Green Building Grows Up Sustainable building is now just another project tool
Increasingly, designers, builders and owners view sustainability as another tool in the project tool belt.
Sustainable design has come of age.
There was a time when green buildings facilities that incorporated elements to improve energy efficiency, reduce material waste and make a lighter footprint on the surrounding environment were seen by the industry as trendy, risky and unnecessarily expensive. But those days are gone.
Today, green awareness is strong and growing. Owners are increasingly concerned about the impact of higher energy prices on operating costs, the long-term value of a structure and the productivity and civic image of their buildings. Communities now expect and demand that public and private buildings will be more efficient and ecologically friendly.
At the same time, the design and construction industries have refined their use of green materials and methods, and now typically consider sustainability as a natural and logical part of virtually every project.
“The business case for green building is that persuasive green buildings both save money and make money, and the market for green products and services is booming,” said Peter Templeton, vice president of education & research with the U.S. Green Building Council. “Not to mention, it's just the right thing to do.”
A Growing Awareness
Buildings have a significant impact on our economy, environment and productivity.
According to the USGBC, buildings account for 30% of the nation’s waste output, raw material usage and greenhouse gas emissions. Fully 65% of all electricity and a third of the country’s total energy is consumed by schools, offices and other buildings. Energy efficiency is a key driver behind the push for more sustainable buildings and that trend is now apparent in both the public and private sectors.
Certainly, the public sector has been a forceful advocate of sustainable design for a number of years. Almost every branch of government requires some level of sustainability in both new construction and building renovations. In the private sector, clients increasingly request the inclusion of as many green elements as possible in their projects.
In fact, in the construction industries, the concept has progressed to the point where people no longer ask whether they should include sustainability in their projects, but instead ask how it can be accomplished.
Green at Work
More and more building projects in both the public and private sectors now reflect the values of sustainable design.
By way of example, the city of Denver requires its buildings to meet LEED-silver certification. In 2005, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper launched Greenprint Denver to further integrate environmental-impact analysis into the city's programs and policies. Other governments that have established green-building programs include Texas, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania; and the cities of Los Angeles and San Jose, Calif.; Frisco, Texas; Portland, Ore.; and Scottsdale, Ariz.
For Denver's planned Justice Center complex, the city partnered with the Governor's Office of Energy Management and Conservation and Colorado State University's Institute for the Built Environment to ensure that sustainability was a key factor in the project's design. The complex will incorporate green-building techniques such as using environmentally-friendly refrigerants, minimizing the use of nonrenewable resources and waste production, incorporating natural daylighting and landscaping with drought-tolerant native plants.
Sustainable is Profitable
Savvy designers know: A building can incorporate a number of green elements and achieve LEED-silver or even gold certification without any obvious outward design changes and often without incurring major new project costs.
In fact, planners can achieve a number of sustainability objectives through site selection, building orientation and the maintenance of the facility skin. The size, shape and location of windows and the subtle use of overhangs and sunscreens, can be adapted to take maximum advantage of natural lighting conditions.
These kinds of simple, low-cost changes can, for example, reduce the energy burden in a typical office building by up to 30%. Considering that offices account for a major part of society’s overall energy consumption, an almost one-third reduction in at-work energy usage would dramatically reduce the nation’s energy bill.
But sustainability means more than just lowering a building’s electric bill.
By using materials that are harvested and produced within a 500-mi. radius of the worksite, planners can measurably boost a project’s overall sustainability. Many common construction materials, such as concrete and structural steel, now also contain a high percentage of recycled and reused components, and by using these sustainable materials, builders can lower a facility’s total cost of ownership.
Other green building strategies include the design of smaller, less centralized offices or educational facilities, the use of passive survivability designs in areas susceptible to natural disasters and investments in high-performance green buildings, where appropriate.
Benefits of Green Design
Environmentally conscious building designs can yield both immediate and long-term advantages.
Sustainable designs are now being applied to reduce the operating costs of new and recommissioned buildings, to enhance facility value and profitability, and to optimize the life-cycle performance of those capital assets. Green buildings can also enhance the satisfaction and productivity of workers and visitors. And, of course, sustainability conserves natural resources, improves air and water quality, and contributes to the overall quality of life for the entire community.
That is why the green approach to building design and construction is no longer considered particularly new or trendy. Nor is sustainability seen as a burden to the design process. For most architectural, design and construction professionals, sustainability is now considered simply another tool in their project tool belt.
Jennifer Johnson, of Denver’s Carter & Burgess, has 13 years of experience designing progressively complex architectural projects for aviation-related facilities, school campuses, corporate office buildings, high-profile retail stores, and mixed-use urban residential buildings.
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