The Green Building Revolution
By Jerry Yudelson
ISLAND PRESS Copyright © 2008 Jerry Yudelson
All rights reserved.
Green Buildings Today
The green building revolution is sweeping across not only the United States but most of the world. It's a revolution inspired by an awakened understanding of how buildings use resources, affect people, and harm the environment. This revolution is further fueled by the knowledge that the world has little time to respond to the growing dangers of climate change, especially global warming, and that buildings play a huge role in causing carbon dioxide emissions that drive global climate change. According to Architecture 2030, our commercial and residential buildings generate, directly or indirectly, nearly half the carbon emissions of the entire United States.
How important is the green building revolution? A 2007 study by Mc-Kinsey, an international consulting firm, showed that changes in building design and construction could offset up to 6 billion tons of carbon emissions annually "through measures with a zero or negative net life-cycle cost." This amount constitutes about one-fourth of the abatement required to keep atmospheric carbon emissions below 450 parts per million in 2030. In other words, green building saves carbon emissions and money at the same time, through effective insulation, glazing, water heating, air-conditioning, lighting, and other energy-efficiency measures. This is a win-win scenario on which both climate-change activists and hardheaded businesspeople can agree.
The green building revolution is part of a paradigm shift toward sustain- ability, a growing realization that current ways of living, made possible largely because of cheap and abundant fossil fuels, are not sustainable in the long term. Green building revolutionaries work in all industries, in all income groups, in all social strata, and in all guises. They may be aging baby boomers or high school students taking an early interest in building and design. In my own experience, the present decade (and particularly the second half of it)—a fresh new decade of a fresh new century—marks the first time in a generation that the American public has been worried, very worried about the state of the world and the provenance of energy to fuel the myriad activities of a global postindustrial economy.
With these thoughts in mind, let's see what we can learn about green buildings as a solution to the many global issues associated with climate change, human health, and the quality of the environment.
The Origins of the Revolution
The revolution can be traced to many causes over the past several decades, just as the seeds of the American Revolution were planted fifteen years or more before the country erupted into open rebellion. In the 1980s, the Montreal Protocol limited the use of chlorinated fluorocarbons, which were found to be harmful to the ozone layer that is so vital for human life. In 1987 the United Nations' World Commission on Environment and Development, aka the Brundtland Commission, was the first to define sustainability, calling it the ability of the present generation of people to meet their needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs—echoing the American Indian seventh-generation rule: Each generation is responsible for making decisions that ensure the survival of the seventh generation. In the late 1980s, a group of farsighted architects formed the Committee on the Environment within the American Institute of Architects and began the process of steering the profession toward sustainable design.
Two major events occurred in the early 1990s that influenced the creation of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). In the United States, the 20th anniversary of the original Earth Day took place in 1990; in Brazil, the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, popularly known as the Earth Summit, was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Both of these events precipitated the formation of the USGBC in 1993.
The USGBC is a consensus-based group consisting solely of other organizations: companies, government agencies, universities, primary and secondary schools, nonprofits, environmental groups, and trade associations. Its membership growth has been rapid, as shown in Figure 1.1. From a base of about 150 companies in 1998, the USGBC has grown 50-fold, to 7,500 companies, as of early 2007. This rapid growth is emblematic of Victor Hugo's mid-19th-century remark that "one withstands the invasion of armies; one does not withstand the invasion of ideas," often paraphrased as "nothing can stop an idea whose time has come."
The late 1990s saw the establishment of the Kyoto Protocol, an amendment to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change that represented the first attempt to regulate greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale. More than 170 countries, which together produce more than 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (but not including the U.S.), have so far signed and ratified the protocol.
In 2000, the USGBC unveiled the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System for public use. LEED was the first rating system in the United States to hold commercial projects up to scrutiny for the full range of their effects on energy and water use, municipal infrastructure, transportation energy use, resource conservation, land use, and indoor environmental quality. Prior to LEED, most evaluation systems, such as the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star® program, had focused exclusively on energy use.
Over the ensuing seven years, LEED has become the de facto U.S. rating system for commercial, institutional, and high-rise residential buildings. In the process, LEED has defined what it means for a building to be sustainable and how architects, engineers, builders, owners, and developers should approach creating green buildings. This is a remarkable achievement for a nonprofit organization, especially one conceived by three guys in a bar.
