Last month, while everyone was still coming down from presidential election frenzy and ramping up for Greenbuild, Building Design + Construction offered up another distraction: their annual white paper on the State of Green Building.  This is the sixth in an annual series that was initially inspired by the success of Greenbuild 2002.  While reports from the early years included remarks on the chances for the green building movement to keep rolling, the editors get a little more definitive this time around, starting on page four: "…no matter where you stand personally on the social, economic, political, or environmental issues related to climate change, you will soon have no choice but to factor it into your professional work."

A Decree: Factor It In

More than a rallying cry: this is a decree.  Not that it’s breaking news –- but the editors at Building Design + Construction were taking a step beyond echoing the observation that the green building movement is on its way to mainstream.  They were attempting to motivate their readers.

The white paper, entitled "Green Buildings + Climate Change," embraces a much more outward facing agenda than past years’ reports, which always focused on analyzing the green building movement itself (topics included Life Cycle Assessment and Green Buildings and the Bottom Line).  This year’s table of contents reads like a What’s What in Sustainability, with reporting on major national, regional, state, and local climate change initiatives, current possibilities for a cap and trade system, and a discussion of the prominent studies and suggested mitigation strategies that have jarred the environmental movement in recent years.

A Matter of Degrees

To introduce all of this, the editors dedicated Chapter One to a cliff notes version of the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4, 2007), put out by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change –- "…the most scientifically valid and politically unbiased resource on climate change available."  AR4 removes reasonable doubt that human activity warms the planet, and shows us that all those scary numbers, percentages, and estimated future degrees Celsius are … getting scarier.

This information is carefully tied into green buildings, the crucial role the built environment could play in mitigating climate change (approximately 40% of the nation’s energy is sucked into buildings), and the fact that the AEC industry has hardly begun to wield its power.  To quote, "only a small percent of new commercial buildings, and an even smaller percentage of new homes, gets any kind of green treatment … the situation is even more distressing when it comes to existing buildings, which represent about 98% of the square footage in place in any one year."  It would be nice to have some firmer numbers on the rate with which market transformation isn’t happening, but the idea is pretty clear.  Green Buildings + Climate Change pounds out the message: We have a problem here and, building industry folks, you’ve got to start helping to fix it.

22 Suggestions to Green

Readers are left with a comprehensive, well-thought out list of 22 suggestions for AEC professionals to green their practices.  There is also a section dedicated to the virtues of building commissioning, which is demonstrated to pay for itself many times over in umpteen studies, but just hasn’t caught hold yet: “Only about 1% of buildings are commissioned,” says the U.S. Department of Energy.  The authors aren’t preaching to the choir.  Greening isn’t happening on a large scale yet because the building industry (the audience for this white paper) isn’t making it happen, isn’t convincing clients.

Although BD+C’s climate change survey of 900+ AEC professionals showed that 95% of respondents said they had acted to "address climate change in their personal lives," there was a “vocal” contingent of skeptics (again, unfortunately, we didn’t get numbers on this).  Says a project manager in Tennessee: “The so-called environmental movement is not based on sound principles, but as a means to redistribute wealth and move our civilization backwards.”  So, it’s not just inertia or the perceived expense that’s holding green building back.  A lack of personal motivation is another serious hurdle that needs to be overcome. Green Buildings + Climate Change puts forth a good effort on addressing that situation.

White Paper Download

[+] Green Buildings + Climate Change [PDF, Download w/ free registration]