Why Green Building Matters

Green Building

In November 2009, the American building construction industry was at dead slow, in the jaws of the Great Recession. I was surprised — make that flabbergasted — to see over 24,000 people at the U.S. Green Building Council’s GreenBuild conference and expo in Phoenix. Why, I wondered, were all of these people at a conference and trade show during an industry melt-down? Why? Because, as a cold fact, Green Building is the hottest thing going in the building construction industry.

I’m told that the average American is indoors — inside a building — about 87% of the time. The buildings we live in, work in and do almost everything else in consume 72% of the electricity used in this country and 34% of the directly used natural gas. In total, we spend over $400 billion annually to heat, cool and power buildings. Further, it has been demonstrated that the power consumption in buildings can be reduced by an average of at least 38%, using existing technologies, applied at rational rates of return.[1]

Photo - Empire State Building
For example, New York’s Empire State Building was built in 1931. Over the past several years, the building has been extensively refurbished, including applying Green Building concepts. One result is that the building’s annual power cost has been reduced by $4.4 million (38%) with a three year pay-back on associated costs.[2]

An economically viable way to reduce a $400 billion annual national expenditure by 38% is a pretty good start. But wait: it gets better. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, practically speaking, define Green Building. The LEED standards “promote a whole-building approach to sustainability” that includes power consumption, water utilization efficiency, building materials, indoor air quality and more.[3] Adherence to the LEED requirements translates to healthier indoor environments for working and living, along with reduced impacts on the natural world, to the benefit of everyone. People prefer to live and work in Green buildings.

Consequently, there are now over two billion square feet of LEED certified floor space. The first billion square feet took nine years, the second only three years — never mind the Great Recession![4]

What This Means for Smaller Manufacturers

Green building is clearly on a roll. As long as substantial power cost savings continue, that momentum is likely to continue. Expect to see Green building products increasingly specified in future building contracts.

The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST — part of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has established a database of product attributes for over 230 building materials. The Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) software, again practically speaking, defines the attributes that qualify specific products as “Green”. BEES links specific building products to LEED.[5]

Graphic - BEES ModelThe LEED / BEES materials requirements encompass health, environmental and human aspects of every link in the entire building product value chain. Consequently, these requirements offer many channels for product differentiation. Manufacturers can benefit by offering building products that conform to — or surpass — the LEED / BEES materials product attributes requirements.

Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated. Click on the title of this post to open the comments section.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

Special thanks to Paolo Scardina, Green Building Designer and LEED AP (Accredited Professional) for taking time to brief me on part of this discussion of LEED. Paolo is at Sustainable Sedona, www.SustainableSedona.com

A .pdf version of this post is available at: http://app5.websitetonight.com/projects2/4/9/9/4/2164994/uploads/Blog_Post_-_Why_Green_Building_Matters_-_17_May_2012.PDF

Empire State Building Photo: Dreamstime, www.dreamstime.com

BEES Graphic: NIST, www.NIST.gov

[1] Lovins, Amory, Reinventing Fire, Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction VT (2011). This book studies buildings and energy consumption in great depth, devoting an entire chapter to Buildings: Designs for Better Living, pp. 76 – 121

[2] Lovins, ibid, pp 78 – 79. For additional information, see the Empire State Building’s website at www.esbny.com

[3] For more on the LEED standards, see the U.S. Green Building Council’s website at www.usgbc.org

[4] Watson, Rob, et al, Green Building Market and Impact Report 2011, p. 9. The Market and Impact Report is produced by GreenBiz Group, Inc. and available online at www.greenbiz.com/research/report/2011/11/07/green-building-market-and-impact-report-2011.pdf

[5] The BEES database and software is available for free access online at www.NIST.gov/el/economics/BEESsoftware.cfm