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Myth: Sustainable Building Is Risky
Sustainable Building Is Risky
Integrated Design Reduces Construction Risk and Provides Immediate ROI
Over the past five years, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has documented the benefits of many different kinds of sustainable buildings. After viewing credible information including case studies and white papers, the smart commercial developer will find compelling reasons to build “green.” But, what about the risks? The reality is that sustainable buildings are lower risk. The careful, integrated design process closely examines potential risks and proposes mitigations, particularly in the areas of cost control, air quality, pollution and energy waste.
Construction risk is minimized by careful design, measureable performance goals and the commissioning process. If properly implemented, these guarantee the building will perform as promised. Another area of risk is energy price volatility. By building sustainably, energy use is minimized, reducing exposure on this critical front. The extra planning and design effort needed at the front end of sustainable projects pays off in reduced change orders and rework later in the process. Design time is cheap compared to construction costs due to adding features or correcting mistakes.
UC Merced - Planning the Future Now
Such extra time went into the sustainable design for The University of California, Merced (UC Merced). It thus became the first U.S. campus to require at least LEED silver levels for all major buildings.
With assistance from key partners, the university developed a master plan for environmental stewardship and sustainable planning and design. These elements ranged from energy infrastructure planning and site layout to transportation system planning and road layouts to occupancy of individual buildings.
When UC Merced opened for the school year beginning in 2005, several university structures had been completed. These included:
- 96,253 square foot Classroom and Office building
- 198,293 square foot Library and IT center
- 236,989 square foot Science & Engineering building
- 26,000 square foot Central Plant
- 91,800 square foot Sierra Terraces Student Housing
The layout of the campus site encourages pedestrian and bicycle traffic and other forms of alternative transportation. Site lighting design minimizes light pollution and its impact on the neighboring community and species. Its initial success has led UCM to a new, more aggressive “triple zero for 2020” goal ( zero net energy, emissions and waster) in its revised master plan.
A strong indication of the low risk advantage for sustainable development for the private sector is the insurance discounts available for green buildings. The “Millennium Building,” built by Washington DC developer The Towers Companies, was one of the first in its area to receive a reduction in insurance premiums.
It makes sense. “We are thrilled that the insurance industry has recognized the fact that green buildings are not only healthier for tenants and the environment,” said Jeffrey Abramson, Principal of The Tower Companies, “but they are also less risky with air quality free of airborne pollutants because of use of non-toxic, low-odor paints and carpeting.” The Fireman’s Insurance Fund gave them a 5% discount.
Vermont Manufacturer Gets Five-Year Payback With Sustainable Design
As a manufacturer of wind assessment systems for the global wind energy industry, NRG Systems Inc had a vested interest in energy efficiency. So when the company opened its new $7.8 million, 46,000-square-foot-manufacturing facility and office facility in Hinesburg, Vermont, in October, 2004, sustainable design elements were present everywhere. Powered by renewable energy plus energy-efficient technologies, NRG created a workplace that was healthy, functional and beautiful for employees. It also fulfilled the company’s mission of using renewable energy.
The Happy Feet Plus store in Clearwater, Florida was the first retailer in the state to meet LEED standards in 2002. The $1.2 million, 6,000-sf building reflected the health and comfort emphasis of the footwear distributor.
While the founders knew the sustainable design would cost 10% more than a conventional building, they expected to recoup the difference through energy savings in just a few months. Besides being energy efficient, the building circulates air better making it difficult for mold and mildew to become problems.
We should set the standards for sustainable use of energy and other scarce resources and be a model of development in the great San Joaquin Valley.”
—Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, Chancellor University of California, Merced