Green building is the practice of applying eco-friendly values and resource-efficient building methods to the design, construction, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction of new and existing structures.
In practice, the concept of green building touches on several aspects of a structure’s impact on the environment including its energy efficiency, water efficiency, solid waste reduction, toxic material reduction, indoor air quality and use of sustainable building materials. Among the largest green building projects to date is the $8.5 billion Aria Resort & Casino at CityCenter in Las Vegas (pictured above).
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Buildings and construction in general have a large effect on the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that in the United States buildings account for 39 percent of total energy use, 12 percent of total water consumption, 68 percent of total electricity consumption and 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. In stating the benefits of green building, the agency notes that all of these impacts could be decreased if more developers adopt sustainable building methods, resulting in environmental, economic and social benefits.
Among the measures taken to employ green building practices, increasing energy efficiency is one of the most common. To help improve energy efficiency, the building may use insulation in walls, ceilings and floors. In addition, energy efficient windows are often installed. To whatever extent possible, electrical power is generated onsite in the form of solar power, wind power, hydro-power or biomass.
Water efficiency is another key goal to green building. The amount of wastewater leaving the building can be reduced by installing low-flow shower heads and low-flush toilets. Rain buckets can be used to collect water for site irrigation and landscaping. And, installing water-efficient faucets, fixtures and accessories can further reduce water use in the building and help lower water bills.
Using renewable and recycled building materials also helps make a structure more green. Some examples include using reclaimed lumber, recycled stone and recycled metal. In addition, bamboo is often touted as a green building material because it replenishes quickly after a harvest.
The highest hurdle to adopting green building methods is the larger up-front cost when compared to non-sustainable building methods. Supporters of green building rebut that objection by pointing to the potential cost savings reaped over the building’s lifetime. The U.S. Green Building Council estimates that a two percent upfront investment in green building design should result in lifetime savings of 20 percent of the total construction costs. That translates to a ten-fold return on the original investment.
In the United States, the two largest green building certification programs are maintained by the U.S. Green Building Council and the Green Building Initiative.
The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program has certified more than 2,500 new building projects since 2000. The Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization says more than 7.1 billion square feet of construction space is involved with the LEED system.
The Green Building Initiative promotes the Green Globes program, which was originally developed in Canada and counts the Canadian federal government among its most prominent users. The Portland-based Green Building Initiative signed an agreement to bring the Green Globes system to the U.S. at the end of 2004.
Green building is expected to grow significantly in the near future. A 2009 study prepared by Booz Allen Hamilton for the U.S. Green Building Council reported that the green construction market generated $173 billion in GDP between 2000 and 2008. The study goes on to state that green building will support 7.9 million U.S. jobs and pump $554 billion into the American economy from 2009 to 2013. McGraw Hill estimated that the total value of green construction was $10 billion in 2005. The U.S. Green Building Council study predicted that by 2013 the green building market could grow to as much as $96 billion to $140 billion.
(Aria Resort & Casino photo: Mochila/Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
(Solar power home photo: Mochila/ZUMA Press Inc.)