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Why building green can equal saving green

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Designing what is commonly known today as a “green,” or sustainable, project used to be considered outside the realm of reason. An office was an office, and adding in new technologies for the benefit of happy workers? Not worth the price.

But as technology has improved, so have prices. It is no longer considered too expensive to build a sustainable facility … in many cases, it is considered too expensive not to build with this goal in mind. The industry-wide acceptance of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards has both designers and owners recognizing that following the concept of the LEED guidelines requires a conscious shift in thinking. These sustainable goals affect all aspects of a project, from the engineered systems to the architectural finishes.

What is LEED?

LEED is a points-based sustainable building certification system with a total of 69 points available in six categories. The U.S. Green Building Council (usgbc.org) provides the rating system, the predominant standard in the country.

The true cost of sustainability

Of course, because it is more than a standard improvement, there is an unavoidable added initial cost to building a sustainable facility, but as the types of improvements being made become more commonplace, the industry is seeing a drop in prices -- an average of less than 10 percent in terms of a pricing difference.

This difference is affected by many factors including project location, level of sustainability desired, building construction type and the building’s intended use.

Not just about money

Sustainable design and construction is not just a way to save money or win awards. It’s about the health of the people who inhabit the finished product. Using paint, sealant and carpeting that contains significantly lower or no solvents provides a building that is already healthier than most when the occupants move in because of improved air quality. The other big area of opportunity as it applies to user’s health is the use of natural lighting.

More often than not, the links between productivity and a “healthier building” aren’t even factored into the return on investment, but the argument is strong: People working in buildings designed with sustainability in mind are less likely to call in sick and thereby are more productive -- resulting in a stronger bottom line for the company.

The role of designers

Part of our responsibility lies in offering our knowledge about new design opportunities to clients, regardless of whether they choose to take advantage of them. We may not be the ultimate decision makers on projects, but we should act as the facilitators of the sustainability building process.

The tough first steps have already been taken; the design and construction industry has accepted sustainable projects as the new norm. The project owners and general public are getting educated and are beginning to expect sustainable design on every project.

In the not too distant future there may be no LEED certifications. Building codes will require these practices, and project developers will expect sustainable design and construction practices as the default. The cost premium will disappear, and it will become like many other changes within our industry: accepted as the baseline standard.

Submitted by Frank Ternasky, principal of Architects | Delawie Wilkes Rodrigues Barker

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