Sustainable building has had its ups and downs lately. Many building owners and professionals complain about the USGBC’s LEED standards, ranging from, “It’s too expensive, time-consuming, and difficult to get certification,” to, “It does not truly result in sustainability.” There has been talk about possible new competing standards or simpler ones that will gain interest from more building owners, such as the ICC’s International Green Construction Code, expected to be published this year.
But green building and LEED are certainly here, and it is the most accepted standard, for now. Here are some trends that have been reported to occur in 2011 and likely to continue into 2012.
1. The Economy – With the real estate industry and new building construction still stagnant, the focus of green building has shifted to the greening of existing buildings. Owners of existing buildings believe that there is “more bang for the buck” of upgrades to meet LEED requirements with a payback in terms of raising revenues (rents) and property values.
2. Recognition of water issues. Given the growth in extreme weather events in the last few years, there is growing awareness of the issue of flooding and stormwater control, which can be addressed by green roofs and rainwater recovery systems. In some parts of the US, there is a growing fear of water shortages. Therefore, implementation of water conservation strategies and technologies will grow in popularity.
3. Savings by fuel switching. In most parts of the country, natural gas is currently significantly less expensive than fuel oil or even coal. Switching to natural gas from these fuels would, therefore, reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly and have a reasonable return on investment. A client of mine operating a large boiler house is currently switching from No. 6 fuel oil to natural gas. Based on current prices (and locking into a low natural gas rate for the foreseeable future), this multi million dollar boiler upgrade project will pay for itself in under 2 years, including incentives it will receive for reducing GHG emissions. Another client of mine is seriously considering paying several million dollars in costs just to have the local utility bring in natural gas to their facility from over 5 miles away because of the long-term payback in fuel savings, less wear and tear on equipment, and reduced regulatory requirements of lower overall emissions.
4. Outdoing conventional energy savings. But to go beyond just fuel switching, building owners are beginning to consider more seriously alternative energy; not just wind turbines and solar cells, but geothermal and aquifer air temperature control systems, too. If appropriate, designed right, and with the right incentives (government and utility), such a technology can bring GHG emissions to zero and reduce energy bills substantially, a major cost for tenants, making the “green” building very competitive in the marketplace for value and tenants.
5. Performance, not design. Given investments in smart technologies and design, it is important to demonstrate that these systems that are implemented in your “green” building actually work in real time as advertised and designed. It is not enough to just purchase and install an advanced technology. Commissioning and other testing is needed and insisted on to demonstrate that it is actually performing as assumed. The USGBC and other entities are waking up to the need for monitoring of continual superior performance.
6. Government buildings. Governments are becoming one of the biggest segments for green buildings, ranging from the US Army in Afghanistan and the federal government making a bona fide effort to build new or refurbish to LEED standards, as practical, to a growing number of school systems retrofitting “green” for the health, well being, and positive learning atmosphere of students and teachers. A growing number of local government policies mandate that at least “green” initiatives should be studied for feasibility in new or refurbished government buildings. Organizations such as ICLEI also help municipalities explore sustainability options.
Marc Karell is the owner of Climate Change & Environmental Services. Read more useful material in the company’s blog: www.CCESworld.com/blog. CCES has the technical experts to assist you in assessing your environmental or sustainability data and to recommend ways to bring more value to the data available. CCES and our experts can help your company or municipality assess the worthiness of potential green building projects for your existing and new buildings with a proper gaps and economic analysis.