Going Green: The Ultimate Alternative Solution
Green building, although often thought to be more expensive than conventional building, is now the most popular choice for new architecture and construction. This is because it is becoming more well known that the cost of green building is not excessive, and is very attainable. Although the initial cost of building green can be a small percentage more than building conventionally, green buildings are certainly more energy efficient, very cost effective in the long run, and provide healthier atmospheres.
It should not be a question anymore as to why “going green” is a better choice. As Albert Einstein said “The world will not evolve past it’s current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation“ (qtd. in McDonough and Braungart). Owners and builders of green designs conserve natural resources while creating healthier environments for homeowners, workers, and students. Not only are owners helping the environment, but actually saving money as they do so. The payback period for the additional initial cost to build green lasts only three to five years. After that period of time, the cost to maintain or live in a green building reduces drastically, as the money that would’ve been spent on energy expenses is saved (Rogers). With the limitations of natural resources growing daily, it is important to realize the advantages of building green versus conventional building. Conventional designs can be extremely harmful to the environment, whereas the sole purpose of green building is to prevent just that.
People are becoming more aware of the progress of this alternative concept thanks to organizations such as the USGBC, United States Green Building Council, the primary leader of the green movement in buildings. They are doing everything they can to educate people about the importance of this alternative concept. Their program LEED, Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design, zooms in on five key factors involved in the construction of buildings- the site, water, energy, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality (Holowka 10). With understandable guidelines and regulation systems placed by this program, it is easy for architects, builders, and owners to create energy efficient designs at a reasonable cost. As Taryn Holowka, a spokeswoman for USGBC suggests, “This [green movement] is becoming more of a mainstream thing. It’s about economics just as much as environmentalism”(qtd. in Rogers). She also points out that “the good news is that while buildings contribute to major challenges, like climate change and energy dependence, they are also one of our best solutions” (Holowka 8). LEED regulation systems provide a guideline for builders and architects to help them accurately achieve sustainability.
Many people are not aware of the vast amount of pollution and energy consumption that conventional buildings account for. According to studies done by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Center For Sustainable Development, conventional buildings are responsible for the consumption of 40% of the world’s energy, 25% of it’s wood harvest, and 16% of it’s water (Rogers). Based on those percentages, it is evident that something needs to be done to lower the impact conventional buildings are making. In the United States, conventional buildings account for 65% of the electricity consumption, 36% of the energy use, 30% of the greenhouse gas emissions, and 30% of waste output with a total of 136 million tons per year (Green Building Research). These percentages will continue to rise if there is not an immediate change in the building industry.
Green buildings cut back on energy use by a significant amount. It has been proven that LEED certified buildings cut out CO2 emissions by an average of 40% and use about 36% less energy (Fedrizzi). Fedrizzi also adds that “green building is an immediate, measurable solution to the important challenges ahead of us.” On the other hand, conventional building only adds to the environmental issues that the building industry is causing. By switching gears, and building green, carbon footprints would be reduced drastically.
There is a common misunderstanding that environmentally friendly homes and buildings do not have an advantage due to the increase in initial cost; however, the initial cost of going green is now only one to two percent more than conventional costs and it is proven that the extra initial cost is paid back within four to five years (Rogers). Gregory Kats, author of “Green Building Costs and Financial Benefits,” observed a detailed study done by LEED which brought results proving that buildings were immediately 25-30% more energy efficient and the long-term financial savings from green design ranged from $50 to $70 per square foot. The savings included “lower energy, waste and water costs, lower environmental and emissions cost, lower maintenance and operations cost, and increased productivity and health”(Kats). This was more than ten times the additional initial cost that owners spent (Kats).
In “Schools Going Green”, Jessie Sackett, a writer for Environmental Design and Construction acknowledges that 20% of America goes to school every day, and states that “school buildings represent the largest construction sector in the United States.” This goes to show that school buildings certainly must be at the top of the list when it comes to “going green.” Sackett also points out how in the recent national study Greening America’s Schools: Costs and Benefits, schools converted to green design are saving on average $70 per square foot with only a $3 per square foot upfront investment. It is stated that they use 33% less energy than conventional schools and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 600,000 pounds per year (Sackett). These schools are able to help the environment and keep cost down while doing so. With schools being the most common building in America, progress is definitely being made by turning them green.
Though it may seem that the cost of building green would be an issue, it actually isn’t. The USGBC declares that the main economic benefits of green building include “the enhancement of asset value and profits, reduced operation costs, and optimal life-cycle economic performance” (Green Building Research). Green buildings tested by LEED have in fact proved this statement true. North Carolina architect Ken Wertheim illustrates an example of the cost benefits of building a green home. He states that a typical home built for $250,000 would have a 2% initial cost increase to “go green.” With average energy costs running at about $2,400 per year for heating, cooling, and electrical, a green home would reach energy savings of about 36% or in this case, $865 per year. The payback period would be about five years, and after that, the savings would continue annually. Wertheim adds that “this is a wise investment for our future; not only financially but also for providing healthy buildings, saving our natural environment, helping to prevent wars over oil, and reducing global warming so that our planet can survive.”
With a better knowledge and understanding of the importance of building green, more and more people are able to make a positive difference. There are several programs available to the public that make it possible for owners, architects, and builders to help revolutionize the construction industry. Take into consideration President Clinton’s program that was designed with the environment in mind. The Energy Efficiency Building Retrofit Program is part of the Clinton Climate Initiative(CCI), and brings together large energy service companies, banks, and cities to reduce energy consumption in existing buildings. Clinton believes “climate change is a global problem that requires local action” (qtd. in Program to Reduce Energy Use). Even large corporations who keep a very close watch on cost are beginning to see the economic benefits that come from going green. Ford Motor Company is a perfect example of a large corporation making an effort to achieve eco-effectiveness. Chairman and grandson, William Clay Ford Jr., announced that Ford would be undergoing a two billion dollar makeover into the heart of green building, demonstrating that corporate America is on the bandwagon (McDonough and Braungart 157). LEED is certainly making an impact as their program has spread to fifty states and is now available in 26 countries (Holowka 8). Rick Fedrizzi, president and CEO of USGBC predicts that by “working together, the building industry will be fluent in green building- and we will make the language of climate change obsolete.”
Along with conventional building comes economic benefits, but along with green building comes economic benefits, health and community benefits, and environmental benefits. One advantage to green building is the superior indoor air quality (Wertheim). Jessie Sackett’s article, “Schools Going Green”, reports that an improvement in air quality reduces asthma by 38.5%. Results of healthier owners, employees, students, and customers prove that illness and medical issues decrease in green buildings. Sackett also points out that an “increase in thermal comfort and control” raises student and teacher productivity by up to 15%. According to Sackett’s observations, green schools even had a higher attendance rate with an increase of 5-15%. Clearly green buildings provide a better atmosphere allowing the opportunity for a better performance, production, and mental attitude which is beneficial and can in turn, save money.
Although to some people the argument still remains as to whether or not building green is worth it, it is evident that with new technology and reduced cost, advancements in green building can change the world. At a time when natural resources and energy are limited, it is important to realize that the building industry plays the biggest role in consuming energy, and green building is the revolutionary concept that will eliminate issues of nonrenewable sources. The initial cost of building green is nothing compared to the positive difference it makes. Not only does green building reduce cost in the long run, but it also conserves natural resources and energy, which are two things that are most definitely priceless. “Soon, we won’t be asking if we should build green; we’ll be asking why anyone wouldn’t” (Holowka).
B. Wertheim, Fall 2008