With mounting environmental concerns over energy use, building "green" is more important than ever. However, it's key to keep in mind that while green building is gaining acceptance, it's still a relatively young movement. At present, green buildings account for approximately 10 to 15 percent of the overall new construction market.
That is changing - rapidly. Judging by the explosive growth of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) - which has seen its membership roster increase from 500 members three years ago to more than 12,000 today - green development is well on its way to being a mainstream business practice. The USGBC created a structured certification program called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which is making the process of building green even more standardized. The mainstreaming of green development has been recognized as a smart, long-term investment by developers as well. They are responding to companies' demand for facilities that are more energy-efficient and are building facilities with materials that are nonpolluting, recyclable, and biodegradable.
Nationally, corporations have implemented sustainability concepts into their manufacturing, packaging, and logistics processes. Sustainable buildings are a natural extension of this mindset, allowing corporations to live and work in building environments that are constructed with an eye on conserving resources and using materials that are neutral to the environment. In addition, utilizing recycled, reclaimed, or salvaged materials can lessen the burden on landfills by reducing the need for dumping. Developing a green building means exhibiting a commitment not only to the quality of the building itself and the customers' experience upon leasing, but also to being a good environmental corporate citizen within the community. Among the corporations that have built green facilities in recent years are Toyota, Southern California Gas, Steelcase, Herman Miller, Johnson Controls, Interface, IBM, PNC Financial Services, and Ford Motor.
Tangible and Intangible Benefits
Green buildings have numerous advantages, both tangible and intangible, including a reduction in energy costs and, potentially, a healthier, more productive work force. There are often higher long-term tenant retention rates due to enhanced user satisfaction, health, comfort, and productivity. The benefits associated with a comfortable staff are significantly higher than energy and water costs, as a building will become more desirable if it can provide a higher level of environmental quality (thermal, lighting, indoor air quality, etc.) for its occupants.
Sustainable design also offers significant advantages in the areas of energy and water use reduction, air quality improvement, and increased material efficiency. Nonetheless, justifying green on a cost analysis is a complex process to be sure. Bottom line results must be carefully weighed to guard against pursing a green program that is marketing hype or an empty fad. There are a number of clear economic advantages to sustainable building, including immediate savings in the area of utility costs.
Buildings with efficient layouts can reduce the cost of building materials and construction waste. Additionally, by utilizing efficient heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment, the building relies more on passive strategies for heating and cooling, thereby cutting the cost of equipment. Financial incentives from local utility companies are also possible for buildings that utilize sustainable design strategies.
Construction practices involving the storage and disposal of materials are being adjusted to be more environmentally sound. Modern green buildings will also have carpets produced with recycled materials, more energy-efficient mechanical systems, more natural light, and the exterior landscaping will become more drought tolerant. As the green building movement takes shape, expect to see typical grass berms at industrial sites give way to more sophisticated and complex green features. One such component has been bioswales, which have water-retaining capacities, or French drains, which reduce the amount of water discharged into sewer systems.
Pursuing LEED Certification
LEED Certification, which is currently the most accepted method of judging the sustainability of a building, requires buildings be commissioned as part of the process, which typically takes place approximately six months following completion of a building. Commissioning ensures that building systems work the way they were designed and built, and are as efficient as promised.
Although the barriers to developing green buildings are becoming lower every year, there are few merchant developers, or those seeking to build, lease, and dispose of an asset, pursing LEED certification as a strategic long-term strategy. Developers that adopt a long view may realize significant return on investment (ROI) over time simply because the customer base is increasingly demanding green space to satisfy their need and desire to be more carbon neutral. The commitment to green for a developer must be resolute because it is a costly and time-consuming process of ensuring green construction practices are utilized. Additionally, a developer must oversee a host of LEED consultants and manage the certifications to ensure a building achieves the level of certification desired.
The USGBC program provides multiple levels of LEED certification that developers can adopt for a specific building. This fact means not all green buildings are created equal and companies would be wise to examine the differences between one level or another.