The Future is a Bright Shade of Green
The impact of sustainable construction and green certifications on building
By Kyle Abney
If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there? We can all agree that green building has come a long way, but it’s harder to gain consensus on what the future state will be. Increased consumer awareness and demand, incentives, access to sustainable materials and improved performance technology all point to the fact that green building has arrived and is here to stay.
My initial introduction to the concept of sustainable construction was in 1999 as a first semester graduate student at the University of Florida. Nearly 25 years later, the industry has come a long way from calling bike racks installations and low-VOC paints green building. The priority of green building in governmental policies indicates that buildings play a crucial role in our efforts to achieve net-zero emissions. Additionally, buildings are an obvious target for both companies and individuals to reduce their environmental footprint and to help combat climate change. These are two driving forces for increased demand in green building.
Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Influence
Of particular interest in the multifamily residential sector is the push for green certifications from equity partners looking to fulfill ESG reporting, goals and interests of companies. ESG factors are considered when investing so individuals and companies can put their money into stocks that will have a positive impact and provide a financial return. According to a 2019 survey by the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing, 85 percent of United States investors now express interest in sustainable investing, while half have factored in attributes like the sustainability of a business into their investment decisions. Overall, this shows that people want to improve the environmental and social impact of their investments.
I hope to see a day where green building practices are not the exception but the norm.”
Green building certifications provide a framework for building projects that are more efficient, less polluting and healthier for their occupants. With consumer interest increasing, green building certifications are an attractive option to meet the growing demand for ESG reporting. By supporting certified buildings, companies can save money, improve efficiency, lower carbon emissions and create healthier places for people to live and work. Further, certified green buildings are critical to addressing climate change, enhancing resilience and supporting more equitable communities. All important factors for ESG investors.
The number of green building organizations, certifications and credentials can be overwhelming. Many struggle to understand what options are available. Launched in 1990, the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) was the first green building rating system in the world. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) followed suit and developed its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system shortly after. Originally developed for Canada, Green Building Initiative (GBI) helped to make Green Globes available for use in the U.S. Additional rating systems have been developed that were influenced by these early programs but tailored to their own national priorities and requirements. The National Green Building Standard (NGBS) offers rating systems for single-family, multifamily, remodeling and land development projects. WELL and the Living Building Challenge are two more national programs that are increasing in use, while there are dozens of smaller, more regional programs throughout the U.S. that should also be considered when choosing a program to pursue.
Like building codes, green building certifications are always in a state of change and evolution. They continue to be refined to reflect new standards and goals for achieving ever higher levels of sustainability. I hope to see a day where green building practices are not the exception but the norm. Will that be when fundamental principles of building sustainably are code and not an optional third-party certification? Perhaps, but the desire from owners and developers for some sort of certification to differentiate their assets will remain.
A Final Thought
While certification is not the only way for a building to be green, it is a helpful indicator that the building was designed and built with the goal of mitigating its impact on the natural environment. The thorough process of third-party certification can provide the needed validation and credibility to the occupants, investors and the marketplace, proving that sustainability was implemented properly. The focus though must remain on making meaningful and measurable improvements in how we design and construct buildings for a sustainable future, and not just checking boxes on a certification scorecard.
Kyle Abney is Principal of Abney + Abney Green Solutions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.