Bringing the Benefits of Green Building to Everyone

Bringing the Benefits of Green Building to Everyone

More than a decade ago the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit coalition of 16,000-plus member companies and organizations from throughout the building industry, launched the LEED green building certification program -- a voluntary program that defines high-performance green buildings.

Since then, LEED has certified more than 13,500 green commercial buildings and homes with nearly 60,000 more seeking certification.

Today, 42 percent of all LEED-certified homes qualify as low-income housing, thanks in large part to a grant from The Home Depot Foundation that helps affordable housing projects achieve certification.

But much work remains to be done to extend the benefits of green homes to everyone who wants them. Numerous studies show that affordable green housing is not only beneficial for low-income households, but also the businesses that build them and the environment.

First, affordable green homes provide healthier and more comfortable living environments. Inhabitants of low-income housing have disproportionately higher rates of asthma and upper respiratory diseases.

However, studies demonstrate that people in green buildings have 40-60 percent fewer incidents of colds, flu and asthma due to access to fresh air, better ventilation systems and use of non-toxic paint and furniture.

Affordable green homes also result in significant cost savings for low-income renters and owners. Low-income families typically spend 17 percent of their income on energy bills each year. But due to environmentally sound practices inherent in green design, affordable green homes have lower energy and water bills.

Second, investing in affordable green housing also makes good business sense. Studies show that green design, construction and operations can be achieved without any additional upfront costs and can result in lifecycle savings of 20 percent of the total construction cost. In addition, use of durable, sustainable materials in construction can further decrease operating and maintenance costs.

Third, buildings -- including affordable housing units -- account for over 40 percent of total energy consumption and produce 39 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions. Affordable green homes reduce the environmental impact of residential units through sustainable design and construction and use of energy- and resource-efficient materials. Affordable green homes built in green communities also reduce sprawl and the resulting environmental impact by providing easier access to shopping, jobs, recreation and public transportation.

At USGBC, we believe that affordable green housing is not just an environmental issue but a social imperative. True sustainability promotes the triple bottom line: economic, environmental and social prosperity.

That is why in 2008 USGBC added “Foster Social Equity” as an organizational Guiding Principle. And as part of this year’s Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, taking place Nov 17-19 in Chicago, Ill., USGBC, Habitat for Humanity Lake County and Bank of America have teamed up to build two affordable green homes in Lake Country, Ill. Currently, both homes are aiming to achieve LEED for Homes Platinum certification-- the highest certification for residential buildings.

There are many remarkable non-profits, community groups, foundations, government agencies and businesses working to advance the cause of green building and affordable housing. On November 16, the Affordable Housing Summit at Greenbuild will convene these diverse groups for a robust conversation on innovative policy efforts as well as proven design and construction techniques aimed at ensuring long-term affordability and improving living conditions through green building for low-income families across the country.

The Affordable Housing Summit offers attendees a momentous opportunity, as Generation Green, to work towards redefining a socially equitable and environmentally responsible future for all. Learn more about the Affordable Housing Summit at www.greenbuildexpo.org/affordable.

Nate Kredich is the vice president for Residential Development for the U.S. Green Building Council.

Images courtesy of USGBC.