Sustainability and the MBIA

greenwashWith Ryan Morton (Community Affairs Director for MBIA) and Kathy Greathouse (chair, MBIA Government Affairs Committee) running for Missoula City Council, it is understandable that the activities of the MBIA (Missoula Building Industry Association) will get some scrutiny.

Take, for instance, a paid advertisement in today’s Missoulian (p. A10, not available online?) written by John Freer, of Riverworks, Inc. Each week, “industry experts from the Montana Green Building Program of Missoula and the MBIA will answer your questions and provide green building techniques, tips and advice”. You can send your questions to

Now, it just so happens that one of Ryan Morton’s major platforms for his candidacy for City Council is Green Building, so this should be interesting.
Let’s see what the MBIA recommends for reducing carbon, sulfate and nitrate emissions … Hmmm, this is interesting: “Walk …. don’t drive to that BBQ, choose local produce and foods, guzzle lots of organic beer, choose reusable plates, cups and utensils.” All well and good. I particularly like the recommendation for drinking more beer, but I would encourage local brews (Kettlehouse, Big Sky, and Bayern) – none of whom regularly brew organic.

But, how feasible is it to “Walk … don’t drive?” And is MBIA, Ryan and Kathy really going to do what it takes to make walking a REAL option here in Missoula. Because, you know, the building industry has a BIG say in how walkable our new neighborhoods will be. So does City Council.

What would it take to make Missoula an easy place to walk everywhere you need to be? Firstly, and the most green of all, is mixed use zoning – that allows you to walk from your home to your workplace, and then on to the local store for groceries and above-mentioned local beer and back home again. Like a village, everything you need would be close by – your kids school, your hairdresser, your favorite restaurant and bar, the local hardware store, etc. etc. Anywhere you couldn’t walk to, you could use the bus system. You wouldn’t completely do away with your car or truck (which would be for longer trips out-of-town, and for hauling lumber and soil and other big products, etc.), but you’d save $$$ by not having to fill up with gas every week. Oh, and you’d have to have sidewalks and well designed boulevards to make walking through the neighborhood safe and enticing.

Don’t believe it could happen in the U.S.? Check out New York City. Many folks who live in Manhattan don’t own a car. Of course, NYC is more densely settled than Missoula. And greater density is probably going to be required if it is going to be economic for your local Grizzly Grocery or Ace Hardware to be able to stay in business just off a local customer base.

As it turns out, I’m a big fan of Green Building. I applaud the Missoula Federal Credit Union for getting Platinum LEED certification for their new building and for First Interstate Bank achieving Bronze for their new highrise. A little more expensive up-front, but a money saver in the long run. The sort of thing financial institutions should be encouraging.

But, the second biggest thing that MBIA, Ryan and Kathy could be encouraging with green building in Missoula would be smaller houses. Simple really. Smaller houses use less building materials, consume fewer resources in the building or remodeling process, and take up smaller lots (which means less destruction of farmland, open space, etc.) Smaller houses take less energy to heat, less energy to clean, and less materials to furnish.

So, perhaps at the next community forum (DoubleTree Hotel Tuesday, July 21 at 3:30 pm?), when Ryan, Kathy and the MBIA talking up boldly for Green Building in Missoula we’ll hear them calling for smaller buildings in denser, mixed-use neighborhoods. I hope so, otherwise their green building stance might be unsustainable politically.