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Green Building Sector Looking Strong for 2012 and Beyond

5 min. read

When one considers the potentially biggest “bang for the buck” we can get in terms of energy cost savings and pollution reductions, the building sector certainly ranks high on the list. According to the U.S. Energy Department, the U.S. building sector “alone accounted for 8% of global primary energy consumption in 2008,” with nearly 40% of U.S. energy consumed – and carbon dioxide emitted - by buildings. Thus, as the EPA’s “Green Building” website points out, building green comes with enormous benefits – environmental, economic, and social. In addition, although green building “may cost more up front, [it] can save money over the life of the building through lower operating costs.” That’s a win-win situation no matter how you look at it.

Fortunately, the trend towards green building is growing rapidly in the United States and worldwide. According to a recent press release by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), for instance, “LEED-certified existing buildings are outpacing their newly built counterparts,” with “square footage of LEED-certified existing buildings surpass[ing] LEED-certified new construction by 15 million square feet on a cumulative basis” in the United States as of December 2011.  As Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO & Founding Chair, of the USGBC, points out:

The U.S. is home to more than 60 billion square feet of existing commercial buildings, and we know that most of those buildings are energy guzzlers and water  sieves…Greening these buildings takes hands-on work, creating precious jobs especially for construction workers. Making these existing buildings energy and water efficient has an enormous positive impact on the building's cost of operations. And the indoor air quality improvements that go with less toxic cleaning solutions and better filtration create healthier places to live, work and learn.

Green building success stories include not just new construction, but also retrofits, like the Empire State Building earning a LEED Gold rating, which will “reduce energy use by more than $4.4 million annually, cut carbon emissions by 105,000 metric tons over a 15-year period and provide a payback in slightly more than three years.” Not too shabby.  Another green building success story is the U.S. Treasury Department building, certified in December 2011 as LEED Gold – “the oldest building in the world ever to have gotten any type of LEED certification.”

Then there’s the U.S. military, which a little over a year ago adopted “ASHRAE Standard 189.1, a standard for green building and sustainability” that “requires that facility construction projects follow specified requirements and guidance” in terms of “siting, energy efficiency, cool roofs, metering, storm water management and indoor and outdoor water consumption.” With more than 954 million square feet of Army buildings and structures worldwide, the impact of this policy change could be huge in terms of energy and cost savings, as well as in terms of pollution reductions. At the same time, the military is also helping to jumpstart rooftop solar, with the recent announcement of “SolarStrong, an audacious, $1 billion project that aims to double the number of residential photovoltaic systems across the U.S. through the installation of rooftop solar arrays on 160,000 homes and other buildings like community centers and administrative buildings on the country's military bases.”

Given the importance and progress being made in the green building sector in recent years, we were pleased to see global green building consultant Jerry Yudelson’s optimistic outlook on green building trends for 2012. Yudelson certainly should know what he’s talking about, as he is a “registered professional engineer” who “holds degrees in civil and environmental engineering from Caltech and Harvard,” and who “has worked as a management/marketing consultant for more than 200 state government, utilities, local governments, Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, engineering firms and product manufacturers during the past 25 years.” According to Yudelson, the outlook for green building in 2012 is bright, despite ongoing economic problems. For instance, Yudelson predicts:

  • “The global green building movement will continue to accelerate, as more countries begin to create their own green building incentives and developing their own Green Building Councils. More than 90 countries with incipient or established green building organizations, on all continents, will drive considerable green building growth in 2012.”
  • “The focus of the green building industry will continue its switch from new building design and construction to greening existing buildings.”
  • Zero-net-energy buildings will become increasingly commonplace, in both residential and commercial sectors, as LEED and ENERGY STAR certifications and labels have become too commonplace to confer competitive advantage among building owners.”
  • “Local and state governments will step up their mandates for green buildings for both themselves and the private sector. We’ll see at least 20 new cities with commercial sector green building mandates…”
  • Solar power use in buildings will continue to grow with the prospect of increasing utility focus on aggressive state-level renewable power standards (RPS) for 2020. As before, third-party financing partnerships will continue to grow and provide capital for large rooftop systems such as on warehouses and big box retail stores.”

One of Yudelson’s points bears additional emphasis: the need for local and state governments – and, we’d add, the federal government – to require that buildings achieve higher and higher levels of energy efficiency, just as with appliances, and that they provide consumers and others with transparent information about how much energy they consume. As Stephen Lacey of Climate Progress pointed out when he spoke as part of our “Communicating Energy” Lecture Series last November, energy efficiency may not be as “sexy” as “big, first-of-a-kind projects or sexy, innovative technologies,” but it’s extremely important nonetheless.  Just in the U.S. education sector alone, for example, it’s been estimated that more energy efficient school buildings “could save $20 billion in energy costs alone over the next 10 years.” That’s money that we’re currently throwing out the window, almost literally, which could be saved for use in actually educating kids in a healthy environment, not burning dirty fossil fuels in order to heat and cooling the leaky, uncomfortable spaces they’re attempting to learn in now.

The bottom line of all this is clearcut: green building, both new and retrofit, is crucial if we’re going to meet our energy, economic, and environmental objectives for the 21st century. It’s also a huge business opportunity you certainly won’t want to miss.