Tag Archives: building green
By Michael Buzzelli – rabble.ca
Canadians know that our built environment — homes, offices, factories, roads and infrastructure — holds the key to an environmentally sustainable and healthy future. The energy and environmental demands of the built environment will undergo substantial changes in the years ahead. Several pressures exist: looming carbon cap and trade legislation, shrinking energy resources and, perhaps most importantly, evolving attitudes toward our consumption and production patterns.
One-third of Canada’s energy use goes to running our homes, offices and other buildings. The federal government’s Office of Energy Efficiency reports that a corresponding one-third of our current greenhouse gas emissions come from the built environment. This is a large proportion that can be addressed in both the short and long term by modifying how we build and how we use our homes and offices.
Green building and development (GBD) faces a classic policy paradox: we collectively agree that improvements are needed in the built environment but we are caught in a whirlwind of information and debate about how to move forward.
We are motivated by widespread adoption of green ideals but stymied by issues related to implementation. There is confusion over whether a technological or behavioural approach should be prioritized. “Greenwashing” (the overuse of “eco” and “green” labeling and branding, particularly where there are no environmental benefits) also adds a layer of doubt over green building benefits. And, depending on the region, over 10 green building standards — such as LEED or R-2000 — currently exist in Canada. How do builders choose among them in bringing new homes to the market? Which standard(s) should serve as the model in retrofitting houses and buildings? How do consumers choose?
A range of stakeholders are implicated in the questions asked here. Municipalities are closest to the construction and design process given their front-line role in issuing permits and approvals. Builders and developers, from which the leaders and risk-takers will emerge, provide the built environments that we occupy and use. And of course consumers, whether the household or the office building tenants, will also be concerned with the built environments that they occupy.
Given the range of technical complexity (innovation), the economic costs and potential risks involved, and the range of stakeholders, how can we move the GBD agenda forward? How do we encourage GBD risk-takers and early leaders while at the same time protecting the public interest?
Canadian Policy Research Networks recently released a report, Green Building and Development as a Public Good, which documents the range of options for implementing GBD, and concludes that collaborative governance structures in particular are critical for advancing GBD effectively and efficiently.
The report also suggests that there is no single approach or fixed set of “solutions” to the provision of green built environments. We need locally sensitive means of building green rather than uniform regulation or a mandated system that may negate or disregard region-specific issues.
GBD involves multiple stakeholders because it is new, complex and involves risk. Risk-spreading may be necessary for new and bold developments that achieve the greatest rewards. We are at the beginning of the GBD “product life cycle,” and risk-takers and leaders should be encouraged while, at the same time, safeguarding the public interest.
Industry champions will emerge but will find little incentive to take the lead or remain out front if GBD plans are consistently forestalled and if they can revert back to standard building methods, materials and products.
Since consumer demand is key, home owners also need to understand the clear benefits, including return on their investments. For example, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, property values rise on average by $20 for every $1 of utility savings.
Specifically, governance structures involving co-operative and collaborative approaches will need to be developed so that our communities can adapt to delivering alternative kinds of built environments. A policy development framework is needed, providing a balance between higher-level guidance, knowledge sharing and codevelopment, and the municipal scale of administration and action.
A GBD strategy must be regionally relevant and harness many of the initiatives already under way, and at the leading edge, in the region. The region needs to devise a method for promoting, but not punishing, risk-taking. Leadership is key and it should also be fostered within and across organizations.
Local areas must work to develop their governance structures to encourage and put into (best) practice GBD strategies and methods. Cities, builders, consumer groups and others will have to work through the as yet unseen plans, challenges and opportunities in delivering environmentally and energy-sustainable built environments.
Municipalities — particularly those new to GBD — will find the first steps the most prohibitive. While local areas will have their own particular circumstances and opportunities, relevant lessons from other jurisdictions may be lost if we do not think of mechanisms for ongoing, consistent and informed exchange. The wider community of municipalities and higher levels of government can and should nurture the process. Higher-order knowledge development and transfer is therefore equally important.
GBD should be viewed holistically; should capitalize on existing regulation while also developing incentives and should build on existing strengths and best practices. We also need the right measurements developed in order to monitor progress and assess outcomes.
The path to greener built environments is barely marked and obstacles remain. A significant part of the story will pivot on the local and collaborative efforts that will at first develop slowly and then be taken for granted as the new “normal.”
One might say that the future inevitably will be green, though how quickly we get there will depend on how we plan for it now.
Michael Buzzelli is Director of Housing and Environment at Canadian Policy Research Networks (CPRN) and Professor of Geography at the University of Western Ontario. The full report, Green Building and Development as a Public Good is available at www.cprn.org.
Our 1st Commandment
Michael Strong, greenbuildingadvisor.com
So having devoted two blogs to stating the case for making a profit when building green, how or where do we start? I think some variation on the Hippocratic Oath of the fourth century B.C. would be first. You know, primum non nocere, “first, do no harm.” I guess back in the day when medicine was really in its infancy, Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, got together with some other doctors and they agreed on some ground rules for the practice of medicine, including one that essentially said, before we try to fix the patient, let’s at least agree we will not make things worse by harming him.
