How Buildings Impact the Environment
Green building may seem like a trendy way to be “environmentally friendly.” But it’s actually an important factor in lowering the negative impact we have on the environment. And green building doesn’t just have a big effect on the environment – it’s also beneficial to the people working within the building as well. Not to mention the impact it has on lowering overhead costs!
But before going into the benefits of green building, it’s important to understand how buildings have traditionally hurt the environment and how they have contributed to climate change over the years.
How Building Construction Affects the Environment
It’s not just the methods and materials used to construct a building that affects the environment. How it’s built to operate has a huge impact as well.
For example, using non-sustainable materials in the construction of the building has a temporary negative effect. The use of a non-efficient HVAC system will have a negative effect on the environment that’s long-term. The following are some of the major ways that building construction can hurt the environment, both in the short- and long-term:
Believe it or not, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), buildings account for an average of 41% of the world’s energy use. The two other biggest energy consumers don’t even come close. The industrial sector accounts for 30% while transportation accounts for 29%. Part of this is due to the huge amount of electricity that buildings tend to use. In the United States, buildings are responsible for 73% of the country’s electricity consumption.
So what is it that’s taking up so much energy? Well, it’s many things. A building’s lighting system, heating and cooling system and outlet use all contribute.
Impact on the Air
American building construction is responsible for a huge percentage of the greenhouse gas emissions that have been affecting climate change. In fact, the buildings are responsible for 38% of all CO2 emissions.
Buildings are responsible for not just a large percentage of the world’s water use, but a large percentage of wasted water as well. It’s estimated that buildings use 13.6% of all potable water, which is roughly 15 trillion gallons of water per year.
The materials used in building construction also have a serious impact on the environment. First of all, many of the materials used in the construction of buildings are produced in a non-sustainable way. The factories that make the materials produce damaging CO2 emissions.
Then there’s the issue of transportation. Materials that are not produced locally are often shipped from across the country or even from overseas. The transportation required for shipping these materials has a considerable impact on air quality.
There is a huge environmental impact associated with the extraction and consumption of raw materials for the use of building materials. Not to mention the actual production of those materials in their final form. According to the USGBC, 40% of the world’s raw materials are used in the construction of buildings.
Waste From Building Construction and Demolition
The destruction and renovation of buildings result in a large amount of waste. Building waste often includes concrete, metals, glass, plastics, wood, asphalt, bricks and more. This waste is often disposed of in either landfills or incinerators. Not only does this pollute the land and the air, but the transportation required to remove such waste has a major impact on the environment as well.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there were already over 170 million tons of debris generated in the construction and demolition of buildings in the U.S. alone in 2003. 61 percent of which were produced by nonresidential buildings.
The Benefits of Green Building
The EPA states that roughly 170,000 commercial buildings are built in the U.S. every year while 44,000 are demolished you can imagine, this is only going to result in even more significant climate changes as the years go on. It’s also why the government has been emphasizing the need for green construction and why programs such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) have come into existence.
LEED is a rating system designed by the USGBC to evaluate the environmental performance of a building and encourage sustainable design.
To better understand the importance of green building, consider the following benefits:
- LEED Gold certified building uses 25% less energy and 11% less water than the average non-LEED rated building. The less energy and water a building uses, the lower the monthly utility bills will be.
- A LEED Gold certified building has 19% lower maintenance costs than the average non-LEED rated building.
- A LEED Gold certified building produces 34% less greenhouse gas emissions.
- Occupants of LEED Gold certified buildings are generally more satisfied by an average of 27% than non-LEED rated building occupants. This is because green buildings not only help maintain more effective comfort levels but also help reduce sick building syndrome. Sick building syndrome is a condition that can result in lowered productivity and higher absenteeism.
- Green buildings consume fewer resources. LEED projects divert more than 80 million tons of waste from landfills.
- Green retrofitting can help lower operating costs. The USGBC estimates that operating costs will be reduced by an average of nine percent over one year and as much as 13 percent over five years.
- Green retrofitting can help to increase the value of the building by as much as 4 percent. Plus, the costs of retrofitting are typically paid back within about seven years.
People are catching on to the importance of green building. Last year, it was estimated that between 40 and 48 percent of all new non-residential construction would be green. As of August of 2015, over 13.8 billion square feet of building space had been certified by LEED, compared to 2005, when only 2 percent of nonresidential buildings were green.
Green building reduces the impact you have on the environment and the operating costs of your building. There are many ways to help obtain LEED certification, even through retrofitting. For example, installing a more efficient HVAC system, or investing in building automation. One form of automation to consider is the implementation of BOSS Smart Plugs and Atmospheres. Together, they allow you to control your plug load remotely and automatically, improving the energy efficiency of your building.