insulation and energy efficiency before making their decisions.
Today, sustainable building practices are a selling point for new commercial buildings in Northern Virginia, in part because businesses need to show their commitment to the environment in order to appeal to consumers.
Certification of green buildings is not simple. The US Green Building Council has revised the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) standard to reflect regional differences and new technologies. Builders earn points by using different techniques, and with enough points a building can be rated as Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Certified.
The Virginia Housing Development Authority helps to fund affordable housing projects. In 2002, the state agency began to give priority to multi-family projects that implemented green building practices. In 2006, the housing authority chose a nonprofit organization, EarthCraft Virginia, to certify that projects met certain standards. Builders pay a fee to Earthcraft (in 2013, cost was $950 for a typical house) for verification that construction techniques were used, and met the criteria to earn points for site design, stormwater control, tree preservation, use of sustainable building materials, energy efficiency, recycling of construction materials, etc.1
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach, built in 2014. may be the greenest building in Virginia. The foundation contributed $1 million of the $13 million purchase of undeveloped property at Pleasure House Point, on the Lynnhaven River. The City of Virginia Beach bought the land to create a nature preserve and block plans for a residential subdivision, and the decision to build a facility on the 118-acre parcel generated some controversy.
The 10,000 square foot building occupies only 0.5 acres, and maximizing the use of green building techniques helped demonstrate the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's commitment to the environment. The organization's Hampton Roads director responded to criticism with:2