City officials embrace green construction

In recent years a certain color has gained some attention in construction, and this time it’s not orange. The new trend is green construction, which focuses on building structures that are less energy consuming and more environmentally friendly.

Since the U.S. Green Building Council developed its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program in 1999 to rate buildings according to “green” criteria, a new competition has risen in the commercial construction sector to have more environmentally innovative buildings. Some of the criteria that distinguish “green” construction include using recycled materials for everything from a building’s frame down to its carpeting, and the use of natural light and alternative energy sources.

Last month, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley announced all new government buildings would be built under LEED certifications, and said he wanted Chicago to be the most environmentally friendly city in the country. Madison, Wis., Mayor Dave Cieslewicz took Daley’s initiative as a challenge and he, too, has declared all new municipal projects will be built with green construction. Nationwide, there are several cities pushing green construction, including Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, and New York City. New York developers have been offered tax credits since 2000 for building structures that meet green certification. Starting in January 2006, all new city public buildings will be “green.”

“We really need to focus again on conservation,” Cieslewicz said during a public announcement. “Green building is part of that.”

Large corporations are also jumping on the green bandwagon. The largest grass-covered roof in the world is the roof of the 45,200-square foot Ford Motor Co. factory in Dearborn, Mich. The structure with the highest LEED certification ranking is the Resources Defense Council office in Santa Monica, Calif. It opened in 2003 and uses up to 75 percent less energy than most office buildings. Other buildings that were recently built “green” include the Ford Motor Company building in Irvine, Calif., and the Warner Bros. studios in Burbank.

What does all this mean for the contractors constructing these buildings? More money spent during construction. The U.S. Green Building Council estimates up to $30 billion is currently being spent worldwide in the construction of green buildings, and there is more than 13.8 million square meters of LEED-certified building space. In 2000, there were only 740,000 square meters of green structures in existence.

While environmentally friendly construction is more expensive, in the long run — usually over a 20 year span — maintenance is much cheaper. Money saved from decreased power and water bills over time usually pays for the added expense.

The new green trend is likely to spread to other areas of construction, including building renovation. The U.S. Green Building Council recently created a pilot certification program for existing buildings. More than 100 buildings, including the Pentagon, are enrolled in the program, which USGBC expects to be fully active by August.

To find out more about the LEED certification program, click on the link to the right.