Sustainable building – Why is there Resistance to it in the Industry?

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Sustainable building – Why is there Resistance to it in the Industry?

The idea of sustainable building or “green building” has been around for decades, yet there is resistance to using these practices.  Why is that?

Before answering that question let’s look at exactly what we are talking about when we say sustainable building.  This refers to the design and construction of buildings that are environmentally responsible and resource efficient throughout a building’s life cycle.  To do this designers and builders look at:

  • Efficient use of energy, water and other resources.
  • Material choices
  • Reduction of waste, pollution and environmental degradation.
  • Indoor air quality and occupant health.

To give you an example of what we are talking about, let’s look at a building in my home town of Louisville, KY.  The building is appropriately called “The Green Building”.  The building was opened in the fall of 2008 and is the first commercial building in Louisville to achieve LEED platinum level.

sustainable-building-1

So why is there resistance to incorporating sustainable building practices?

CostThis seems to be the biggest reason people resist pursuing sustainable building design and construction.  Many of the materials and systems in a green building do cost more.  But the cost of dollars, does that compare to the cost at the expense of our environment?

I have seen cost first-hand when I am quoting a truss job that requires FSC certified lumber.  In most cases the lumber cost can be double the cost of “standard lumber”.  In this very competitive building market, builders are trying to generate the most competitive bid they can and many times the “green” items get removed.  In researching this topic, I have seen numerous studies that suggest the upfront costs are <2% of traditional building costs.  Many people get scared away from a green building due to the perceived notion that the cost will be prohibitive.  Whatever the number may be, green buildings are designed to offset these upfront costs with the operating efficiencies you will see over the life cycle of a building.

Too much work –  Let’s face it, most people don’t like change.  I think that many builders get in to the “That’s the way I have always done it, and it works for me” mode.  Designing a sustainable building does require a change in one’s thinking.  Your knowledge base must be expanded, certifications may need to be obtained and your network of suppliers expanded.  It takes some effort to make these changes and many don’t have the desire to do it.

sustainable-building-2

Outside the box – Sustainable building practices and ideas are different from traditional methods.  You are looking at designs to incorporate natural lighting and ventilation, green roofs, geothermal systems, and rainwater harvesting to name a few.   Some of the ideas may seem a bit “out there” for some people and so they choose to stick to the old standards and what they know.  Some green buildings can look a little “funky” and I think may be a turn off for some people.

What has your experience been with sustainable building?  Were you resistant to it?  What was the end result?  I look forward to hearing from you.

Bill Hoover – Design Professional

Gould Design, Inc

2 comments

  1. Another conflict is IEQ c2 – Increased ventilation conflicts with EAp2 and c1.
    But the biggest challenge is the ROI for LEED is too far out for many building developers that are looking to flip projects, followed closely by the complications that arise from keeping logs for M&R and documentation for IEQ. Also CxA costs upwards of $60K here for fundamental Cx. Many building owners aren’t willing to pay that just to have a plaque saying they’re Green. And now that Maryland requires IECC 2012 to get a building permit it takes some of the benefit out of being a LEED AP. Since the IECC requires many of the LEED credits as a baseline to getting a permit developers won’t pay for a LEED bldg since something close to that is already required for a permit.
    There should be more emphasis on the bottom line and ROI. The safety and health related points are expensive and therefore counter-productive.

  2. The challenges with the LEED system is that it was created with individual systems that sometimes oppose each other. For example is the use of metal studs and not wood studs. This is supposedly to reduce the carbon foot print, but wood sequesters carbon. Thus, a wood framed building may actually decrease a carbon foot print. Then designers and contractors start to design/build to get points. Sometimes items are added to projects simply to get the points to acheive ratings. The LEED system needs to be revamped with the emphasis on saving money based upon the entire life of the building. Or some other way.