In the absence of moral support, proponents of green construction are settling for necessary compromise: if it takes a particularly crippling recession to ignite the collective conscience into supporting green construction initiatives, then so be it. The most recent shift in demand has resulted in a modern permutation of typical depression-era business developments: cheaper, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly building projects. As foreclosures bubbled to an ominous level in 2008 and tax credits failed to strengthen buying power, it was time to entertain this green construction option as a financially viable alternative. So what exactly is green construction, how many projects have been executed and why is this financially viable?
Green construction is a method of sustainable construction that adheres to an environmentally friendly process using renewable materials and building techniques. The exact methodology and materials depends on a number of factors from the terrain of the building site to the intended functions of the building itself. Building materials commonly used in green construction include renewable plant sources such as bamboo, “green-certified” lumber, solar panels, recycled synthetics, stone, and other renewable items.
Each green construction project is assessed for its financial and environmental efficiency over its entire life, not just the initial building process. This is designed to align the goals of green construction with each project: water and energy conservation, structural efficiency, reduced carbon footprint, waste conservation, and overall convenience for property managers. The following successful cases demonstrate the environmental and financial viability of green construction.
A popular fixture of Ithaca, New York’s Cornell University, Weill hall contrasts neighboring buildings with its color, design, and environmentally friendly efficiency. Richard Meier, the designer, had the laboratories built out of white aluminum; the eco-friendly alloy of choice for many “green” builders. Combined with other recycled materials, 22 percent of the building is made from renewable sources. Because of this effort and meticulous upkeep, Weill hall has reduced its carbon footprint to 51 lbs. CO2/ft2 , an extremely slim figure for a 263,000 square foot floor plan.
California’s Golden Gate Park Pavilion also implemented a number of green construction concepts to reduce energy costs and even restore a dying part of the local ecosystem. With a “living roof,” highly efficient radiant heating system, low-voc paint, and a generous amount of renewable materials in its construction, the Golden Gate Pavilion was able to reduce its carbon footprint while still providing a stunning aesthetic to visitors. To take their efforts one step further, the architects rendered plans for a specific plant arrangement to attract an endangered species, the Xerces butterfly.
The world has already experienced the financial viability of green construction, with the abovementioned buildings and hundreds of others. Designed to conserve water, energy, and waste, green buildings save an average of $1 per square foot annually. As a result, several initiatives have emerged out of the recession such as the CalPERS and CalSTERS pension funds, two groups that have pledged to invest $620 million in green buildings. Citigroup is volunteering almost 90 percent of its U.S. properties to be evaluated by the EPA’s energy star program. As more prestigious institutions begin to align themselves with green initiatives post-recession, the upswing towards equilibrium in the housing market and the overall economy will accelerate until the world is back on its feet again.
Alex Levin is a marketing specialist for a variety of surety agencies. Surety bonds are required on most construction projects.