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| 2 minutes read

What’s All the Fuss About "Green Building"?

The “green movement” seems to be all the rage in political circles, including under the so-called “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” of 2021. Most fail to understand that “green building” or “sustainable construction” has been around since the 1960’s, pre-dating the “green movement” by almost 60 years. The term “ecological architecture”, predated “green building”, was coined by Paolo Soleri – an Italian born American architect in 1963 to represent eco-friendly architecture.  

The formation of OPEC or “Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries” and the energy crisis of the 1970’s prompted expansion of “ecological architecture” by incorporating energy saving technologies into building design, including solar, geothermal and wind. By the 1990’s, the United States and United Kingdom replaced the term “ecological architecture” withgreen building standards”, and the “United Nations Conference on Environment and Development” promoted the concept of “green building” for all future development. Over the years, the concept of ”green building has further evolved to represent the use of environmentally responsible and resource efficient processes throughout the life cycle of a building from planning and design through demolition and disposal. [See, "The 8 Dimensions (yes 8) of Building Information Modeling", posted 1/24/24]

There are both advantages and dis-advantages to the concept of "green building”.  Advantages include, lower maintenance costs, improved indoor air quality, increased reliance upon renewable energy, reduced water wastage, energy efficiency, and increased health of occupants.  Disadvantages include, greater construction costs, sourcing the proper materials, longer construction schedules, site selection and orientation, controlling indoor air temperature, and sourcing qualified contractors.

Buildings are responsible for almost 40% of the carbon emissions across the globe, split between homes and commercial buildings. Operational impacts account for 27% of emissions, and include the energy used to heat, cool, light, and operate residences and commercial buildings, the other 13% relates to “embodied carbon", including emissions created in the production of building materials maintenance of the building, and the subsequent demolition. [See, “Producers and Contractors are Drawing Criticism Over the Carbon Footprint of Concrete!”, posted 6/23/23].  Such impacts dwarf effects that appliances have upon our planet.

“Green building” standards in the United States are developed by the “US Green Building Council” or USGBC established in 1993. The USGBC developed a green building rating system in 1998, known as the “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” or LEED. The LEED rating system certifies a score up to 100 points based upon the design, construction, operation, maintenance, and future demolition. The four levels of LEED certification are: 1.) Certified with 40-49 points, 2.) Silver Certification with 50-59 points, 3.) Gold Certification with 60-79 points, and 4.) Platinum Certification with 80+ points. LEED Certification now serves as the international guidelines for “green building: standards.

The point system used in LEED Certification are awarded under 9 categories:

  1. Integrated processes of design and construction.
  2. Location in dense areas accessible by public transportation.
  3. Sustainable sites protecting natural habitats and open spaces.
  4. Water Efficiency, with use reduction, rainwater management and reuse.
  5. Energy performance and reduce carbon emissions to the atmosphere
  6. Manage construction waste and materials and recycle resources.
  7. Indoor Environmental Quality for air and tobacco smoke control.
  8. Innovation and unique approaches to sustainability.
  9. Regional priorities address geographically specific environmental issues.

While the original LEED Certification applied only to “green buildings”, the process has since evolved to address multiple project types and scales ranging from single family homes through entire cities. The 6 types of projects that can obtain LEED Certification include: 1.) building design and construction, 2.) interior design and construction, 3.) building operations and maintenance, 4.) neighborhood development, 5.) homes, and 6.) Cities. In 2017, Washington, DC became the first LEED Platinum city in the world..

If our planet truly seeks to pursue a “green movement, our politicians need look no further than “green building standards established nearly 50 years ago. There is no need to recreate the wheel and pretend the “green movement” is a new creation or recent idea never thought in the past.


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