Governments and government agencies are beginning to require that all new buildings meet certain LEED certification thresholds. In 2003, for example, the U.S. General Services Administration, which manages 1,800 federal buildings, began requiring all new building projects to strive for the LEED Silver standard and, at a minimum, to meet the LEED standard for basic certification.
Governors in at least 10 states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, New Mexico, and Rhode Island, have signed recent executive orders requiring all new construction to meet LEED requirements. Other state and local governments have enacted similar requirements.
Governments are also creating financial incentives to build green. In July 2005, the Pennsylvania legislature created incentives rewarding new schools that were built to meet LEED Silver certification requirements. Recent studies have suggested that besides providing cost savings for school districts, the green buildings will also help improve student test scores.
Green Building Benefits
The most obvious benefits from green buildings relate to lower environmental and operating costs, which result from improved energy and water efficiency. Green buildings have documented energy-efficiency improvements ranging from 25 to 65 percent and water-efficiency improvements of up to 90 percent. The resulting financial savings are sufficient to offset any concerns about potential small increases in initial cost.
A particularly dramatic example of financial savings is demonstrated in a pair of Ridgehaven buildings located in San Diego, CA. The two nearly identical 73,000 square-foot buildings were built within a few hundred yards of one another. One of them, however, was later retrofitted with green building principles to improve energy efficiency. After the upgrades, energy consumption decreased 65 percent in the retrofitted building, yielding an annual savings of $70,000 in 1999. Today, annual savings are significantly higher, due to increased energy costs.
Although energy and water savings are a welcomed benefit, the most impressive financial benefit results from increases in worker productivity. Several case studies have documented productivity gains of 10 to 26 percent. Because labor costs are traditionally the highest costs for most businesses, any productivity increase can create significant savings. For instance, the Pentagon estimates that a productivity gain of only 6 percent, resulting from its ongoing green renovations, will produce an annual savings of $72 million.
Benefits of green buildings are not just limited to office complexes. Building owners are learning that they can charge higher rents for green offices and green apartments, both of which can attract higher-quality tenants. The retail world has discovered that "daylit" stores generate significantly higher sales, with some studies documenting a 40 percent increase in sales. For instance, Wal-Mart managers recently tested several daylit stores and discovered "significant" sales increases.
In the early days of the green building movement, many people were reporting that green buildings cost 10 to 15 percent more to construct than traditional buildings. Most of the additional costs were premiums charged by architects and builders who were unfamiliar with LEED and green building techniques. However, even with the additional costs, the lower operating costs offset the initial premium.
As experience with green building has grown, concerns about the premiums have all but disappeared. Green buildings need not cost more to construct than traditional buildings. In fact, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania currently requires all state projects to be LEED Silver certified and reports no added costs to meet the requirement.
The best way to minimize costs is to integrate green building requirements into the original design requirements. Make sure the architect knows the project is expected to meet a specific LEED category. Failure to require LEED early in the design process means that owners must pay additional costs to redesign the building. If LEED standards are built into the original requirements, the designers' creative energies can focus on meeting the owner's requirements, while simultaneously protecting human health and the environment.
Green buildings offer significant benefits to safeguard human health and the environment, while making tremendous financial sense. What better message could we send to future generations about the priorities of today's governments than to construct cost-effective, financially sound buildings designed to build a better future?
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