Green Construction Has Gone Mainstream

I read recently that nearly half of all new construction in the United States last year involved green construction and that number is expected to increase in 2013. That’s almost double what it was just a couple of years ago. This green movement has been steadily building its footprint and transforming the construction market over the past couple of decades. In the last seven or eight years it has skyrocketed to become one of the driving forces in the industry.

What’s Driving this Green Machine?

Market and client demand are two major driving forces requiring the Architectural, Engineering and Construction Industries to increase the amount of green construction. There are a number of reasons owners and developers, both public and private, have begun or are planning on adopting green practices in their construction projects. First and foremost it’s the right thing to do for the environment. Energy use reduction and water use reduction are among the top environmental issues. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration residential and commercial buildings accounted for nearly 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption in 2012. Reducing construction waste, lowering greenhouse gas emissions and conserving natural resources are some of the other environmental concerns that can be mitigated by implementing green building solutions.

There is also a financial aspect to going green. Decreased energy and water usage equals lower utility bills. Green buildings benefit from lower annual operating costs and command higher rent and building values than non-green buildings. There are also a number of incentives and tax breaks that can be earned by going green that are offered on the federal, state and local levels.

There are also health and well-being benefits from green construction. Green buildings typically have better indoor air quality, better natural lighting and are constructed with building materials and products that contain less pollutants and volatile organic compounds. Employees who work in green buildings have higher levels of productivity and lower absenteeism due to illness.

Who’s Getting Involved?

In a word, everyone. According to the United States Green Building Council there are 44,270 LEED registered and certified construction projects totaling over 6,415 million GSF of space in the United States alone. States like Maryland, Washington and West Virginia have green requirements for state-funded public building construction and renovations. The California Public Utility Commission has set zero net energy goals for all new residential construction by 2020 and commercial buildings by 2030. Zero net energy buildings create as much renewable energy as the building consumes in a year. Federal agencies like the General Services Administration and the Department of Defense also have green requirements for new construction and major renovations.

The private sector is also getting in on the action. Companies like REI, Columbia, PNC Bank and Harris Teeter all have green retail locations. Kohl’s Department Stores has a large commitment to conserving the environment by encouraging long-term sustainability. They have 137 locations with solar power, 761 Energy Star labeled stores and 305 LEED Certified buildings.  Walgreens is currently building the first net zero energy retail store in Evanston, IL. The new store will produce renewable energy from three separate sources: a geothermal energy system, over 800 solar panels and two 35-foot wind turbines.

Technological Advancements

A week doesn’t go by that I don’t come across an article touting some new green building material whether it’s smog eating building material, carbon dioxide reducing concrete or solar shingles. The green building material market is expected to more than double to over $254 billion a year industry worldwide by 2020. Advances in technology like Building Information Modeling can help reduce construction waste by being able to provide precise quantities of materials needed on a project. Improvements in energy efficiency and water usage for HVAC systems, lighting and appliances are being made all the time. LED lighting was developed in the 1960’s but it’s only been a few years since the technology to create white LEDs have made it possible to replace incandescent bulbs which use more energy and don’t last nearly as long as an LED bulb.

As the demand for green construction continues to grow the demand for green AEC professionals will continue to increase. Companies that currently don’t handle any green construction or have any green professionals on staff should consider making the change soon. As more green construction codes get added to the books and more companies seek to go green with their construction the distinction between regular construction and green construction will cease to exist. In the future it will all be green construction.

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