The Green Building Story in 2019 (and Beyond)

The future of green homes means telling a better story

By SARAH STANLEY

Since 2006, the green homes market has seen a consistent increase in green home construction and with the number of single-family and multifamily builders with a high level of green building activity expected to grow through 2022, signs point to a promising future . The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED green building rating system has been the go-to framework for designing, constructing, and operating green homes.

Today, there are more than 513,000 single- family, multifamily, and affordable housing units that have achieved LEED certification. USGBC has also seen a 19 percent increase in the number of certified residential units since 2017, with states like California, Washington, Colorado and Oregon among the top 10 in terms of the number of certifications.

As green homes become more common, what do builders need to know moving forward?

While the future of the green homes industry looks bright, consumers still don’t necessarily recognize the full spectrum of benefits green homes offer. A recent report from USGBC, called Standard Issue Volume II, surveyed 1,850 adults across the U.S. and revealed that 39 percent of respondents have never considered or do not know how the buildings they spend their time in impact the environment and their health. The research is part of USGBC’s Living Standard initiative, which explores how people feel about sustainability, the environment, and green building through the lens of language and storytelling.

As green homes become more common, what do builders need to know moving forward?

The lack of awareness among the broader public is an opportunity for green homebuilders to tell a better story to help scale demand. According to the research, 82 percent of respondents believe environmental problems are very or somewhat important. Furthermore, the top reasons for demanding action on environmental problems were “our families deserve to inherit a safe, healthy environment” and “environmental problems are already causing unhealthy air and drinking water, which hurt me and my family’s health today.” So, while the general public doesn’t understand the role that green buildings can play in improving their health and wellness, the good news is that most people believe environmental problems are important – they just don’t believe these issues are important enough to make action a priority or feel the agency to make their circumstances better.

The research suggests that the simplest way to connect with others around the importance of green buildings is to frame the conversation around people and the health, safety, and well-being of their friends and families. And the building industry can play a critical role in shaping the future of green homes by connecting people to their spaces, framing the benefits of green homes around the issues, and helping potential buyers understand how green homes allow them to live healthier, more sustainable lives.

The report includes an Action Toolkit, which provides resources for how to carry the message about the importance of green building into the broader public. The use of LEED to create living spaces where people can thrive, combined with storytelling that goes beyond construction and efficiency, has the potential to elevate the value of green homes to new heights while also improving the standard of living for many.

A better quality of life is ultimately what a green home offers. In Hatch, New Mexico, the El Camino Real Apartments show how green design can benefit some of the most vulnerable populations. The project’s goal was to have no or very low utility bills so residents could save money and put it toward other needs, and so the design team identified methods of reducing energy and offsetting needs with alternative or renewable energy sources. In addition, most residents do not have health insurance and must use the emergency room as their primary form of care, which is hard on families and a burden on the healthcare system. So, the project also focused on creating an indoor environment with good air quality to promote better health. LEED supported the design team in finding ways to not only demonstrate environmental responsibility, but also put people at the heart of its design.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, the Owens family felt strongly about redesigning their home to be a healthy, sustainable, and high-performing space. The single-family home now includes 42 PV panels producing enough energy to power the 2,662 square foot residence and two cars. During deconstruction, the owners packaged salvageable fixtures, appliances and materials for Habitat for Humanity showing that homebuilding has the ability to do more for the community.

One of the most important investments a person will make is in their home and the quality of these spaces has a direct impact on their health and well-being. Raising awareness about how the benefits of green homes go beyond long-term cost savings and environmental benefits will be vital to continuing to elevate their importance. Growing the green homes market means helping potential buyers and communities to discover a better living standard.

Sarah Stanley is the Director of Communications for the United States Green Building Council. To learn more, visit usgbc.org.