Green buildings are part of a global response to increasing awareness of the role of human activity in causing global climate change. Buildings account for more than 40% of all global carbon dioxide emissions, one of the main culprits implicated in the phenomenon of global warming. Many observers predict that half of the new buildings over the next three decades will occur in China alone, some 220 billion square feet of new space for residential, commercial and industrial uses. Without a focus on energy-efficient and green buildings, we have no chance for tackling global climate change.
A building’s “life” spans its planning; its design, construction and operation; and its ultimate reuse or demolition. Often, the entity responsible for design, construction, and initial financing of a building is different from those operating the building, meeting its operational expenses, and paying employees’ salaries and benefits. However, the decisions made at the first phase of building design and construction can significantly affect the costs and efficiencies of later phases.
Viewed over a typical 30-year period, operations and maintenance costs of buildings are three times greater than the initial cost of construction. Therefore, life-cycle cost analysis – an increasingly accepted analytical method that calculates costs over the “useful” or anticipated life of an asset – reveals that low up-front expenditures, though easier to finance at building inception, can result in much higher costs over the life of a building or system. Choosing an air-conditioning system with the lowest capital cost, for example, may prove to be a poor life-cycle decision, when energy costs over the useful life of the system is factored into the analysis.
Understanding Green Buildings
What do we mean when we speak of green buildings or high-performance buildings?
A green building, refers to any building that meets the high standards set forth in the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, the pre-eminent metric system by which new buildings are judged to be environmentally conscious or the European version Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM).
According to the USGBC, these buildings incorporate design and construction practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of buildings on the environment and occupants in five broad areas:
- Sustainable site planning.
- Safeguarding water and water efficiency.
- Energy efficiency and renewable energy.
- Conservation of materials and resources.
- Indoor environmental quality.
LEED provides for four levels of certification, in ascending order of achievement: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. In Singapore I took cognizance of advances made by Building and Construction Authority when I attended BEX Asia in October 2009 – South-East Asia's Building Exhibition for an eco-friendly future, which was designed to offer a one-stop-shop for the building trade who is increasingly looking for environmentally friendly solutions to meet Green certified ratings. Over 100 key players from around the world showcased the newest in revolutionary Green building products and services .The exhibition hosted a foray of the latest cement technologies, thermal insulations, adhesives and tiles, industrial flooring and power systems to interior finishes, lightings and sanitary wares - all committed to increasing energy and water efficiency, improving environmental protection, bettering indoor environmental quality and promoting sustainability and waste reduction. On the other hand, at the eco-building conference in March 2010 at SVICC, there were just ten exhibitors. It did raise awareness of current green projects in Mauritius, such as MCB new Headquarters at Ebene, however, there are far too few of them.
What determines the cost of a green building?
- First and foremost, it depends on what the design team and owner are trying to achieve. If it’s a LEED Platinum building, they most likely will use green roofs (i.e. covered with plants) and photo-voltaic panels, two expensive additions to a project that may not be included in a LEED Silver or possibly even a LEED Gold project.
- Second, it depends how early in the process the project decides to pursue sustainable design and construction. It is best if that decision is made as early as possible, even during the site selection process, so that a building can be properly oriented, with a rectangular shape that allows for good day lighting and efficient passive solar design measures.
- Third, it depends still on the experience of the design and construction team with green buildings; the more experience, the less the cost premium based on both fear of the unknown and lack of knowledge about sourcing green products, for example. Less-experienced teams often use green building consultants to help them out with their first project, to accelerate the learning curve.
Benefits of Green Buildings
According to a report from Carnegie Mellon University analysing daytime lighting research, "Eleven case studies have shown that innovative natural lighting systems can pay for themselves in less than one year due to energy and productivity benefits."
The financial benefits of green buildings are many. They include reduced energy consumption and their associated costs, increased occupant productivity and worker retention, increased market values, and reduced health liability risks due to better indoor air quality. Hence, there is a compelling business case for taking a green building approach for new construction projects.
The most important reason for constructing high performance green buildings, however, is that they are an investment in the future and an essential component in realising Maurice "Iles Durables".
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Chartered Quantity Surveyor
BSc QS (Natal), MSc Project Management (UOM), MBA (Wits Univ.)