Projects register to use the LEED rating system; when finished, they submit documentation to receive a certification at one of four levels: basic (Certified), Silver, Gold, or Platinum. The initial LEED system covered only new construction and major renovations of commercial and institutional developments and then, with some modification, became usable for residential developments above three stories. This original system is now generally referred to as LEED for New Construction (LEED-NC), to clearly indicate its primary focus.
Since 2000, the USGBC has unveiled five additional LEED rating systems. They apply to commercial interiors (tenant improvements), existing buildings (operations and maintenance activities), core and shell buildings (for developers), homes (for single-family and low-rise residential), and neighborhood development (for urban districts and higher-density mixed-use developments).
Figure 1.2 shows the rapid growth of LEED-NC registered and certified projects since 2000. By year-end 2006, cumulative LEED-NC registrations exceeded 2005 totals by 50 percent, growing to nearly 4,000, while the number of LEED-NC certified projects increased over that same period by nearly 70 percent, to 513, as shown in Table 1.1. In an industry (construction and development) that typically grows about 5 percent (or less) per year, this rapid growth is an earthshaking phenomenon. You can also see the large numbers of projects in the other major rating systems.
For 2007, I predict that more than 1,500 U.S. new projects will register to use the LEED system, representing about 150 million square feet of new construction, or about 8 to 10 percent of the total U.S. commercial and institutional building market. Based on the current rate of growth, I anticipate that 300 to 400 of those projects will receive LEED certification in 2007, representing about one per day. By year-end 2008, I conservatively predict that more than 1,500 LEED-certified projects will exist throughout the United States and Canada.
As Rick Fedrizzi wrote in the foreword, the USGBC has even more dramatic goals for the LEED rating system: by the end of 2010, the council hopes to see 100,000 LEED-certified commercial and institutional projects and one million LEED-certified homes in the United States. If achieved, this would represent a 200-fold increase in certified commercial buildings and a 100fold increase in certified homes (estimating that about 10,000 homes were certified green in 2006).
In the residential sector, there has long been a focus on energy efficiency through the Energy Star home-certification program, which is aimed at cutting energy use 15 percent below a 2004 baseline. In 2006 this program certified 174,000 homes, about 12 percent of all new homes built. Other industry-based certification programs produced thousands of additional green homes in 2006.
The USGBC estimates that through its member organizations, its programs are affecting hundreds of thousands of people each year. One indication of this is the growth in attendance at workshops that show building industry professionals how to work with the LEED system. By the end of 2006, nearly 45,000 people had taken an all-day LEED training workshop. At the same time, nearly 35,000 people had passed a national exam to becomeLEED Accredited Professionals, or LEED APs. These numbers indicate LEED's tremendous reach within the commercial building sector; they also show how the USGBC is building the capacity for people to take part in the green building revolution. The USGBC's goal is that each green building project use at least one LEED AP to guide it through the LEED certification process.
But the green building revolution is not just about the USGBC and the LEED process. It is a broader movement by the building industry to become more responsible: toward the occupants of its buildings; toward community infrastructure, energy and water, and other natural resources and materials; and toward the global environment.
The Present Market for Green Buildings
Kathleen O'Brien runs a small green-building consulting firm in Seattle. Speaking of her experience, she says, "Now that more compelling information about climate change is available, people who were on the fence are deciding that green building is definitely the right thing to do. They are starting to see the connection between global environmental impacts and possible costs to their operations. In additional to potential immediate operational savings, marketing savings, design savings, for example, they are also thinking about long-term protection from volatile energy pricing, energy security, and things like that."
The market for green buildings includes commercial, institutional, and residential buildings as well as public, educational, nonprofit, and corporate owners. Green buildings are found in locations all over the United States and Canada, from the Arctic Circle to the tip of Florida, from the rocky coast of Nova Scotia to the tropical beaches of Hawaii. They comprise a vast array of building types, including offices, police stations, baseball stadiums, museums, libraries, animal shelters, and industrial buildings. Green building projects involve new and historic buildings; urban infill, brownfield restoration, and suburban "greenfield" sites; and all sizes of projects, ranging from a few thousand to more than one million square feet.
