Green Commercial Buildings

A green commercial building, also known as a sustainable or high performance building, is one that is built using environmentally friendly and resource efficient processes.
Photo credit: Eric Kilby

Green building is defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as, “the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction. This practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort.”

Green Building Standards

Many standards exist for green building. Two of the most well known are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), an international green building rating system, and Green Globes, a rating system for Canadian and American green buildings.

In the United States, the EPA administers the ENERGY STAR program, which is not a green building standard, but rather an energy standard for buildings. Other international green building rating systems and standards include BREEAM, SB Tool, and CASBEE, just to name a few.

In the U.S., many states have their own green building standards. A Public-Private Partnership for Advancing Housing Technology has a helpful database of standards by state, which you can find here.
While each standard and rating system is different, most address some or all of the components of green building, which according to the EPA, include:

• Energy efficiency and renewable energy

• Water efficiency

• Environmentally preferable materials and specs

• Waste reduction

• Toxics reduction

• Indoor air quality

• Smart growth and sustainable development

LEED, for example, is a points-based rating system for green buildings and buildings can earn points in various categories related to the aforementioned components. A higher point score leads to a higher LEED rating. LEED uses multiple credit categories that aim to address these principles of green building. The major ones are:

• Sustainable Sites

• Water Efficiency

• Energy and Atmosphere

• Materials and Resources

• Indoor Environmental Quality

• Innovation in Design

Green Building Costs

The main criticism of green buildings is the cost. Green buildings generally cost more up-front than their conventional counterparts. However, because green buildings are more energy efficient and/or produce their own energy via on-site renewable energy, they typically produce monetary savings over their life cycle.

According to “The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Buildings”, a free report by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative for the State of California Sustainable Building Task force:
“While the environmental and human health benefits of green building have been widely recognized, this comprehensive report confirms that minimal increases in upfront costs of about 2% to support green design would, on average, result in life cycle savings of 20% of total construction costs -- more than ten times the initial investment.

For example, an initial upfront investment of up to $100,000 to incorporate green building features into a $5 million project would result in a savings of $1 million in today's dollars over the life of the building."

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