The ‘green’ factor

Going green saves dollars and the environment by making employees more productive and less wasteful

Timothy Buckley
LSW Architects P.C.

When the High Performance Public Buildings Bill was signed into law in 2005, Washington became the first state in the nation to mandate that most state-funded buildings be designed and constructed to the US Green Building Council’s LEED Silver Standard (or Washington Sustainable School Design Protocol for K-12 Schools). The new standards establish a significant benchmark for building energy-efficiency and overall environmental responsibility. Project types impacted by the law, such as Clark College facilities, are currently being designed to these new standards.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, system and Sustainable School Design Protocol are both point-based systems. They are similarly geared to reduce the negative impacts of building development on the environment, and they attempt to define how environmentally efficient a building truly is. Points are achieved by obtaining credits for various strategies in several categories including: reduced impact of site development, water conservation, energy efficiency, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

The entity at the forefront of this effort is The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). It is rapidly becoming the premier organization nationally and internationally for defining "green" development. The USGBC’s mission is to promote the design and construction of buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy places to live and work.

Why is the new law necessary?
According to the USGBC, buildings in the United States are responsible for:
• 65.2% of the total U.S. electricity use
• 2.8 pounds per person of construction and demolition debris, or 136 million tons
• 12% of the U.S. potable water use
• 30% of the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions
• 40% of the raw materials consumed in the United States

According to the Department of Energy, buildings devour 39 percent of energy in the U.S., more than factories and automobiles.

These factors play significant roles in the costs to society and the taxpayer, ranging from higher energy costs and reliance, to increased health care costs.

Does "green building" cost more?
Depending on the situations and strategies employed, slightly higher first costs can occur. Other strategies carry no initial cost increase. The short-term return on the investment, and especially the long-term savings, has the potential to significantly exceed any costs of initial investment.

According to a recent National Study of High Performance School Buildings conducted by Capital E, the research and cost analysis data demonstrates that high-performing schools do often have a slightly higher first-construction cost, on average between "1.5 percent to 2.5 percent more than conventional" construction. However the return on the investment to the general public indicates significant financial benefit. Estimates of the financial returns indicate a range between 10 to 20 times the initial investments. According to the study and report, "The largest benefits are related to energy cost savings and the impacts of improved student learning on their future earnings."

According to The National Environmental Education & Training Foundation, another national study and report (conducted on 100 different LEED buildings) estimates the economic benefits of green design to range between $50 to $70 per square foot.

These financial benefits come from the decreased use of energy and water, reduced maintenance and operations costs, and most importantly from the building occupants’ health and increased performance.

The human factor
The largest costs associated with a business relate to the staff in the way of salaries, benefits and other regular and one time expenses. Components of both the LEED system and Sustainable School Design Protocol address occupant comfort though such means as thermal comfort, inclusion of natural daylight and views to the outside, non-toxic building materials, and improved air quality. If an environmentally healthy and people-friendly facility can promote health and well being, reduce absenteeism and increase productivity of the occupants over the life of a building, all other savings combined pale in comparison to the potential performance gains that could be achieved as a result of green design.

Timothy Buckley is a licensed architect, LEED Accredited Professional, and as a member of the American Institute of Architects, serves on the AIA Washington Council’s State Sustainable Design Resource Group. He has a special focus and passion for high-performing, green-building design. He is an associate at LSW Architects P.C.

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