“Building green” has officially taken over mainstream construction processes, leaving only a few small contractors to continue building homes the way they did 50 years ago.
It’s a stunning takeover, fueled by American home buyers who “get” the green message: reduce, reuse, and recycle. It has changed not only attic, wall and floor insulation paradigms, but incorporated some peripheral aspects of residential housing like the use of greywater for gardening or washing cars, creating “rain” gardens or installing pervious pathways to allow rainwater to percolate down to the aquifer or groundwater, and adding renewable energy technologies like geothermal heating, solar photovoltaic energy and even wind power where permitted.
Construction business owners are scrambling to add their company’s name to the growing lists of “green” builders, and there are a lot of venues through which they can do so. The most prestigious is, of course, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Efficient Design), overseen by the U.S. Green Building Council, or USGBC, and operating in the building construction vertical to promote environmental effectiveness for more than a decade.
What is LEED?
LEED certification is quite complicated, with many ramifications, and is delivered at one of three levels, depending on how far each business owner wants to commit: LEED Certified (40-49 points); Silver(50-59); Gold (60-79), and; Platinum (80+). It also offers courses to individuals to educate and certify them in the various environmentally friendly approaches to building or remodeling.
Prior to 2009, the USBGC relied on a tracking and energy-saving metric used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, called Tools for the Reduction and Assessment of Chemical and Other Environmental Impacts (TRACI). More recently, the Council is using a NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) metric to evaluate how many points a particular environmental adaptation adds to a specific building project.
Even as prestigious as it is, LEED certification has come under fire from architects, landlords and engineers, all of whom insist that a green building metric must measure energy use and costs – something LEED has never done.
LEED’s Omission Prompts a Batch of Green Ratings Systems
Founded in 1894, ASHRAE has launched a new building energy labeling program, which allows the industry to zero in on opportunities to lower building operating cost and make informed decisions to increase value has been expanded to include an As Designed label. The program is now two labels in one: an As Designed label that rates the building’s potential energy use under standardized conditions—independent of the building’s occupancy and usage—and an In Operation label that rates the building’s actual measured energy use as influenced by the building’s occupancy and usage. A building’s utility costs are some of the largest, yet most controllable, operating expenses; therefore, managing a building’s energy efficiency is an integral part of the building’s operational and financial performance.
Add to that ABC Green, an offshoot of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. group. ABC offers a number of economic opportunities to members, and promises its services will reduce pollution, waste and greenhouse gases while saving energy, water and raw materials.
The National Association of Home Builders, or NAHB, offers certification not to buildings but to their builders – the source from which all green plans must flow. The agency has been around since 1942, but has only within the last few decades expanded to cover the environmental aspect of newly-built homes.
Finally, there is the Green Advantage, or GA, which again certifies individuals rather than buildings. I could go on, but the list would be virtually endless; green is the new game in town, and everyone wants a roll of the dice.
As redundant as all these organizations seem to be – like dogs fighting over a single bone – it is perhaps the only way past a looming energy crisis. According to a recent article in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (ACS), a mere 21 percent of homes in Switzerland accounted for almost 50 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions implicated in global warming. The average is even worse in the U.S., where large homes are a symbol of affluence (and a reminder to the rest of us that the very young, the very old and the poor will be the first to die when the energy crunch arrives).
The only thing these environmental certification agencies won’t do is help builders prevent accidents, whether slips and falls or injury as a result of falling objects. That’s something each builder must do on his or her own. For information on preventing workplace injuries, contact your local or regional OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) office. OSHA is a division of the U.S. Department of Labor.
Andrew Miller is an experienced social media expert, author, and co-founder of the tech startup ScanandBan.com. He has worked in marketing for over a decade and finds his passion in bringing concepts to life. As a Socialpreneur , he is an agent for positive social change through both his writing and business endeavors.