Green Buildings

According to the Green Building Council, buildings in the United States account for 70% of the United States’ electricity usage, 40% of raw materials, 39% of carbon dioxide emissions, 39% of energy use, 30% of waste output and 12% of potable water consumption. In addition, the non-permeable nature of buildings increase storm water run off and increase the temperature of the water entering rivers (such as the Willamette River), adversely affecting salmon and other species. Thus, buildings have a significant environmental impact.

A “green” building is one that is designed, constructed and operated in such a way that uses the space within the building more efficiently, uses construction materials that are more sustainable (which includes the methods of extraction, construction and transportation), improves indoor air quality, and includes design features that result in a reduction of operating expenses through improved energy efficiency, reduced water usage and diminished storm water run off.

The typical way for a building to become “green” is to include features in the building that satisfy the rating requirements promulgated by the Green Building Council known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or “LEED”. This is a nationally accepted standard in which a third party certification process is used pertaining to the design, construction and operation of “green” buildings. There are various levels of LEED certification that can be obtained (Silver, Gold and Platinum) based upon the number of points a building obtains in various categories of sustainable practices. These categories are: (i) sustainable sites, (ii) water efficiency, (iii) energy and atmosphere, (iv) materials and resources, (v) indoor air quality, and (vi) innovation in design. Each category is further subdivided and points can be awarded with respect to each subdivision. The more points a building obtains, the higher the level of the LEED certification.

While a “green” building may be more “sustainable” than a non-green building, it may not be more energy efficient (i.e., a building’s “green” status may come from it being built with “green” materials and its encouragement of alternative modes of transportation rather than energy efficiency).

LEED has also developed standards for “green” building management practices through its program for Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance (commonly known as EBOM). The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) are developing an energy labeling program that focuses on more sustainable HVAC systems.