Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Build Green, Build Smart

Drive smart. Go hybrid. Conserve water. Recycle. Turn off the lights. Ratchet down the AC. We could do all of that and more but still not do as much for the Green Movement as we would if we got smarter about the way we build and refurbish buildings.

Residential and commercial buildings have a huge environmental, economic and psychological impact. About 81 million structures in the United States alone consume 37 percent of the nation’s total energy – that’s more than any other economic category, including transportation and industry. Almost half of that energy goes into heating and cooling. They gobble up 65 percent of the nation’s electricity, 25 percent of its water supplies and 30 percent of its wood and materials. Likewise, buildings account for 35 percent of the nation’s solid waste, 36 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, 46 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions, 19 percent of nitrous oxide emissions and 10 percent of fine particulate emissions.


Green building has increased 50 percent since 2007, a figure that raised the eyebrows of those who are struggling to put a dent in our current economic woes. A new study by the U.S. Green Building Council shows that green building will support nearly 8 million U.S. jobs over next 4 years and, between 2009 and 2013, will contribute $554 billion to U.S. GDP.

Using natural daylight in office buildings constitutes a major green objective, over and above the reduction of energy costs. Research shows that natural light in buildings increases productivity – in general, green workplaces boost employees’ output by as much as 15 percent a year, and sales in shopping malls increase as much as 40 percent in stores lit with skylights. Green structures brighten up education, too, with students in naturally lit classrooms performing up to 20 percent better. And according to Stephen Kaplan, a professor of environmental psychology at the University of Michigan, environment “shapes a person's development over a lifetime by providing safety, diversity, refuges from noise and distraction, and access to nature. This access to nature plays a central role in recovery from mental fatigue. Even a few trees viewed from a window have repeatedly been shown to have remarkably strong effects.” 

Barton Malow is a construction management company that pours a lot of its energy into building green, environmentally responsible and healthy places to live and work. Jennifer Macks is a Barton Malow project director and a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Accredited Professional. She’s developed a specialty in building hospitals and, in recent years, administered construction of the award-winning 656,000-square-foot  South Hospital Addition at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. "It's really an exciting time for green buildings," she said. "Owners are actually demanding it now, where it used to be something that a small constituency cared about. I think people are finally starting to understand the tangible benefits that it brings to building occupants, and understand that there aren't significant cost premiums if you do it right.  Building sustainable is just a part of the decision-making process during design, just as you look at where to site a building, what function the building will have, and how it will be constructed.”

The EPA is using a number of problems to assess and promote Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ). Improving IEQ involves designing, constructing, commissioning, operating and maintaining buildings in ways that reduce pollution sources and remove indoor pollutants while ensuring that fresh air is continually supplied and properly circulated. The program focuses on major building types including offices and institutional buildings, hospitals, schools and homes. Even the simple act of using better materials could build a green construction industry. The EPA publishes an array of online green indoor environment resources.

In 2008, groups from the public and private sectors came together to form the High-Performance Green Building Partnership Consortia, committing themselves to high-performance green buildings and net-zero energy commercial buildings. That same year, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) launched its NAHB National Green Building Program, an education, verification and certification program for building green homes, with attention paid to water, energy and resource efficiency; lot and site development; indoor environmental quality; global impact; and homeowner education. The Program's objective: to entice builders to construct homes that meet NAHB standards, for which the homes and builders receive national certification from the NAHB Research Center.

Read more about:

Green building

How green building works

Malcolm Wells, an iconoclastic architect who advocated environmentally responsible design long before it was a fashionable topic.