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Introduction and Overview


Trends and Barriers to Green Building in the United States


  • 1.

    Rapid penetration of the LEED green building rating system and growth of USGBC membership

  • 2.

    Strong federal leadership

  • 3.

    Public and private incentives

  • 4.

    Expansion of state and local green build- ing programs

  • 5.

    Industry professionals taking action to educate members and integrate best prac- tices

  • 6.

    Corporate America capitalizing on green building benefits

  • 7.

    Advances in green building technology


  • 1.

    Financial disincentives

    • a.

      Lack of LCC analysis and use

    • b.

      Real and perceived higher first costs

    • c.

      Budget separation between capital and operating costs

    • d.

      Security and sustainability perceived as trade-offs

    • e.

      Inadequate funding for public school facilities

  • 2.

    Insufficient research

    • a.

      Inadequate research funding

    • b.

      Insufficient research on indoor envi- ronments, productivity, and health

    • c.

      Multiple research jurisdictions

  • 3.

    Lack of awareness

    • a.

      Prevalence of conventional thinking

    • b.

      Aversion to perceived risk

entire building industry and, ultimately, to enhance confidence in the design and con- struction professions.

Green Building Progress and Obstacles

Although still considered a fringe movement, in the early twenty-first century the green building concept has won industry acceptance, and it continues to impact building design, construction, operation, real estate development, and sales mar- kets. Detailed knowledge of the options and procedures involved in “building green” is invaluable for any organization providing or procuring design or con- struction services. The number of buildings registered with the USGBC for the LEED-NC building assessment system grew from a few in 1999 to more than 6,000 registered and certified in late 2006. The area of LEED-certified buildings increased from a few thousand square feet in 1999 to over 365 million square feet (34 million square meters) in early 2006. Federal and state governments, many cities, several universities, and a growing number of private sector construction owners have declared sustainable or green materials and methods as their standard for procurement.

Despite the success of LEED and the U.S. green building movement in general, challenges abound when implementing sustainability principles within the well- entrenched traditional construction industry. Although proponents of green buildings have argued that whole-systems thinking must underlie the design phase of this new class of buildings, conventional building design and procurement processes are very difficult to change on a large scale. Additional impediments may also apply. For example, most jurisdictions do not yet permit the elimination of stormwater infra- structure in favor of using natural systems for stormwater control. Daylighting sys- tems do not eliminate the need for a full lighting system, since buildings generally must operate at night. Special low-e window glazing, skylights, light shelves, and other devices increase project cost. Controls that adjust lighting to compensate for varying amounts of available daylight, and occupancy sensors that turn lights on and off depending on occupancy, add additional expense and complexity. Rainwater har- vesting systems require dedicated piping, a storage tank or cistern, controls, pumps, and valves, all of which add cost and complexity.

Green building materials often cost substantially more than the materials they replace. Compressed wheatboard, a green substitute for plywood, currently costs as much as 10 times more than the plywood it replaces. The additional costs, and those associated with green building compliance and certification, often require owners to add a separate line item to the project budget. The danger is that during the course of construction management, when costs must be brought under control, the sustain- ability line item is one of the first to be “value-engineered” out of the project. To avoid this result, it is essential that the project team and the building owner clearly understand that sustainability goals and principles are paramount, and that LCC should be the applicable standard when evaluating a system’s true cost. Yet, even LCC does not guarantee that certain measures will be cost-effective in the short or long term. Where water is artificially cheap, systems that use rainwater or graywater are difficult to justify financially, even under the most favorable assumptions. Finally, more expensive environmentally friendly materials may never pay for them- selves in an LCC sense.

A summary of trends in, and barriers to, green building is presented in Table 1.4. These trends are an outcome of the Green Building Roundtable, a forum held by the USGBC for members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in April 2002.20

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