How Did All This “Green” Stuff Get Started?

Within this issue of Corp!, there are several articles about people and companies involved in the Green movement. This article provides a brief background on where a significant impetus for the “Green Movement” began.

In the 1990s there were many articles with titles such as “Is School Making Your Child Sick?” and “Is Your Office Killing You?” These articles and others expressed a concern with ‘Indoor Air Quality’, now commonly referred to as IAQ. Today’s articles have such titles as “It’s Not Easy Being Green” or alternatively, “It’s Easy Being Green” or “What Does Green Really Mean?”

Background of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)
About 15 years ago a group of developers wanted to find a way to construct buildings that were less damaging to the environment, while still allowing them to make a profit. It took them a while to come up with a viable plan, but by the year 2000 the USGBC began gaining traction and had published its first version of a Reference Guideline called LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). The Guideline was designed to help architects, engineers and builders design and construct buildings that consumed fewer natural resources, were less damaging to the environment, provided healthier places for people to live and work, AND were profitable!

The first versions were directed toward new construction. Today there are versions of LEED for existing buildings, tenant spaces, speculative buildings, schools, retail establishments, homes and, on a grander scale, entire neighborhoods. All are based on what has come to be called “The Triple Bottom Line” of Social, Environmental and Economic (SEE) issues, also referred to as the 3 Ps (People, Planet and Profit).

The membership of the USGBC consists of architects, engineers, designers, manufacturers, building owners, government agencies, developers, etc. and today is made up of more than 20,000 organizations. The USGBC is one of the fastest growing organizations in the U.S. – and has spawned more than 40 councils in other countries, including a World Green Building Council.

LEED Guidelines & Sustainability
The LEED Guidelines have sustainable goals in five primary categories relative to the built environment. They include:

-¢ Sustainable Sites: Primarily concerned with reusing existing buildings or sites rather than using undeveloped space that will require additional infrastructure; also focuses on protecting and restoring existing sites.

-¢ Water Efficiency: Reduce the amount of water used in the building, thus reducing the burden on sewage and drainage systems.

-¢ Energy and Atmosphere: Optimize energy efficiency and encourage renewable and alternative energy sources.

-¢ Materials and Resources: Reduce the amount of materials needed, use materials with less environmental impact and reduce and manage waste.

-¢ Indoor Environmental Quality: Eliminate, reduce and manage the sources of indoor pollutants, e.g., low VOC (volatile organic compound) -emitting materials, ensure thermal comfort and system controllability, and provide for occupant connection to the outdoor environment.

Buildings contribute more to greenhouse gas emissions and use more natural resources than the entire transportation industry. Almost 40% of the energy and almost 70% of the electricity in the U.S. is used by buildings, which contribute approximately 30% of the greenhouse gas emissions and up to 2.5 lbs. per square foot of solid waste. Another staggering statistic is that buildings in the U.S. use almost 5 billion (yes, that’s a “b”) gallons of potable water (that’s the water we can drink) -“ just to flush toilets!

Green buildings, especially those certified as “Green and Sustainable” by receiving a LEED certification from the USGBC, typically save 20-35% in energy, 25-40% in greenhouse gases, 20-40% in water usage and 40-80% in waste. Further, because green buildings are typically healthier and more pleasant buildings in which to live and work, people tend to be more productive. No matter how much is spent to build a building, human resources -“ the people – are still the most expensive cost to most organizations. A 3-4% increase in people’s productivity in most buildings will outweigh the cost of energy as well as operations and maintenance!

Statistics such as those stated above, including CO2, water, and waste from buildings, have led people to consider green buildings because they make financial sense. They lease for more, sell for more and make their owners more money. Progressive owners and developers are realizing it’s in their best interest to build green, not only for the preceding reasons but also to stay ahead of the forthcoming new laws and standards that will soon make non-green building obsolete.

Many of the challenges we face -“ climate change, increased cases of asthma and allergies, and declining amounts of natural resources are the result of the Industrial Revolution, which allowed us to enjoy our current standard of living. What is happening today may well be called the Green Revolution. We are learning to mimic what nature has been doing, which is termed bio-mimicry, while at the same time learning to harness the power of the sun, the wind, the tides and currents, and developing new technologies such as nano-technology. These technologies, if used wisely, can ensure that future generations will be able to live at least as well as we have and, hopefully, even better.

This is a period of great opportunity. Are you prepared to be a part of it?

The time is now! The place is here!

Jim Newman is a Certified Energy Manager (CEM), a Certified Sustainable Development Professional (CSDP), and a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP). He is active in many professional organizations, has published numerous papers and provides seminars, webcasts and podcasts on IAQ, energy, sustainability and other subjects. He can be reached at [email protected]