Like virtually every other segment of the global sustainability industry, green building technology can only advance with the support of the end user. Every new practice, every price drop and every advocacy program is dependent entirely on market demand -- and creating that involves reaching the folks who actually want to live and do business in an environmentally-friendly built environment.
This revelation really crystallizes a couple of essential points. First, customer demand will continue to drive the green building industry. Second, developers (the folks with the money) are relegated to a position of "chasing the market" -- that is, reacting to consumer demand and struggling to see what's on the horizon. (The building industry rewards forward-thinking developers, but their numbers are few.) Above all, it makes engaging the end user paramount to the future of the sustainable building industry.
I'm a real estate journalist; a large part of my job involves tracking the projects and announcements from some of the largest architecture and development firms in the US. Building "spec" without a tenant locked into the project is very, very risky -- so much so that the idea of a spec green building is almost completely nonexistent. Thus most green buildings are known as "build to suit" projects -- that is, they're designed and constructed for a specific tenant, often incorporating techniques and materials specified by that tenant. For the past two years, in almost every instance, the developers have built green mainly to satisfy the wishes of the tenant.
Generally, though, the green building industry doesn't market itself to the end user, but to the architects and others in the design community. Long a champions for combining sustainability and aesthetics, these professionals have become the de facto voices of the green building industry. With few exceptions, it's their job to evaluate sustainable building opportunities for a given project; taking advantage of these opportunities often this comes down to basic education and a healthy dose of browbeating.
Sometimes there's a cost premium associated with a green venture, but increasingly that amount is negligible, especially when one factors the associated costs into the lifetime operation of the building. A solar array, for example, might be pricey in the short run -- but if that "first cost" can be rationalized for the 30-year lifespan of the building, then it becomes much more reasonable.
Municipal regulation can also go a long way toward driving the green building industry. In Chicago, the Department of the Environment has established, the Chicago Standard, a rating tool used to ensure that new projects fit with the city's green mandates. The Chicago Standard approximates the U.S. Green Building Council's Silver-level certification and is currently required for all new city-owned building projects.
Last summer, the Windy City joined with Albuquerque, Miami and Seattle to adopt the Architecture 2030 Challenge, which sets out strict deadlines for reducing the carbon footprint of buildings, with a goal of making our built environment carbon neutral by 2030.
Still, the ultimate success of the green building industry will depend on education. The U.S. Green Building Council is its' most visible advocate here in the US; its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system is both robust and pervasive. And there are other resources that can give consumers and builders the know-how to ask tough questions and advance the movement:
Does anyone know if standard accounting procedures allow something like a solar array to be properly reflected in the balance sheet? Of course it will be represented, at its retail value, as part of the long term assets (part of the value of the building). But it is almost like a pre-paid expense as well, since it defrays other daily costs of doing business.
Thanks for this - I'll be sharing some of your points with friends. A couple of quick points about Green Globes that I have learned: a) Green Globes was founded by the timber industry and other trade associations. I find it hard to separate the self-interest of these groups from a mission that is truly green and b) the Green Globes certification process is not third-party verified. It is "self-certifying", so the petitioner never has their project subjected to a review of their peers who have no financial interest in the outcome of the review. Any USGBC LEED certifications, however, are the outcome of a review by third party experts -- which I believe greatly strengthens the credibility of the overall project.
Thanks for the interesting comments about Green Globes. I've never gone through the process myself, but architects I've spoken with say that the program sends out one or more representatives out to the site to verify the stuff on your list. LEED, on the other hand, conducts no on-site due diligence...it's all paperwork-based. This has given rise to a lot of criticism lately that the program is diluting itself. I hope to keep an eye on the debate here in this column.