The Recession’s Silver Lining? The growth of green and sustainable buildings

29 Oct

Last week we found glimmers of hope in the upcoming COP-16 meetings in Cancun; this week we continue the trend in a look at the state of the building and construction sectors. Despite the ongoing economic woes that have spared virtually no regions or industries, one field has been posting solid gains: green building and design. By all accounts it looks likely not only to weather the recession but also to emerge stronger on the other end.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation headquarters, a green building opened in 2001

A host of new studies indicate that the gloom of the overall housing market has not dampened the green building sector. Last year’s Green Building Market Impact Report found a 40% jump in LEED-certified square foot totals over the previous year, with predictions for continued robust growth. Comprising 800 million square feet in the U.S., green buildings have saved 15 billion gallons of water, 2.9 million tons of carbon dioxide and 25 million tons of waste. Additionally, the report predicted strong growth in China, India, the Middle East and Europe. A more recent projection estimated that “green building will continue to grow more than 60 percent in 2010,” in spite of stagnation of the housing and credit industries.

These studies have heartening implications for the wider field of sustainable growth and environmental remediation, particularly in the field of GHG emission control and green development. In the absence of expansive, top-down mandates such as the one that the COP-15 failed to provide, cities, municipalities and business groups are shouldering some of the burden. Using a series of incentives and tax write-offs – such as these offered by the City of Seattle – cities are realizing a double benefit from encouraging green building. Such development not only brings much-needed employment, but the long-term savings in utilities, health and pollution are now starting to offset the up-front construction costs. In a recent profile of Casa Feliz, a new green affordable housing development in San Jose, the Wall Street Journal put simply the bottom line: “Not only are green buildings better for the environment, but they make better financial sense, too…because they come with lower water and energy bills and lower tenant-turnover rates.”

 

A LEED Platinum certified house in Santa Monica, CA

In the otherwise continuous flow of grim and dispiriting news on the global environment and climate change efforts, the rosy horizon for the green and sustainable building industry is a significant point of hope.

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