The green building approach seeks ways to significantly reduce the effects of sick building syndrome, which plagued employees at the Registry of Motor Vehicles in Boston in 1995.

‘Green building’ is a catchall term for a wide range of building strategies with a common goal – development and use of better, healthier buildings using fewer, cleaner resources.

The movement has been gathering steam for a number of years, having been referred to at various times as resource-efficient building, sustainable design or high-performance building. The tools used to develop these buildings are a mix of traditional concepts and cutting-edge technology. The driving force behind green building is the spiraling cost of construction, combined with the growing understanding of its impact on the natural and human environment.

Green building provides strategies for dealing with the problems connected to the construction industry on three different levels. On a national level, building construction, operation and demolition account for approximately 40 percent of all raw material consumption and 65 percent of all electricity consumption in the United States. The construction industry produces 30 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions as well as 136 million tons of construction and demolition waste annually. On a regional level, development sprawl has a negative effect on most communities in the country. Over the last 10 years, Eastern Massachusetts has lost more than seven and one-half acres of open space each day. On the individual building level, building-related illnesses are increasing. In Boston, the example of the Registry of Motor Vehicles highlighted the problems of sick building syndrome.

The green building approach seeks ways to significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of development and buildings on the environment, on community structures and on occupants.

A Benficial Process

Green building benefits every group connected with the building process. Owners and developers realize economic advantages in the form of reduced construction and operating costs, decreased vacancy and improved tenant retention. Tenants of green buildings are also rewarded with lower construction and operating costs, which translate into lower rents, and through the improvement in environmental quality that is a foundation of green building.

Architects, engineers and other construction industry consultants and vendors can take advantage of the current move toward green building through marketing the services that add higher value to their projects. As an example, a mechanical engineer might be compensated based on the operating energy his design saves over a theoretical base case, an approach that has been used by energy utilities in the demand management process for a number of years. Similarly, an architect whose designs increase employee productivity and reduce absenteeism will be increasingly competitive and will realize increased revenue.

Green buildings provide benefits to the communities in which they are located through the preservation of open space, reduction in traffic and accompanying pollutants, reduced strain on local utility infrastructures and improved quality of life.

Individual building occupants are perhaps the most important beneficiaries of green building strategies. Benefits typically include improved air quality, more comfortable seating, better occupant control of heating and cooling and generally healthier, more user-friendly workplaces.

Design Strategies

Green building strategies are available for every aspect of the design and building process. In green parlance, buildings are integrated systems, with every aspect affecting and in balance with every other. As an example, daylighting strategies tend to increase occupant comfort as well as allow the reduction of electrical lighting loads, which in turn lower the cooling loads. Another example is the use of flooring made from renewable materials (jute, bamboo) instead of petrochemicals (vinyl, nylon). The renewable materials provide better air quality, are easily recyclable and conserve oil.

Moreover, in order to utilize these strategies to their greatest advantage, the process of development itself must be understood as an integrated system, with every step the result of an integrated plan providing concrete, measurable results. To achieve optimal results in a green rating system, all members of a project development team must be on board early. The articulation of goals and constraints is even more important than in the past, with each team member accepting responsibility for conformance of his work with the agreed-on guidelines.

The ability to evaluate projects using common standards is essential to the green building process. Over the last decade, several agencies have been developing rating systems, including the Building Environment Performance Assessment Criteria in England and the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method in Canada.

In the United States, the U.S. Green Building Council has developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system. LEED applicants are evaluated in six major categories – sitework, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, indoor environmental air quality, materials and resources, and design process innovation. Points are awarded for achieving results based on accepted energy and environmental principles. Successful projects receive platinum, gold, silver or certified ratings based on the number of points earned. The LEED system has currently certified about 20 projects across the country, with some 400 additional projects in the accreditation pipeline. The current version of the program is applicable only to new commercial, institutional and large residential projects, but a more detailed version to cover existing buildings, core and shell projects, interiors and residential work is in development.

Those of us with memories reaching as far back as the 1973 oil embargo can recall lines at the gas station, a 300 percent rise in fuel prices and the sudden interest in solar and wind power generation. We have been through several business cycles since then, but the diagram hasn’t changed. There continues to be growing demands on a finite resource base. As an integrated response to a broad range of environmental, economic and social challenges, green building is here to stay.

Green Building Approach Reduces Development’s Ecological Impacts

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 4 min