Most of us already know that “green buildings” are synonymous with environmental friendliness. That means they are less expensive to operate while also being better for our planet. How important that really is might be shocking. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) estimates that commercial buildings are themselves responsible for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, 30% of raw material consumption, and 12% of potable water consumption. Those are staggering numbers that, collectively, add up to a serious global concern. It is no wonder that building green (also called sustainable design) has become such a hot topic in the design and construction sector.
On the other hand, green buildings have a reputation for poor ROI. While somewhat true in a historical sense, this is becoming less the case today. Sustainable features do cost more up front, but the timeframes for full payback are becoming shorter and shorter. Continual advances in sustainable engineering, design, construction techniques, and technologies have much to do with making green buildings a more viable option. Government incentives have also provided some real tax breaks to encourage sustainable design.
A full understanding of the benefits sustainable buildings provide can help clear up the misconceptions that a green building costs more overall. So what are the specific economic, social, and environmental benefits to going green? Let’s sort it out…
Specific Benefits of Green Commercial Buildings:
Reduce Pollution – Greenhouse gas emissions including carbon dioxide are an unavoidable consequence of commercial buildings. Commercial buildings are the number one contributor to these harmful emissions. The growing concern around global warming makes reducing pollution that much more urgent. Green building construction may be a big part of the answer.
Reduce Waste – Buildings can, by design, generate less waste. This happens both before and after construction. Green buildings are required to limit the amount of trash that ends of in a landfill during construction. They also incorporate simple solutions like compost bins that reduce waste once the building is occupied.
Water Savings – Reducing water consumption is important for our planet’s future. Water is also becoming more and more expensive. 30 major U.S. cities report at least a 6% increase in the cost of water since 2010. A continued increase in the cost of water is generally anticipated over the next decade.
Conserve Other Natural Resources – Green buildings prioritize the use of recyclable materials. As whole, they consume roughly 40% less raw material usage. That translates an astonishing reduction of 3 billion tons of raw materials annually.
Protect Occupant Health – Studies from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimate that indoor air quality of green buildings is as much a ten times cleaner. Cleaner air quality means healthier occupants.
Increased Occupant Productivity – Cleaner air quality means less short-term and long-term ailments. When occupants are healthier and more comfortable they are naturally more productive.
Increased Property Value – Green buildings are more desirable on the open market. Utilities are expensive. Therefore, tenants are more likely to sign a lease on a green building knowing it will result in lower utility bills. As vacancy rates go down, property values go up.
Increased Longevity – Sustainable building construction significantly optimizes the life-cycle of the building. That means its useful life can be extended through green design and construction.
How Advances in Technique and Technology Are Changing the Game
Public perception about ecofriendly design and construction is changing. Once considered a nice thought, being “green” is now being viewed as an essential next step in how we live and work. Luckily, technology and new construction techniques are keeping up. This is enabling the green movement to spread rapidly. Sustainable design techniques are becoming more and more commonplace everywhere.
Technology advancements have been most notably spurred on by federal investment, which has allocated more than $80 billion to clean energy technology over the last seven years. Some of the top technologies to show for the investment are:
Solar Power – It is with good reason that solar power is now a household term. Active solar energy refers largely to the paneling we are now used to seeing on roofs. Advances in active solar energy have made the technology more efficient and affordable. Yet there is a lot more to solar energy than most think. Passive solar refers simply to good design. It incorporates aspects like the sun’s orientation and the placement of shade trees to maximize the suns ability to heat (or not heat) a structure.
Cool Roofs – Specially designed shingles can reflect more of the sun’s rays off of the building. This makes for dramatic savings in the cost to cool a building. Simultaneously, these same shingles prevent warm or cool air from escaping through the roof.
Insulation – Producing traditional insulation materials is especially harmful to the environment. Instead, green buildings often use insulation made out of recycled materials. This keeps the environmental impact to minimum.
Storm Water – Heavy rains pose a serious threat in some areas. Erosion, harm to plant life, and overflowing sewers and drains are of most concern. Green buildings properly manage rain water with well positioned plants and soil that absorb and purify rainwater. In some circumstances, rainwater can even be harvested and used for irrigation.
Smart Glass – More specifically known as electrochromic glass, this new technology uses electrically charged ions on glass’ surface to control the amount of light that is reflected. It allows light in to heat during the winter. Conversely, the light is reflected away during the summer months when keeping cool is desirable.
The increasing urgency of environmental concerns along with technological advances have paved the way for a significant rise in green building construction. An estimated 41% of all nonresidential buildings erected in 2015 were green, as compared to just 2% of buildings in 2012. In a report from the USGBC dated August of 2015, there were more than 13.8 billion square feet of building space that has been LEED certified. (For more information about LEED – see our post titled “What is LEED Certified). Minnesota, in particular, is one of the areas with the greatest per capita investment in green buildings. On a broader scale, green is catching on globally. Approximately 43% of new construction square footage that is pursuing LEED certification exists outside the U.S.
Our world is demanding we leverage the benefits of green buildings. The numbers suggest that we are responding accordingly. Advances in design and construction techniques mixed with new technologies are making sustainable design and construction an increasingly beneficial and viable option. Be ready to welcome green technologies and their benefits as they to become more and more ingrained into our everyday life.