The Benefits Of Green Building


Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio. Courtesy Daderot

We are currently in a midst of a fundamental shift in the way the world thinks about and interacts with our built and natural environments. At current rates of development, the earth will not be able to sustain the impact of its human populace, due to the limited supply of the materials and resources that we have grown to rely on for our survival. According to some estimates, construction accounts for almost half of the world's material and energy consumption, one-sixth of fresh water use, and a quarter of all wood harvested.

The U.S. Green Building Council defines Green Building as a holistic concept which starts with the understanding that the built environment can have profound effects, both positive and negative, on the natural environment, as well as the people who inhabit buildings every day. Green building seeks therefore to amplify the positive and mitigate the negative of these effects throughout the entire life cycle of a building (from initiation to deconstruction), by focusing on the use of renewable materials and sources of energy, improving energy utilization and indoor air quality, lowering overall emissions, and employing various technologies which enhance and protect biological diversity and ecosystems. 

Despite its origins dating back to ancient times, individuals and companies have only within the last thirty years, seriously invested in the development and use of green materials, methods, products, and solutions throughout the construction industry. It was actually during the energy crisis of the 1970's, that green building moved from the realm of research and development into reality, as designers and builders sought ways to reduce our reliance on non-renewable sources of fuel and materials. 

Notwithstanding, there have been a number of misconceptions about green building. Some include higher initial upfront costs, that green building is only about landscaping, it is fashionable, traditional materials and methods perform better, solar power is required to be considered green, and green building will not yield the desired impacts or benefits. Through recent study however, research from the green building industry tell a very different story.

Green building benefits has been shown to be particularly realized when the design and construction team adopt an integrated approach from the initiation of the project. As a result, building owners and developers are being offered long term savings, higher returns on investment, and improved productivity realized through greater occupant comfort, health, and satisfaction. Green building is becoming more viable as costs come down, adoption and knowledge of green building expands, and the technologies which underpin it, advances. Its other benefits include;

  • Environmental: the enhancement and protection of biodiversity and ecosystems, improvement of air and water quality, reductions in waste streams, and the conservation or restoration of natural resources.
  • Economic: the reduction of operating costs, the creation and development of markets for green products and services, and improvements in occupant productivity.
  • Social: the improvement of occupant health and comfort, reductions in the reliance of local infrastructures, and the overall improvement in the quality of life

In support of green building, many countries and governments are implementing frameworks which support and encourage its use. In the United States for example, rebates, tax credits, and other incentives are offered to businesses who commit to building green and installing sustainable forms of energy. This similarly applies to private homeowners and vehicles which use alternative energy, such as hydrogen and electricity. In making a case for the benefits of green building, one should also consider that;

  • The global green building market grew in 2013 to $260 billion, including an estimated 20% of all new U.S. commercial real estate construction. This trend is expected to intensify in the coming years, both in the US and internationally.
  • Owners of green buildings reported that their ROI improved by 19.2% on average for existing building green projects and 9.9% on average for new projects.
  • Operating costs decreased by 13.6% for new construction and 8.5% for existing building projects.
  • 62% of those building new single family homes report that they are doing more than 15% of their projects green. By 2018, that percentage increases to 84%.
  • 75% of firms view sustainability as consistent with their profit missions

It should be noted that green building ultimately serves to to sustain our environment without disrupting the natural habitats around it. Given the recognizable push for green standards, use of more environmentally friendly building products, sustainability being more aligned to the profitability of organizations, and the greater management of our limited resources, green building will become the norm within the next decade, thereby making non-green buildings, obsolete.