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The U.S. Green Building Council, Central Texas - Balcones Chapter is a non-profit organization made up of building industry professionals, facility managers, and property owners in Central Texas and surrounding communities. Our mission is to accelerate the transformation toward sustainable building and land development practices in Central Texas through innovation, advocacy and partnerships. Members work together to provide educational and networking opportunities for individuals who are passionate about sustainable building.

At the time of the first Greenbuild convention, held in Austin in 2002, only a small number of USGBC chapters had formed. The few that existed were proudly vocal at the convention. As Bob Harris recalls, “The Delaware Valley Chapter members…were running about in their Pittsburgh Steelers jerseys…. They all had a jump on us and it seemed like we needed to get going.” It was at that Greenbuild when Bob and several other environmental leaders from Austin and San Antonio began the discussion of starting a regional chapter.

The first informal meeting followed in January of 2003, at Castle Hill Restaurant in Austin, with a handful of participants. You might recognize the names of these early leaders: Gail Vittori (CMPBS) is the 2009 chair-elect for the national USGBC, Bob Harris (Lake/Flato Architects) is now a national board member, Katie Jensen (AEGBP) became the first chair of the Central Texas – Balcones Chapter, and Sue Barnett is a LEED Faculty member. At the Castle Hill meeting, the issues that filtered to the top of the discussion helped focus the direction of the organization towards forming one regional chapter rather than two municipally based chapters.

It was collectively agreed that the Balcones Escarpment* was the defining ecological feature of the region that connects us. (See end of article for a brief explanation of this unique Central Texas geological element). It was at this time that Balcones was chosen as the name for the forming chapter. Additionally, the concern for water conservation - a relatively small portion of the overall points in LEED program’s point structure – was at the forefront of issues in our region. These early discussions included ideas for creating a regional point structure in LEED based on local environmental priorities such as water. Now, six years later, the USGBC is at long last incorporating regionalism within the LEED point structure with LEED 2009.

In addition to the common problems we share due to geography, the economy of our region continues to grow more interconnected. Nearly 3 million people live along the corridor between Georgetown and San Antonio and depend on Interstate Highway 35 (IH 35) as a major thoroughfare. By the year 2020, the population along this 110-mile stretch of highway is expected to nearly double. It is commonsense that the more our area grows into what is approaching a single giant metropolis, the better prepared we will be by working together toward a common vision that benefits us all.

Several years after the formation of the USGBC Central Texas – Balcones Chapter, National USGBC began assigning clearly defined areas to each chapter. The USGBC Central Texas – Balcones Chapter now officially serves 55 counties, a geographic area whose population surpasses four million people and is expected to exceed ten million by 2040. Since the beginning, representation on our Board has come from a wide range from within our area - from locales such as Fredericksburg, Round Rock, and Johnson City in addition to Austin and San Antonio. In this way, we are able to share expertise, solutions, and resources amongst ourselves, improving efficiency and knowledge for all involved.

In 2005, National furthered organized chapters by grouping them into eight broad “families” called Regional Councils. This organization provides a structure for bringing chapters within a region together to work on regional issues and opportunities as well as facilitate communications and information sharing. Our Chapter joined with the Greater Houston Area Chapter, the North Texas Chapter, and what would become the Oklahoma and Louisiana Chapters, to form the South Central Regional Committee (SCRC). One of the recent ways our Regional Council is supporting our local concerns is through the South Central LEED Regionalization Task Force. Two representatives from the CT-B Chapter have joined with representatives from the other chapters in the SCRC on the Task Force to help develop criteria specifica.