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Magnolia State architects, builders seeing more green

The Mississippi chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) held its 2007 convention June 17-19 at the Beau Rivage Resort in Biloxi. The chapter members gathered to discuss the myriad of issues the industry faces, but one took center stage.

Titled “Rebuilding a Sustainable Mississippi,” the convention focused on sustainability and green buildings. The roster of speakers offered their significant collective experience and knowledge in designing environmentally-sound structures.

“We (took) a great amount of time to gather the speakers, who, collectively, offer a wide array of best practices on ‘going green,’” said Robert Zander, AIA, of Jones-Zander, Ltd., in Grenada.

The AIA’s focus on green building concepts illustrates the growing popularity and acceptance of the environmentally-friendly practices that are catching on across the world and nation, including Mississippi. And, a group of designers and builders have come together to give a concerted voice to these concepts with the goal of recruiting more devotees to sound environmental design and construction.

Planting the seed

Back in the summer of 2005, Perry Richardson, AIA, a staff architect with the Jackson firm of Canizaro Cawthon Davis Architects, and Patrik Lazzari with Philadelphia-based W.G. Yates & Sons Construction, struck up a conversation about green building practices. States around the nation were getting organized, establishing local chapters of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a non-profit organization dedicated to sustainable building design and construction. Richardson and Lazzari decided it was time for Mississippi to organize, as well, and set out to get a local chapter started.

Ironically, Mother Nature put those plans on hold. Hurricane Katrina struck approximately two weeks later, leaving the design and construction industries scrambling to help in recovery. So, plans for an organization were postponed.

But the delay was only temporary. In January 2006, a small group of professionals from both industries met in Jackson and began informal meetings concerning the formation of a local USGBC chapter. Richardson said due to the coordinated efforts of the group and other factors, interest in the project quickly grew. The following March, the group decided to move forward in forming a new chapter. Two months later, the group submitted a letter of intent to the USGBC National Chapter Steering Committee.

In July 2006, officers and committee chairs were elected, and upon receiving “organizing group” status, a Web site was launched (http://chapters.usgbc.org/mississippi/). The group is currently working toward earning designation as a provisional chapter, which Richardson said he hopes to attain perhaps as early as this month.

The group has met regularly each month since January 2006. (Meetings are held the first Friday of every month at noon in the Mississippi State University Architecture Studio in Jackson.) Because it is not an official chapter yet, the group has no formal members. But, Richardson, Lazzari and other organizers have been pleased with the response. The organizing chapter routinely pulls 30-40 attendees each month, and its mailing list now stands at approximately 100 individuals.

As the group has organized, so has the agenda. Moving from informal discussions to planned programs offering information and ideas, Richardson said the meetings are drawing more and more interest.

Education, education, education

The mission of the Mississippi chapter of the USGBC is three-fold. It is: to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and information related to sustainable building principles and practices; to promote activities and opportunities that encourage and develop sustainable building awareness and understanding; and, to partner with other environmental, design, construction and governmental organizations for the furtherance of the group’s goals and vision in the region.

Richardson said, “Our vision is to make it possible for future generations to inherit a more sustainable built environment and regional economy by establishing a local organization that will act as a catalyst and resource for those interested in environmentally-effective, economically-feasible and informed construction and development decisions.”

Obvious from its mission and vision, the primary focus of the local chapter is on education. Richardson said putting out information on sustainability and green practices is the overriding priority and need.

“We’re looking to overcome fear of the unknown, to demystify the concepts,” he said. “We want people to know that while these concepts are new to many, they are built upon proven, well-practiced ideas.”

Richardson, a Jackson native born a few blocks from where he works today in downtown Jackson, said he feels many in the design and construction industries face the same questions he did earlier in his career. Environmental awareness and sensitivity were important to him. But he wondered how those issues fit in with his career in architecture. He soon realized the contribution of architects and builders could be significant, especially considering that buildings consume a huge part of the country’s energy resources.

He said, “I believe that with a growing awareness of environmental change and the energy crisis, people are beginning to understand the effects of human activity on our environment, and that there is something that can and should be done about it. Green and sustainable building and development concepts are part of that ‘something.’”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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