Green Building Makes News

Sept. 5, 2006

August is generally a sleepy month in these parts, whether I’m in Washington, D.C. or Syracuse. Vacations, less-humid days, and cool evenings can lull you into a pleasant state of bliss. But, it’s been anything but sleepy around here of late!

I am most excited about the publicity that the green building movement is getting on the stage of mainstream media. If “we report, you decide” is a true slogan, then I feel very good about the future. Ripped from the headlines ...

On Aug. 11, The New York Times ran “Build Green, Make Green,” in which the editors recognized that “Buildings are something of an energy-efficiency blind spot in this country. Public attention tends to focus largely on automobile companies and mileage, but houses and skyscrapers consume more energy than cars. According to the Energy Department, residential and commercial buildings account for 40 percent of total energy consumption in this country vs. just 28 percent for the entire transportation sector.

“Companies are seeing the light on what are known as green buildings and the lower operating costs that come with them. For instance, The Washington Post noted last week that PNC Financial Services Group’s new green bank branches are using 45-percent less energy than comparable structures. And, the company says that it builds them faster and cheaper than through old-fashioned construction methods. The new Bank of America Tower rising in Midtown Manhattan will feature special insulating glass windows and a plant-covered roof for natural temperature control. For maximum efficiency, an on-site natural-gas power generator will also recapture energy from lost heat headed out the building’s chimney, lowering energy costs by an estimated 40 percent or more.”

The Times’ editorial also noted that “Corporate membership of the U.S. Green Building Council, which manages the leading [green] certification program, has increased more than tenfold since 2000. Wal-Mart, famed for its ability to slash costs, is trying to reduce the energy used in its stores by 30 percent while also increasing the efficiency of its vehicle fleet and cutting back solid waste.”

And, speaking of Wal-Mart, Fortune magazine’s Aug. 7 cover story, “Wal-Mart Saves the Planet,” notes that world’s biggest retailer is also the biggest private user of electricity in the United States; each of its 2,074 Supercenters uses an average of 1.5 million kW annually, or “enough as a group to power all of the nation of Namibia.”

The Times further reported on Aug. 13, under the cliché headline “It’s Getting Easier To Be Green” ...

“They are not yet as ubiquitous as the Toyota Prius ... but ‘green’ apartment buildings have begun popping up around Manhattan. At least six large buildings designed to meet elevated standards for energy efficiency and for the use of environmentally friendly materials have opened in the last 3 years, and several more are under construction or being planned.

... “Developers say they are building green because they believe in it, but they also expect to gain a competitive edge. If faced with the choice of renting or buying two similar apartments, the developers say, consumers increasingly will opt for the one with green features, even if it comes at a higher price.”

And, finally, consider this from the June 21, 2006, Harvard Business Review:

“Green is rapidly becoming a necessity as companies as diverse as Bank of America, Genzyme, Goldman Sachs, IBM, and Toyota are now pushing green buildings fully into the mainstream,” according to “Building the Green Way” by Charles Lockwood. This article in the June 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review makes the case for green and cites the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and its LEED® Green Building Rating System™.

“Before 2000, companies generally regarded green buildings as interesting experiments but unfeasible projects in the real business world. Since then, several factors have caused a major shift in corporate thinking and pushed green to the tipping point:

1. First, the creation of reliable building-rating and performance measurement systems for new construction and renovation, like the USGBC’s rigorous LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system.

2. Second, hundreds of studies have proven the financial advantages of going green, from reduced construction costs to lower operating costs.

3. Third, employers have experienced significant workforce benefits in green buildings, including stronger employee attraction and retention, as well as fewer illnesses and lower absenteeism, which reduce healthcare costs. In particular, green buildings can boost employee productivity by approximately 15 percent.

4. Finally, green buildings today cost no more to construct than standard buildings thanks to lower materials and technologies costs, much greater availability of green building products, and greater real estate industry experience in planning and constructing green buildings.”

So, with apologies to David Letterman and sincere thanks to my colleague, Judith Webb, who teaches me daily that humor is a great way to tell an important story, “Greener Facilities” proudly presents ...

The Top 10 Reasons to LEED Certify:

10. Your company has to put something with real metrics into their year-end sustainability report and LEED helps them get to the golf course faster.

9. Thirteen major pension companies, representing $800 billion in assets, are forcing the SEC to require publicly traded companies to disclose the financial risks of global warming, and LEED may be the only thing they can put on the asset side of that balance sheet today.

8. It proves to the world that you (not to mention your client) are using sustainability practices because it’s more than just “good PR.”

7. Brand matters and, like it or not, LEED has become the way the rest of the world knows something is green.

6. Green-washing is alive and well in our industry and LEED is your best defense against being painted with that brush.

5. Green is the new black, and LEED is the cool label.

4. You can get a box of animal crackers for 89 cents and know from a clear and easy-to-read label exactly what’s inside. Unless you do LEED, you can’t do the same thing for an $89-million building (which is really stupid).

3. You’re not stupid. LEED is nothing if not a really easy-to-ride bandwagon where everyone can see not only how smart you are, but how good you are. There just aren’t many opportunities like that in life.

2. The act of documentation is the fact of performance. If you have to write it down, it really happened. LEED forces that kind of discipline, and it’s the discipline that delivers the performance.

And, the No. 1 reason to LEED certify:
You get a really cool plaque that proves to the world you’ve built green. You may already know, but LEED certification verifies and validates your efforts so that The New York Times will write about you; let’s face it, the only people who deride having “15 minutes of fame” are the ones who’ve never had it! You can reach Judith Webb at ([email protected]).

All joking aside, the momentum has clearly swung away from us having to bore dinner guests to tears with an explanation of why green building makes sense to us being invited to dinner because green is red hot! But, the pragmatist in me says we need to focus on furthering the cause while enjoying the moment.

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