Guest Column - February 2005
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Being Green is a Good Thing

Understanding green design and its value

By Daniel R. Atilano, AIA

As our world's population continues to increase and our natural resources decrease, the need to change the way we do things becomes more imminent. But just how do we advance conservation efforts and enhance the quality of life for all people?

Incorporating green design is one solution to improve our built environment. Why do we need to change?

As reported in the May/June 2003 green@work magazine, buildings in the United States consume the following percentages of total U.S. resources: 37 percent of all energy, 68 percent of all electricity, 12 percent of all freshwater supplies, 88 percent of all potable water supplies and 40 percent of all raw materials. What this means to us is that architects and recreation professionals need to design better facilities that consume less of our natural resources. Green design is a big step in the right direction.

A recent BCA survey asked attendees at a recreation industry conference some key questions about green design. Less than half (44 percent) responded that they were familiar with the benefits of green design. Clearly, more education is needed to inform rec professionals about green design benefits and how they can be incorporated.

So what's green?

Green design is design and construction practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of buildings on the environment and occupants in five broad areas. These areas include: 1) sustainable site planning, 2) safeguarding water and water efficiency, 3) energy efficiency and renewable energy, 4) conservation of materials and resources, and 5) indoor environmental quality.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is a national nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. This organization developed and administers the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System in an effort to provide a national standard for what constitutes a "green building."

The LEED certification process requires extensive verification and documentation throughout the design process and as a result can add cost to a total project budget. Ideally a LEED Accredited Professional leads the design process and completes the documentation. Upon meeting a number of prerequisites and earning a minimum of 26 credit points out of a possible 69, a facility earns certification as a LEED building.

According the USGBC, green building practices can reverse the trend of unsustainable construction activities. Green design reduces operating costs, enhances building marketability, potentially increases occupant productivity and helps create a sustainable community. Green design strives to balance environmental responsibility, resource efficiency, occupant comfort and well-being, and community sensitivity.

A 2000 study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that building characteristics and indoor environments significantly influence the occurrence of communicable respiratory illness, allergy and asthma symptoms, sick-building symptoms, and poor worker performance.

So if green design is so good for people and the environment, why doesn't everyone do it? Typically, green design costs more. A LEED-certified building may cost initially between 2 percent to 5 percent more than a conventional building. The initial cost of green design may be more, however, over the life of a building, the operational cost savings will offset the building construction cost.

More than half (52 percent) of the recreation-industry survey respondents indicated they were willing to pay more for green design knowing that it would significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of buildings on the environment and occupants. More than one-third (41 percent) noted that they were not sure, while the remaining 7 percent said they would not pay more for green design.