CAN GREEN BUILDING DESIGN SOLVE OUR NATION’S BUILDING ENERGY CRISIS?


Currently, the overall state of the country and the world is at risk and close to the point of no return. Firstly, average temperatures across the planet have risen 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit since 1890. Climate change is a major issue because our environment has seen catastrophic changes in the last century. Concentrations of CO2 have risen from 280ppm to 395ppm since 1890. CO2 is currently rising at a rate of 2ppm every year which is quickly approaching the aforementioned point of no return. (Friedman) A major component of CO2 emissions in the United States is our building infrastructure. Buildings account for 39% of CO2 emissions and consume 70% of the electricity load in the U.S. Furthermore, CO2 emissions from buildings are projected to grow faster than any other sector in the next 25 years. 15 million new buildings are project to be constructed by 2015.

Building green is one of the best strategies to meet the challenges revolving around climate change. Recently a new credit system was implemented to reduce energy produced by buildings by the United States Green Building Council. This credit system, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) consists of a system that encourages the construction of green buildings.

There are many reasons for a commercial building owner to acquire LEED certification for their building. These advantages include improved operating costs, life-cycle costs, attractiveness for tenants, happier employees, and improved public relations for owners. Today, an upfront investment of 2% in green buildings has proven on average to result in life cycle savings of 20% of total construction costs.

LEED’s first rating system was released in 2000, but since has gone through many iterations and today exists as LEED 2012. LEED has improved its standards over the years and made them more stringent. In 2009, the USGBC responded to concerns on energy usage of its certified buildings by requiring all owners to report their energy usage for a five-year period upon receiving certification (Slavin, 2011).

Today over 137,000 LEED registered and certified projects exist and LEED is widely accepted as the most effective green building rating system. Overall LEED is improving energy consumption and CO2 emissions in the United States and is also raising awareness for green building design. Although the USGBC has taken strides in the right direction it can still improve its system of accreditation. Improvements include requiring recertification every five years indefinitely based on specific standards that incorporate sustainability and improved energy efficiency. As the U.S moves forward it must increase the policy associated with requiring LEED certification to help enforce a green infrastructure for our nation.

While many groups advocate for LEED design, there has been a lot of criticism to the LEED design process. Most of the criticism of LEED mainly revolves around the gap between design and construction, which LEED certifies, and how some buildings actually perform. In a study completed by the USGBC in 2008 it was found that of 121 new buildings certified through 2006, more than half did not qualify for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star label.

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