VOICES FROM THE INDUSTRY: Greener Indianapolis buildings could be within reach

August 13, 2007

In case you've missed it, energy dependence and environmental preservation are among the most pressing issues here at home and around the globe. The issue is forcing all of us to take a hard look at nearly every aspect of how we live.

This self examination of sorts, extends point on building costs can sometimes move as a strategy to draw down life-cycle costs. Typically the increased front-end investment can be recovered within a relatively short period.

In order to make an informed decision on whether or not to "go green" there are a few things that building owners should ask: What exactly is a green building? What are the benefits? What is the increased cost?

A green building is a structure for which measures have been taken to overcome the areas with the most significant environ to the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the way we move around, the buildings we inhabit, and much more. Once thought to be an issue confined to social responsibility and stewardship, environmentalism is also now an economic issue.

Impact of buildings

Among the highest priorities for environmental concern are our built environments. While obviously necessary, the built environment has caused a tremendously negative environmental impact. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, the built environment is responsible for 39 percent of CO2 emissions, consumption of 70 percent of U.S. electricity, consumption of 15 trillion gallons of water and more than 40 percent of the world's raw materials.

In an effort to counter these effects on the environment and encourage a move toward more sustainable building practices, the U.S. Green Building Council introduced Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, in 2000, which is gaining momentum in Indy and around the country. As we dig deeper into our wallets for energy costs, we all are looking for ways to reduce those costs and protect the environment.

The old cliche, think globally, act locally has suddenly taken on new meaning as the country scrambles to become greener. Here in Indianapolis we have been a step behind other major cities in the green movement. We have a lot of catching up to do with places like Chicago-which recently invested $5.4 million to develop a 17-acre Chicago Green Technology campus to serve as a public resource for green building and education-or Portland, Ore., which is widely recognized as America's "Green Epicenter" by the building industry. While we are getting better, green buildings are woefully underrepresented in our fair city.

The hesitance stems largely from the perception that green design results in an insurmountable front-end investment. While it is true that a LEED certified building requires an investment on the front end, it is also important to understand that there is also a significant advantage in the life cycle cost of a facility that should not be overlooked.

High performance

Green buildings are high-performance buildings. These facilities use less energy and water and provide healthy environments for occupants. According to USGBC statistics, green buildings reduce energy consumption by 36 percent. As energy costs continue to escalate, the price mental impact. Those are broadly categorized into six areas: site sustainability, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and design innovation.

Like many other building considerations, there are both tangible and intangible benefits to LEED certification. Among the tangible benefits, there are the lifecycle advantages. Among the intangible benefits is good will.

The cost associated with LEED certification can vary. A building owner should begin by considering what if any require ments are already in place. If a facility or a user group already requires higher performance mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, it is possible that it can achieve LEED certification relatively easily, for little additional cost. In other cases, the investment can be much larger.

The LEED process can be tedious and sometimes intimidating. It is not easy, but it can be one of the best capital investments you can make.

Duck is a group manager at construction firm Shiel Sexton in Indianapolis.Views expressed here are the writer's.
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