Seeing Green? You’re not alone

Jim Newman
July 25, 2012 — 1,539 views  

Architects and engineers draw plans and contractors build buildings, but neither really controls what goes on there. The power of the bank account puts the owner in control of every project. With constantly increasing energy costs, along with many other factors, more owners are investing in green buildings. A recent national survey of the commercial real estate sector revealed that nearly two-thirds of respondents allocated funds to green initiatives, while the majority said their sustainability investment would increase in 2008. While the future is definitely looking greener, it is important to take a brief look at how this green initiative started.

In the mid-‘90s, a small group of developers decided that the way they were constructing projects could be accomplished in a manner that would be less damaging to the environment while still being profitable. After several years of development, this group—now consisting of manufacturers, designers, developers, government agencies, architects, engineers, building owners, and others—came to be known as the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

Not a government agency, but rather a coalition of like-minded professionals, the USGBC developed a framework to help design and construct environmentally-friendly, energy-efficient buildings that are not only healthier places for people to work and live in, but are also economically profitable. This reference guide was called LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and was first used for new construction in 2000. There are four levels of LEED Certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. These are reached by attaining points in various categories. 

Since 2000, the first category, LEED-NC (New Construction), has been joined by LEED-EB (Existing Building), LEED-CS (Core and Shell) for speculative office buildings, LEED-CI (Commercial Interiors) for tenants who have responsibility for only their areas, and LEED-H (Homes). LEED for Retail and for Schools are already out in pilot format and LEED for Neighborhood Development and hospitals are in the works. In 2009,there will be a new LEED Guideline that will combine all of the categories into one. This new reference guide will take into account such things as life-cycle costs, carbon emissions, operating and maintenance techniques, green purchasing, and so on. 

Today, the USGBC consists of more than 16,000 companies, more than 120,000 people, and more than 45,000 LEED Accredited Professionals. At the end of 2007, there were more than 1,180 LEED-certified buildings in the U.S., totaling more than 134 million ft2, and more than 10,300 buildings registered to be certified, totaling nearly 3 billion ft2. At the USGBC Greenbuild Convention five years ago, there were 4,000 attendees and 75 exhibitors. In November 2007, at Greenbuild in Chicago, there were 22,835 attendees and 850 exhibitors. The keynote speaker was former president Bill Clinton, who spoke about his Clinton Climate Initiative, in which the USGBC is a partner.

There are many definitions of sustainability. Organizations such as AIA, ASHRAE, and ASTM, the developers of building standards, all have their own definitions that are peculiar to their professions. One of the most encompassing came from the U.N. Commission on Environment and Development in 1987. It defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

Today you can hardly read a magazine or newspaper and not find an article referring to green/sustainable design, how to save energy, how to reduce the damage to the environment, or what can be done to lessen the effects of climate change. Despite constant automobile bashing, buildings use more natural resources and contribute more greenhouse gas emissions to the environment than automobiles. They also use more than 30% of the total energy, more than 60% of the electricity, create 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 136 million tons of construction and demolition waste. And here’s a shocker: the U.S. uses almost 5 billion gallons of potable water per day—just to flush toilets! Saving energy and water and minimizing construction waste going to landfills is not only more sustainable—but also contributes significantly to improving the bottom line.

The U.S. Green Building Council has set some new parameters for high-performance buildings. ASHRAE Energy Standard 90.1–2004, which has been the referenced standard in all the current LEED Guidelines for High Performance Buildings, will become the basis of the building codes in most states by the end of 2008. The parameters for insulation, heat gain through windows, light values, energy use, and so on are getting more stringent with each change of the building codes, which occurs every three years.

In 2009, there will be a new standard jointly developed by ASHRAE, USGBC, and IESNA (Illuminating Engineering Society of North America) with some assistance from AIA. It will be an ANSI Standard, written in code language, and will be referred to as ASHRAE Standard 189 for High Performance Buildings. It is expected that, on the average, the standard will be 25-30% stricter relative to energy use than ASHRAE Energy Standard 90.1-2004. Many states and municipalities will move to adopt it, or parts of it, into their building codes, especially if funding is available.

The LEED Guidelines have sustainable goals in five separate categories:

Sustainable Sites (SS)

  • Develop only appropriate sites
  • Reuse existing buildings and/or sites
  • Protect natural and agricultural areas
  • Reduce need for automobile use
  • Protect and/or restore sites

Water Efficiency (WE)

  • Reduce quantity of water needed for the building
  • Reduce municipal water supply and treatment burden

Energy & Atmosphere (EA)

  • Establish energy efficiency and system performance
  • Optimize energy efficiency
  • Support ozone protection protocols
  • Encourage renewable and alternative energy sources

Materials & Resources (MR)

  • Reduce the amount of materials needed
  • Use materials with less environmental impact
  • Reduce and manage waste

Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ)

  • Establish good indoor environmental quality
  • Eliminate, reduce, and manage the sources of indoor pollutants
  • Ensure thermal comfort and system controllability
  • Provide for occupant connection to the outdoor environment

It has been proven, both anecdotally and statistically, that green buildings have four major benefits: environmental, which reduces the impacts of natural resource consumption; health and safety, which enhances occupant comfort and health; community, which minimizes strain on local infrastructure and improves quality of life; and economic, which improves both the top and bottom lines. There is a fifth benefit, usually not mentioned, that relates to the improved health and safety aspects of green buildings: reduced potential for legal liability.

The average savings of green buildings are broken down as such: energy 30%; greenhouse gas emissions 35%; water use 30-50%; and waste costs 50-90%. These statistics have led people to consider green buildings mainly because they realize it’s in their best interest and also because they are forced to. Today, both of these are happening. Progressive building owners and developers realize it is in their best interests to build green. They want to stay ahead of the new standards and laws that will soon make a non-green building obsolete. The Industrial Revolution, which allowed us to enjoy our current standard of living, has also been a major contributor to many of the challenges we now face. But it will also be what allows us to solve the problems—and this period may very well be called the “Green Revolution”. This is a period of great opportunity—take advantage of it!

Jim Newman

Newman Consulting Group

Jim Newman is a Certified Energy Manager, a Certified Sustainable Development Professional, and a LEED®- Accredited Professional. He is the Owner/Managing Partner of Newman Consulting Group, an EPA Energy Star® and Rebuild Michigan® Partner. Mr. Newman is the Chair of the Council of Affiliate Societies of The Engineering Society of Detroit, and a member of the Construction and Design Committee and the Speakers Bureau. He is also a member of BOMA ’s Energy and Environment Committee, ASHRAE’s 2008 Energy Policy Document Committee and Committee on Energy Recovery, and is Co-Chair of the Public Policy Committee of the local chapter of the USGBC.