What Green Steps Have You Taken Lately?
It’s estimated that more than one billion people will take part in this week’s annual Earth Day celebration. Launched in 1970 and celebrated every year on April 22, a lot has changed in Earth Day’s four-plus decades of influence. Individually, we’ll seek out products that are sustainable or green, we don’t think twice about placing pop cans and old newspapers into a green bin, and biking or commuting to work is not such a far-out idea (especially considering the ever-rising cost of gas).
In our industry, energy-efficient building systems, low VOC materials, and sustainable building products, are transforming the marketplace. The U.S. green building market has grown in value from $10 billion in 2005 to $78 billion in 2011 and is projected to rise to nearly $248 billion by 2016, according to McGraw-Hill Construction's “2013 Dodge Construction Green Outlook” report.
A driving force in the awareness and implementation of green building design—whether or not you commit the time and finances to certification—has been the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program. According to the USGBC, the industry sectors with the highest penetration of green building are education, healthcare and office. As of March 2013, nearly 2.5 billion square feet of building space was LEED-certified.
Some of the considerations in going green are the potential in energy and water savings. Buildings are one of the heaviest consumers of natural resources and energy and account for significant CO2 emissions and electricity consumption. Green buildings, on the other hand, can be designed to consume less energy and water, which in turn can lower operating and maintenance costs, lead to higher occupant satisfaction, and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
While statistics offer a compelling argument, it’s also good to look at some real-world examples of green building making a difference in our industry.
• St. Vincent Fishers Hospital, a 110,000 square foot inpatient expansion to St. Vincent Medical Center Northeast, opened this month in Fishers, Ind. Marking the first hospital in Indiana and the 17th in the nation to register for LEED for Healthcare (LEED-HC) certification, the facility reports a 14 percent improvement in energy savings compared to industry standards.
• Harvard University reminds us that a project can focus on one specific aspect of a facility’s design. In this case, it was greening its dining services. By making changes to such elements as refrigeration controls, exhaust fan controls, dishwashing equipment, and refrigeration waste heat capture, $245,000 in annual utility savings was achieved.
• Relying on creative design to solve a problem, Palomar Medical Center found itself with two football fields worth of wavy roof, which was going to create a lot of sun radiation hitting that roof and reflecting into the nursing tower, which would in turn drive up energy consumption in order to cool the tower. Designers installed a green roof, complete with native flora, to reduce the solar radiation by almost 30 percent and save an estimated $1 million-$1.5 million in energy costs.
Fortunately, the list could go on with projects that are taking steps—both big and small—to improve efficiency, lower consumption, and lessen their overall environmental impact. It’s a transformation I’ll enjoy following over the years until green is no longer the exception but the norm.