In 2021, Austin Energy Green Building (AEGB) celebrates 30 years of assisting Central Texas architects to design more sustainably. Since its creation in 1991, the program has rated nearly 18,000 single-family homes, over 32,000 multifamily dwelling units, and over 40,000,000 sf of commercial buildings. By pioneering the encouragement of green design to impact the health of Texans, AEGB has influenced similar programs in communities across Texas and throughout the world.
The AEGB process starts when the owner, architect, builder, or developer registers a project with its online rating system. A representative is assigned to the project to help orient the participant with the program. The AEGB representative then works together with the project team to develop a viable strategy for meeting performance goals and provides guidance on specific materials and systems of construction, construction progress verification, and assessing the impact on the community and the environment. The AEGB team provides hands-on, practical consultation from a professional with up-to-date knowledge of effective technologies for green building in Central Texas.
In addition to direct project support, AEGB provides numerous learning opportunities and resources for design professionals and the public, including free continuing education courses for architects, Green by Design workshops for the general public, and the annual Cool House Tour. It has also created an online repository of case studies, sharing in-depth information on buildings it has rated. It offers free guidebooks on sustainable design for single-family, commercial, and multifamily projects on the website austinenergy.com.
While brainstorming during a session at the 1989 Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems meeting, Pliny Fisk III, Gail Vittori, Michael Myers, and Doug Seiter, four Austin pioneers of the sustainability movement, formulated the idea of a “green rating” system for homes. A $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy moved the ideas forward and helped develop a guide for single-family residential green buildings. More grants followed, and the Austin Green Builder Program was born. In 1998, it was taken under the wing of Austin Energy and christened “Austin Energy Green Building.”
AEGB became the first entity in the nation to rate residential and commercial structures. This has generated an important legacy for the City of Austin and its residents, many of whom do not know that they own their local municipal utility. The City of Austin has even created an Office of Sustainability that watches over policy development and implements new programs focusing on the environment, community health, and promoting a vibrant culture at the heart of civic life.
The initial rating program worked primarily with builders, motivating them to make a move toward building more sustainably. The City of Austin is breaking new ground by encouraging that all new buildings constructed downtown receive green building ratings for enhanced energy efficiency in residential and commercial construction.
The idea of a green building program — one that is owned and operated by a municipality’s energy utility and works directly with builders, architects, designers, and owners to increase the sustainability of buildings — has inspired the creation of similar programs in Texas and around the world. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification program was influenced by the program that started in Austin.
What began as a small group of innovators meeting and debating about how to move the dial on sustainability forward has broadened and expanded to influence construction far and wide. People from utilities and governments all over the world come to Austin to learn how to start their own green building programs.
Kimberly Kohlhaas, AIA, is an architect, REALTOR, and artist based in Austin.