LEED-registered public-sector and nonprofit green buildings in the U.S. are approaching 10 percent of the total annual new construction value of such buildings, while commercial green buildings are approaching 5 percent of the total annual new construction. While these numbers may seem small, they indicate solid acceptance by the early-adopter market and provide a basis for predicting a rapidly growing market share of green buildings in each component of the building industry: commercial, primary and secondary school, higher education, government, health care, retail, and hospitality.
The Policy Case for Green Buildings
Until the USGBC formed and began to talk about the need for market transformation, few people were aware of the tremendous impact of buildings on the environment. According to the USGBC, buildings directly account for 12 percent of all freshwater use, 30 percent of all raw materials, 30 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions (the indirect effects of materials and transportation account for another 18 percent), 45 to 65 percent of waste outputs to landfills, 31 percent of all mercury in solid waste, and 70 percent of all electricity consumption. On the other hand, we know that green buildings offer a 30 percent energy savings, a 30 to 50 percent water savings, a 35 percent reduction in carbon emissions, and a 50 to 90 percent reduction in construction waste and waste generation from building operations. Buildings are long-lived: the typical life of a nonresidential building is 75 years, while a public school building might last 60 years. Since energy costs may increase dramatically over the lifetime of a building, total lifetime energy costs can often exceed the cost of the building itself.
From the perspective of governments, these impacts are too large to ignore. In addition, governments take a longer-term perspective than most businesses. Government agencies are perpetual owners of most of their buildings. The federal General Services Administration is the largest landlord in the country. Designing to a higher standard creates public benefits well into the future.
Universities are another type of building owner with a long-term perspective. Early in 2007, I facilitated a green building "eco-charrette" for a new science building at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. I noted that the university had been founded 20 years before Utah became a state, giving it a longer-term perspective than even the government. And in Europe, universities are among the oldest continually operated buildings. So it makes sense for universities to design great buildings. The world's largest LEED Platinum-certified building is the Oregon Health & Science University's Center for Health and Healing in Portland, Oregon, a 400,000-square-foot building completed in 2006. This project was built for a net cost increase of only about 1 percent, net of all utility and government incentives. Many organizations are finding out how they can design the highest-performing green buildings on conventional budgets, through a process known as integrated design, covered in more detail in Chapter 4.
Government Leadership and Private Initiative
At the beginning of the present decade, government leadership was vital for the growth of green buildings, with government and nonprofit buildings making up more than 70 percent of all LEED project registrations and more than 60 percent of the value of all green buildings. By mandating LEED standards for their own buildings, government set an example for the private sector. In 2001 the Seattle City Council became the first governmental body in the nation to issue a LEED-related mandate, requiring LEED Silver certification for all new public buildings over 5,000 square feet. In 2004, the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, mandated LEED Gold certification for all new public buildings above a certain size. And in 2004, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Executive Order S-20-04, requiring the LEED Silver certification for all new state buildings, while also mandating a 15 percent reduction in electricity use in state buildings within ten years.
These examples energized the private sector to follow suit. By 2005 the momentum had shifted, with nearly half of all LEED registrations and new green building certifications coming from nongovernmental sources. Corporate goals of pursuing sustainability in all its dimensions have played a part in this growth, as has a growing awareness of the business-case benefits of green buildings, described in detail in Chapter 3. Large corporations such as Toyota, with worldwide operations and a strong mission statement in favor of corporate social responsibility, have emerged as leaders in this revolution. Figure 1.4 shows the 624,000-square-foot south campus of Toyota Motor Sales, USA, located on 40 acres in Torrance, California. Designed by LPA Architects and built by Turner Construction Company, the project is LEED Gold-certified. Housing more than 2,500 employees, the project has an estimated energy savings of 42 percent compared to a comparable conventional building, worth about $400,000 annually to the company. Potable water demand was reduced by 80 percent compared with a similar building. The project also has one of the largest photovoltaic solar arrays in California, providing about 536 kilowatts of power and 20 percent of the building's electricity. (Continues...)
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