Going green - real world savings & measurable results
Political discussion across the country has been tinged with green this year as awareness regarding climate change reaches an all time high. But what many corporations and individuals fail to realize, is that making environmentally friendly choices in how we live and work can equate to real world financial savings as well. For example, “green” or “sustainable” buildings use key resources like energy, water, materials and land, more efficiently than buildings that are simply “built to code.” Green buildings are commonly perceived to be considerably more expensive (design and construction) than conventional buildings and often not worth the extra cost. In actuality, recent data indicates that new buildings designed and constructed to green standards are not appreciably more expensive to construct. Couple that with the fact that operational costs can prove to be significantly less than those associated with traditional buildings, and building green makes good economic sense.
The accepted green standard, developed by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), is known as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) System. LEED® provides a guideline and rating system for green buildings and provides a standard to compare design, construction and operating costs.
Based on data collected three to four years ago, the average premium for green buildings is slightly less than 2% (or $3-5 per square foot), substantially lower than what is commonly perceived. It appears that the majority of this cost is due to the increased architectural and engineering (A&E) design time, modeling costs and the expense required to integrate sustainable building practices into projects.
The cost of green design has dropped in the last few years, as the number of green buildings has risen. This trend is being documented in several forward-thinking cities across the country, where it is reported that construction costs for green buildings is comparable to typical construction.
Green Buildings provide financial benefits not offered by conventional buildings. These benefits include energy and water savings, reduced waste, improved indoor environmental quality (IEQ), greater employee comfort/productivity, reduced employee health costs and lower operations and maintenance costs.
Energy is a substantial and widely recognized cost of building operations that can be reduced through energy efficiency and related measures that are part of sustainable design. On average, green buildings use 30% less energy than conventional buildings. Even if an existing building is not originally designed green, conducting an energy audit and making simple energy efficiency improvements can reduce energy costs up to 15%.
There is growing recognition of the large health and productivity costs imposed by poor IEQ in commercial buildings. This fact is not surprising, considering that we spend 90% of our time indoors, and the concentration of pollutants indoors is typically higher than outdoors. Measuring the exact financial impact of healthier, more comfortable and greener buildings is difficult. The costs of poor IEQ, including higher absenteeism and increased respiratory ailments, allergies and asthma, are hard to measure and have historically been “hidden” in sick days, lower productivity and medical costs.
Sustainable design and construction costs are becoming increasingly comparable to traditional construction costs. Additionally, owners of existing buildings can improve building performance (and cash flow) by implementing elements from green building standards, particularly energy efficiency improvements. Going green may not just be the environmentally responsible thing to do, it may help you “save some green” as well!