As the green-built world goes mainstream in residential housing, I think we too should agree on ground rules for our businesses. For green builders and remodelers, my variation of the 2,400-year-old Hippocratic Oath would be “above all else, lose no money” or “above all else, do not leave any money on the table.” Because just like a good doctor, before we can make things better we have to agree not to make things worse. And if we are going to start out losing money when building green, we will definitely be making things worse. In fact, we owe it to ourselves, our employees, our families, our larger community, and yes, our customers, to make sure we are profitable in building green.
So the first commandment we need to learn when following the Green Built Hippocratic Oath is: 1. Put something in for everything. And that can be kind of tricky for someone new to green building because, in many cases, we don’t know what “everything” is to begin with. In traditional building, or what I like to call “obsolete building,” the more detail in our estimates, the better. If our estimating and production systems are accurate and reliable, we should be seeing a slippage of no greater than 2%. That means our actual construction costs end up being within 2% or less than the budget. We do this in part by learning that no matter how small the item, we must account for it in the estimate.
You may hope for the best case, but do not budget for it. In fact, you should budget for realistic scenarios. This means we must include small direct construction cost items like generators, temporary air-conditioning units on-site, utilities, weather protection systems and floor coverings, mid-production house cleaning, etc. But with green building or remodeling, some of the people you are working will be new and you may not have a track record of working with them. So, unlike with your longtime trade partners, you really have to be diligent in interviewing your new trade partners to find out what they may not have included in their estimates. You may need to budget extra time for them to complete their work until you know how reliable the work schedules are that they gave you.
And don’t forget to budget for systems failures that need to be repaired. For example, best green building practices require you to seal your ductwork during construction to keep your construction dust and debris from getting inside. Has your HVAC partner budgeted for this? Have you? Will sealing them one time work, or will they have to be resealed every week? Will your painter apply no-VOC paint for the first time? Has he or you allowed extra time for the paint crew to get a feel for how the paint flows, or do you just have your regular number of weeks allocated for them to complete their work?
Thus, in order to follow our prescription to “first, do know harm,” we have make sure we have put something in for everything, no matter how small. Interview your trade partners extra hard. That goes for your production managers and superintendents. Get closer to and talk with your suppliers and manufacturers’ reps more than you ever have before. Ask lots of questions. Talk to your customers and help keep their expectations appropriately aligned. Raise your budget for 1/2% to 1% for slippage if need be. Expect the unexpected. Because whether you are rock climbing or building green, remember what the sticker on my laptop says: “It’s a significant emotional investment the first time you do it,” so you better be getting paid to do it right!
By Chris Bacavis – greenbuildingelements.com
In a stark contrast with how construction used to be thought of, the green building movement has been a shift away from the traditional concerns about money and time. The betterment of our planet, as it turns out, is quickly becoming a bigger priority. Since March of this year, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program has seen around 20,852 new LEED registered and certified projects.
Most of this can be attributed to the fact that builders view green buildings as more economical in the long run, and recent incentives on the part of the government have added an extra encouragement. But while these positives have been talked about pretty often, there are some risks associated with going green that still leave many builders wary.
According to the results of a recent forum conducted by the Marsh Green Building Team, the two things that play into builders’ reluctance to construct green projects are still financial concerns and legal concerns. Builders, of course, worry about whether or not green constructions will even endure during this economic downturn. Financially, a number of things can still go wrong. Material prices are always subject to large fluctuations, government incentives can fall through or fail to be secured, and entire projects can have unforeseen delays because of those types of things. Then there are the legal concerns.
The idea of jumping into a supposedly “green-built” project, and then failing to reach LEED certification levels expected by others, is unnerving to think about. There’s also the worry in many constructions that standards of operation and new design features – especially those not covered by the insurance market – will fall short because contractors won’t be willing to take on those things.
As it turns out, there are a number of solutions that can alleviate all these kinds of risks. They include everything from using underwriters to bringing attorneys and contract management services on board who actually have experience in green construction and design. I would encourage everyone in the industry (or even on the outside!) to read Marsh’s report (Green Building: Assessing the Risks) for more detail. It lays out a good case for not putting so much stock in fears toward the green movement. Because while green building is still new in a lot of ways, there are countless solutions that will make every construction more manageable and a lot less unpredictable.
What’s more, if you look at the report’s statistics, it seems pretty clear that the economy actually isn’t a huge risk factor anyway. David Pogue, the National Director of Sustainability for CB Richard Ellis, articulated this well when he recently said, “We are being regularly asked today if the continuing downturn in the economy has reduced the emphasis on sustainability. In many ways, the answer is actually the reverse. At its core, sustainability is about conservation and there is even more reason to conserve today.”