Skip to main content

Sustainable Solutions: The Impact of the Green Building Movement

Global demand for energy has been growing at a rate far above our current production capacity. This differential has resulted in a diminished supply of spare resources and a spike in prices. The problem is not necessarily caused by a lack of resources, but a lack of cost-effective resources. We are nearing depletion of easily accessible oil, and, as a result, will be forced to turn to other, more expensive options. Some of these options include deep-sea drilling, production in areas of political unrest, extraction from tar sands and heavy oil, which is a type of crude oil that is challenging to produce.

Conventional Building Facts
  • The commercial office building industry in the U.S. spends approximately $24 billion annually on energy costs.
  • Energy represents the single largest controllable operating expense for office buildings, typically contributing as much as a third of a building's variable expenses.
  • A 30 percent reduction in energy consumption, or $7.2 billion, is readily achievable by improving building operation standards.
  • (Source: Green Building SmartMarket Report, 2006, McGraw Hill Construction)
These options are far more costly to pursue and therefore contribute to energy price increases. Another option is to turn to other types of fossil fuels: coal and natural gas. However, these alternatives have met with strong public opposition. Coal mining can have detrimental effects on the environment, specifically through methods such as mountain-top removal. Natural gas requires receiving terminals in our ports, which pose the risk of liquefied natural gas fireballs. However, even if we manage to shift our dependency to other fossil fuels, we will start to run out by the end of the century. As energy consumption continues to rise, it is imperative that we find a way to live without a reliance on fossil fuels to protect the planet's climate and preserve the fuels for future generations.

The Benefits of Green

There are many reasons to build and operate your facilities in an energy-efficient manner, and as the costs of building green decreases, these are appearing more commonly in news reports and the public dialogue.

Often the number one motivation, reduced energy costs are a major benefit. Measuring, monitoring, and automating your building systems ensure equipment is only in use when it is needed and that all operations are at peak efficiency.

But improving the working environment for your staff members can have a significant impact on their productivity. Green buildings offer better daylighting, outdoor views, and indoor air quality. A healthy work environment can help to attract new employees as well as contribute to reduced employee turnover. Due to the healthier environment provided by green buildings, you can anticipate less illness and therefore reduced absenteeism.

Along these same lines, green buildings can be more comfortable as well as conducive to higher productivity. They can reduce drafts, minimize floor-to-ceiling temperature stratification, and control noise. Furthermore, many green buildings enable tighter control of individual spaces/offices, thus meeting the diverse needs of occupants. Individuals often benefit psychologically from knowing they have control over their workspace environment. And recent studies have found that green building features such as daylighting, noise control and outdoor views increase learning rates.

By reducing a building's operating costs, the net operating income of that building is also increased. According to the New Buildings Institute, increasing a building's net operating income increases the building's appraised value by ten times the annual cost savings. Property value may not be the highest priority for public entities' facilities, but they should bear in mind the impact that their property values have on the surrounding community.

Green Makes Sense, Financially and Socially
__ Lower Energy
__ Increased Productivity
__ Increased Property Value
__ Reduced Liability
__ Enhanced Comfort
__ Improved Learning
__ Positive Public Image
__ Reduced Demand on Municipal Services
__ Reduced Erosion
__ Contributes to Community
There is also a reduced risk of liability from green buildings, especially lowering risk from lawsuits over mold and other health issues. Through the use of moisture control detailing, pollution- and contamination-rejection strategies, and ventilation tactics, green buildings are healthier for occupants. Americans spend 85 to 95 percent of their time indoors, so the quality of the indoor environment is extremely important.

For building owners and companies looking to create or renovate facilities, green buildings are increasingly seen as providing a positive public image. Operating efficient buildings improves public image through positive media coverage, which can result in increased community support for your organization.

Municipalities are increasingly recognizing the importance of moving to greener buildings both for their own facilities but also for companies and individuals in cities and towns. From the city of Greensburg, Kan., which mandated LEED-platinum certification for all new buildings over 4,000 square feet in the wake of a devastating tornado, to green building codes springing up across the U.S., green buildings typically have lower energy and water usage, reducing both your cost as well as overall demand for these utilities. In areas where these services are at or near capacity, this can be a very significant benefit. Additionally, site management, landscaping and other features of green buildings can dramatically offset the potentially negative local environmental impacts of construction, like erosionand increased storm water runoff as a result of building more impervious surfaces.

Seven Simple Ways to Reduce Facility Operating Costs
  1. Replace fluorescent 40W-T12 lamps with 32W-T8 lamps and electronic ballasts.
    Not only are T8 lamps with electronic ballasts more energy-efficient than the standard T12 lamps and ballasts, they also provide better quality lighting due to a higher color rendering index.
  2. Replace incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps.
    Compact fluorescent lamps use approximately 1/3 to 1/4 of the wattage of incandescent bulbs while maintaining the same lighting levels. Furthermore, compact fluorescents have a lifetime of up to 10,000 hours compared with 1,000 hours for most incandescent bulbs.
  3. Replace incandescent or fluorescent exit sign lights with LEDs.
    The law requires that exit signs run continuously. Light emitting diodes (LEDs) operate on about 2W compared with 40W incandescent bulbs and 10-15W fluorescent lamps.
  4. Use occupancy sensors in areas where lighting is typically left on when no one is there.
    Occupancy sensors ensure that the lights are turned off when an area is not occupied. The energy savings from occupancy sensors depends on the total hours that the lights are normally on and the percentage of hours that they can be turned off.
  5. Install programmable thermostats.
    Programmable thermostats can be used to schedule the use of your heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment. They set up or set back temperatures when the facility is not being used. A reasonable and often-used estimate of savings is 1 percent savings for each degree of an eight-hour setback.
  6. As motors burn out, replace them with energy-efficient ones.
    Standard motors use a lot of energy to operate and, by increasing efficiency just a few percentage points, you can save a significant amount of money in the course of a year, especially if the motor operates for long durations of time.
  7. Instead of rewinding existing motors, replace them with energy-efficient ones.
    Rewinding motors can lower efficiency and increase operating costs. They also may not last as long as newer motors. Therefore, when the motor is less than 25 hp, it is generally better to replace the motor with a high-efficiency equivalent rather than rewind it.
Overview of Worldwide Environmental Agencies and Certifications

