VOICES FROM THE INDUSTRY: Green building trend should be here to stay

March 27, 2006

Trends come and go all the time in the architecture and construction fields. But one movement that is proving to be steadfast and is gaining momentum is called "green architecture." Simply stated, it is the effort to minimize the effect of new and refurbished buildings on their environment.

The green approach to building design is often seen by many as merely focusing on the recycling of building materials, but in fact addresses multiple aspects of the construction process. Green design is increasingly being praised and encouraged by public and regulatory agencies as socially responsible and cost-effective over time.

Patrons of this philosophy have banded together to form the U.S. Green Building Council, which catalogs and promotes Green buildings and the unique LEED rating system. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and many are embarking on intensive study programs to become LEED certified.

In qualifying a building's Green level, the USGBC evaluates a project in five broad areas:

Sustainable site planning, such as locating a structure near a mass-transit system to reduce vehicle traffic, or reducing the disturbance of plant life and/or natural water at a site.

Water safeguards and efficiency, which might include low-flow plumbing fixtures, aerated faucets and runoff reuse for irrigation.

Energy efficiency and development of renewable energy, possibly energy-saving lighting systems, heat sinks or natural cooling.

Conservation of materials and resources, which can include sorting of construction waste for recycling or grinding up masonry and concrete to be used in staging areas and access roads.

Improving indoor environmental quality with such steps as low-volatile organic compounds paints, abundant daylighting in work spaces and adjustable climate controls.

For some buyers of construction, green architecture can be a tough sell because the initial costs sometimes are a little higher than conventional construction. Some developers would rather get a building up to sell or lease now rather than consider the long-term cost savings that green design can produce.

However, other buyers who take a longer view might consider a recent report from the California Sustainable Building Task Force. After analyzing 33 green buildings of different types, the task force concluded that "a minimal upfront investment of 2 percent of construction costs typically yields life-cycle savings of more than 10 times the investment."

That means the investment of an additional $100,000 upfront to include Green features in a $5 million project would yield savings of at least $1 million over the first 20-year lifespan of a building.

Bottom-line benefits are important to a company, but there are other reasons to design green as well. Green design features often improve working conditions for employees and result in higher productivity and morale and reduced absenteeism for health reasons.

Companies also have a social responsibility to respect the environment and to preserve natural resources as much as possible.

Public entities also are showing these concerns as well. Today, government agencies like the GSA, Department of State, Department of the Navy and NASA have explicitly stated LEED objectives and goals. Many states and cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, San Jose, Seattle and Portland are now requiring green features in new building designs.

My advice to buyers of construction in the future would be to consult your architect and contractor about the advantages of green architecture for your project.

If you do, you'll be on the cutting edge of an industry trend that can well pay significant dividends down the road.

Green is president and chief operating officer of Paul I. Cripe Inc., an Indianapolis-based architectural and engineering firm. Views expressed here are the writer's.
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