Sunday, February 1, 2009

Focusing on "Green" Buildings

One of our reading assignments was looking at the different graphs on Energy Consumption by Sector Overview from the Annual Energy Review 2007. That graph showed both the Residential and Commercial sectors combined consuming 39% of total energy in 2007 which equates to approximately 40 Quads. The Transportation sector consumed 29% of total energy or approximately 30 Quads. While much of the nation’s focus is in producing “greener” and more fuel efficient vehicles, I believe there should be more focus on ways to build “greener” buildings that use less energy to construct AND less energy to operate/maintain. You may have heard about the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications. USGBC is a non-profit organization committed to expanding sustainable building practices across America. LEED, developed by USGBC, is a national rating system for developing sustainable buildings by assessing performances in categories of sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy & atmosphere, materials & resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation & design process. Check out the LEED for New Construction checklist which shows how the points are structured and the different levels of certification (Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum) that can be achieved.

I recently read an article which reported the number of LEED projects doubling in 2008 as many owners are catching on with the idea of sustainable buildings. And this upward trend is projected to remain solid despite the economic conditions the nation is facing. This leads me to think that there is a definite market in the segment where the notion of leasing and working in a green building is highly desirable. It also hints that a green building does not necessarily mean more expensive building. On the contrary, the amount of energy conserved and saved over the lifecycle of a building can significantly outweigh the added initial cost of constructing it with sustainable designs.

LEED was originally created as a voluntary program but the tide is starting to shift. There are now numerous federal, states and local government initiatives aimed at adopting the LEED program at various levels. I’m curious to know the change in involvement at the federal level with the new administration over the coming years. Will LEED eventually become part of our standard building code? Is there a huge business potential for innovative and environmentally conscience construction contractors with this movement? Will this actually have a significant impact in the total energy consumed for Residential and Commercial sectors in the coming years?

1 comment:

Nate said...

In Santa Cruz, California, they have incorporated elements from the LEED checklist into the city's building codes. After initial grumblings from builders, the program has gained lots of support from the residents. As more buildings were erected under this building code, builders began to come around to the idea due to enthusiasm and interests of people looking to build. The new code started as voluntary, became mandatory and now acts as a fine example of integrating green building features into city and state building codes.
I do not foresee a national building code arising, as geography and site specificity control local codes. Though, perhaps a federal requirement for efficient appliances and some incentives for choosing energy efficient home designs may surface. Huge strides need to be made in the way we build, and long term savings need to be stressed, opposed to the short sighted cost cutting habits that builders are used to; after all the builder isn't living in these homes so what incentive do they have to make it last the test of time?
Maybe incentives for the builders need to be put in place...?