Most people look at "environmental" and "green" from the standpoint of energy usage. Buildings use approximately 40 percent of the total energy consumed in both the US and Europe. In the US, about 55 percent of that percentage was consumed by residential buildings and 45 percent by commercial buildings. In 2002, buildings used approximately 70 percent of the total electricity consumed in the United States (split evenly between commercial and residential buildings).
The environmental burden of buildings is also significant. A lot of attention has been focused on CO2, greenhouse gases and climate change. Of the carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) produced in the U.S., 21 percent comes from homes and 17.5 percent from commercial uses. Buildings account for about 15 percent of the total amount of water consumed per day in the United States and 38 percent of the production of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) can be similarly attributed to buildings. These figures are alarming by themselves - but when the direct and indirect costs of this usage are added to the cost of operating a facility it begins to be personal. The cost of energy usage in buildings, both to the environment and to the owner/ manager, represents an ongoing negative impact. But wait...
When we widen the scope of our examination, move the envelope out a little, we can get a better picture of the cost and impact both of the direct energy consumption, but also of the energy consumed in transporting the energy. A little bit further, and we can include the energy used to manufacture and transport equipment and supplies used in the construction and maintenance of a building. A little further, and we include the "peripheral energy usage" of the building materials themselves. Considering these statistics, reducing the amount of natural resources buildings consume and the amount of pollution given off is crucial for future sustainability, according to the US EPA. And, more's the pity, the environmental impact of buildings is often underestimated, while the perceived costs of construction and operational methods that lessen these impacts are overestimated. This is by way of saying that often the payback for "green" building improvements is rapid. The cost savings can continue for years after payback, and the environmental benefits can extend far beyond the property itself.
Green building is the practice (art and science) of increasing the efficiency with which buildings use resources - energy, water, and materials - while reducing building impacts on human health and the environment during the building's lifecycle. Effective green building can lead to reduced environmental impacts, improved public and occupant health and reduced operating costs These economies can be achieved by employing technologies that use less energy and water, improve indoor air quality, and lessen storm water runoff and the heat island effect. Many of these improvements come with zero net increase in costs over traditional strategies.
Green building technologies and LEED bring together a variety of practices and techniques to reduce the impacts of buildings on the environment and human health. It often emphasizes utilization of renewable resources, e.g., using sunlight through passive solar, active solar, and photovoltaic techniques and using plants and trees through green roofs, rain gardens, and for reduction of rainwater run-off. Many other techniques, such permeable parking lot surfaces instead of concrete or asphalt to enhance replenishment of ground water, are used as well. A careful, thoughtful and systemic attention to the full life cycle impacts of the resources embodied in the building and to the resource consumption and pollution emissions over the building's complete life cycle will result in lower environmental impacts and, ultimately, lower operating costs. Along the way, we can lower dependence on fossil fuels. And, to top it all off, the process can continue to improve, finding and incorporating incremental improvements and new technologies.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a third party certification program and the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council through a consensus based process, LEED serves as a tool for buildings of all types and sizes. LEED gives building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings' performance. There are LEED certification programs for new construction, existing buildings operations and maintenance, commercial interiors and other categories of projects. LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, indoor environmental quality and green building innovation. LEED is a point based system where projects earn LEED points for satisfying specific green building criteria. The number of points the project earns determines the level of LEED Certification the project receives. LEED certification is available in four progressive levels: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
The primary focus of the LEED program has been the registration and certification of building projects, mostly new construction. However, the LEED system offers an excellent system to benchmark green and environmental practices regardless of whether certification is practical or not. The professionals at EMS will review your plans or operating protocols to develop a gap analysis. You can then make the decision to pursue certification or to select building projects for a step-wise approach to improvement.
Completed LEED projects have shown that green construction does not have to cost more than traditional construction. LEED certified projects to date demonstrate that you can achieve LEED certification and reap its many benefits with a common-sense approach to design with no additional dollars. Depending on your green building strategy and the level of certification your project is targeting, there may be mid- and long-term ROI (return on investment) associated with additional green features that merits an investment in first costs.
LEED certified projects blend environmental, economic, and occupant-oriented performance. They cost less to operate and maintain; are energy- and water-efficient; have higher lease- up rates than conventional buildings in their markets; are healthier and safer for occupants; and are a physical demonstration of the values of the organizations that own and occupy them.