The U.S. Green Building Council: The U.S. Green Building Council is a national, non-profit organization that works to "promote the design and construction of buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy places to live and work" (USGBC Mission Statement). The USGBC created the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design ® (LEED) Green Building Rating System. LEED was fashioned to provide a standard of measurement for defining a "green" building. It takes a whole-building approach that encourages and guides a collaborative, integrated design and construction process. The program evaluates and recognizes performance of your buildings in accepted green design categories-Energy & Atmosphere, Water Efficiency, Materials & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality and Sustainable Sites.

Buildings are given a certification rating based on the number of points they receive in their evaluation. The four levels of LEED certification include: Certified Level, Silver Level, Gold Level, and Platinum Level. By becoming certified, building owners are given third-party validation of their contribution to the environment; qualify for various state and local government incentives; contribute to the growing knowledge base; receive a LEED certification plaque and official certificate; and receive marketing exposure through the USGBC website, case studies, and media announcements. LEED certification is a great way to show your community the steps you are taking to conserve energy and preserve our natural resources. (

Energy Star Program: Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices. Results are already adding up. Americans, with the help of Energy Star, saved enough energy in 2005 alone to avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 23 million cars -- all the while saving $12 billion on their utility bills.

Because a strategic approach to energy management can produce twice the savings -- for the bottom line and the environment -- as typical approaches, the EPA's Energy Star partnership offers a proven energy management strategy that helps in measuring current energy performance, setting goals, tracking savings, and rewarding improvements.

The EPA provides an innovative energy performance rating system which businesses have already used for more than 26,000 buildings across the country. The EPA also recognizes top performing buildings with the Energy Star. (

Building Research Establishment, Ltd.: Created by Building Research Establishment Ltd. In the United Kingdom, the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) provides a methodology to assess office, home, industrial, retail and school buildings. Criteria is divided into nine performance areas; management, energy use, pollution, health, transport, land use, ecology, materials and water. BREEAM provides four ratings, from "Pass" to "Excellent." (

BREEAM Assessment Areas
__ Management: overall management policy, commissioning site management and procedural issues
__ Energy use: operational energy and carbon dioxide (CO2) issues
__ Health and well-being: indoor and external issues affecting health and well-being
__ Pollution: air and water pollution issues
__ Transport: transport-related CO2 and location-related factors
__ Land use: greenfield and brownfield sites
__ Ecology: ecological value of conservation and site enhancement
__ Materials: environmental impact of building materials, including life-cycle impacts
__ Water: consumption and water efficiency

Japan Sustainable Building Consortium: The Japan Sustainable Building Consortium provides the Comprehensive Assessment System for Building Environmental Efficiency (CASBEE). Started in 2002, the program focuses on four categories: energy efficiency, resource efficiency, local environment and indoor environment. It calculates Building Environmental Efficiency (BEE) by dividing building environmental quality and performance by building loadings and grants five ratings, C, B, B+, A and S (excellent). Areas of evaluation are pre-design, new construction, existing building and renovation. (

GBCA's Green Star Projects
Green Star Projects = 17
6 Star Green Star Projects = 2
Ratings in Process = 64
Green Building Council Australia: Launched in 2003 by the Green Building Council Australia, the Green Star rating scale is based on six stars, with a rating of four through six providing official certification. The program includes rating tools for office design, office as builts, office interiors and a pilot tool for office assets. There are nine categories including, management, indoor environment quality, energy, transport, water, materials, land use, site selection and ecology, emissions and innovation. (

Partnering for a Solution

Many firms are committed to energy efficiency and sustainable building design and operations, but find the regulations to be complex, the technology complicated and implementation costly. One of the most effective solutions is to work with a company that has the expertise to assess your needs and help you create an overall plan. However, even locating the right company to work may seem overwhelming as you will find multiple options available.

There are many options, including energy consulting firms, Energy Services Companies (ESCOs), building automation providers and system integrators. As you assess potential candidates, you may want to use the following criteria as a starting point to help you evaluate their capabilities:
  • Proven track-record of results available through customer references.
  • Qualified staff with experience within your industry ensures that your provider will easily grasp your business needs and align strategies accordingly.
  • Expertise with a variety of energy and green strategies, including the ability to provide Performance Contracting or other ESCO services.
  • Comprehensive products portfolio that will ensure you receive a solution that best meets your needs, not just the only one in the provider's portfolio.
  • A tangible commitment to open technologies that will protect your capital investment.
  • Demonstrated integration expertise, required to implement overall building measurement, monitoring and reporting requirements.
Wes McDaniel is the vice president of TAC, Inc., a supplier of integrated building management systems.

Building photo licensed under the Creative Commons by tanakawho.

More on this topic

More by This Author