Green Buildings Save Money -- and the Planet
Byline: Larry Banks and Tobias Barwood For The Register-Guard
On April 12, more than 120 architects, engineers and developers from around the state met in Salem to show support for Senate Bill 576. That bill would require state-funded construction projects to meet a high level of energy-efficient and sustainable design.
During our discussions with legislators and citizens, it became clear that while we as architects are well-versed in the concepts of `green' or `high-performance' building, not everyone shares the same level of understanding. Yet we are all affected every day by the buildings we inhabit.
You may have heard the numbers: building construction and operation account for half of the United States' energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. That is almost as much as industry and transportation combined. Seventy-six percent of all electricity generated by power plants goes to operating buildings. Clearly, we need to re-think how buildings are designed and constructed.
As citizens, employees, tenants, business owners, taxpayers, developers and customers, we should expect and provide greener buildings. They are cost-effective, good for working and living, and good for the planet.
The U.S. Council of Mayors, 21 states, and 70 cities from Houston to Eugene have all adopted policies requiring sustainable features in their buildings.
Add to that private sector firms such as Ford, GAP and Wal-Mart that have all seen the value in building greener buildings.
The American Institute of Architects has adopted The 2030 Challenge: Beginning immediately, the institute resolves to design new buildings that consume 50 percent less fossil-fuel generated energy, and to increase that savings until reaching carbon-neutrality by 2030. That's quite a challenge. The design community is taking it seriously, but we can't do it alone.
High-performance buildings are cost effective over the long run. They are built of durable, low-maintenance materials that can adapt to changes in tenancy or workflow over the years. They commonly use 20 percent to 40 percent less energy than a standard building. They require less water, and minimize or even eliminate runoff by storing rainwater for nonpotable uses.
It is simple to provide plentiful daylight instead of artificial light. During much of the year we can provide natural ventilation and let the fans rest.
Properly designed buildings can be cooled at night by the prevailing breezes. Energy use is lowered, and occupants retain sensory contact with the outside.
High-performance buildings are humane environments. With their plentiful daylight and views to outside, they provide beautiful places to work or shop, maximizing employee recruitment, retention and satisfaction. They use materials that don't emit harmful fumes. Reducing sick time and staff turnover while increasing productivity in a bright, stimulating environment can result in significant savings.
High-performance buildings are good for the planet. No matter your view of global warming, we need to extend the supply of our natural resources so that future generations can have some, too. Green building attempts to lessen the impacts of construction on the environment by minimizing damaging resource extraction, reducing energy and water use, improving air and water quality, and promoting efficient material manufacturing, use and recyclability.
Just as the degree to which a new building may incorporate green measures varies, the cost associated with those measures varies also.
While some baseline green measures do not necessarily increase the cost of a building, data from numerous completed buildings over the last 10 years shows that the premium for greener buildings can be nominal - in the range of 2 percent to 4 percent.
Higher levels of energy-efficiency will come at a greater cost, but even a modest 2 percent to 4 percent increase in first costs pays back rapidly when looking at the total life-cycle costs of a 50-year building. …