New Study Explores Value of 'Recycling' Old Buildings

New Study Explores Value of 'Recycling' Old Buildings

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Cascadia Green Building Council based in Seattle and the Green Building Services sustainable development consultancy of Portland, Ore., have launched a study to quantify the economic and environmental value of reusing existing buildings.

Adaptive reuse -- giving new life and purpose to old buildings -- is not new. Kirsten Ritchie, the director of sustainable design with Gensler, talked about the longtime practice in a 2009 podcast with

Former department stores, factories, transit terminals and military bases are frequently the sites of some of the more higher profile adaptive reuse projects. They capture headlines when they become luxury hotels, green, high-tech corporate headquarters and sustainably designed communities.

Scant research has been done, however, to demonstrate the value of such transformations.

The study planned by the three groups is expected to evaluate a range of buildings, including homes, to show what environmental impacts and other costs can be avoided by reusing an existing structure -- instead of razing it and building a new one. Buildings account for about 40 percent of all energy used in the U.S.

“We can’t build our way out of the climate change crisis. We have to conserve our way out, and this study provides us with a unique and crucial opportunity to help people understand the environmental value of building reuse,” said National Trust President Richard Moe in a statement. “Ultimately, it is our hope that this study will provide the green building industry, residential and commercial building owners, developers, and policy makers with the information they need to make informed choices about the reuse and retrofit of existing buildings.”

The study is made possible by a grant from the Summit Foundation and is expected to be completed in early 2011. 


San Francisco Ferry Building, once a transportation hub, now a bustling farmer’s market and food emporium -- Image CC licensed by Flickr user David Paul Ohmer.