05 May 2008

Who is Building Green?

Wondering what types of organizations are building green, I went through the list of LEED projects that have been registered, but not yet completed. This list is already one year old, but as of April 2007, there were over 6000 such registered projects. The comprehensive ‘Green Building Materials in the U.S.’ report appears to be the best resource out there for tracking the trends of green building and the green market. Unfortunately it costs $2750 to download the pdf, so I have not been able to access it. I did my own informal research going through the 116-page list of LEED registered projects. Here is the breakdown showing the number of green projects categorized by owner type:

LEED Registered Projects (through April 12, 2007)
Government (Local, State, Federal) – 1848 (30%)
Non-profit Organization - 1103 (18%)
Profit Organization – 2520 (41%)
Individual – 229 (4%)
Other – 424 (7%)
TOTAL - 6124

Government and non-profit represent roughly half (48%) of all green building projects out there, while the profitable sector represents less than half at 41%. These results show a fairly good balance of profit and non-profit projects. The free market encourages profitability, and the incentives and restrictions in place encourage non-profit and government work. However, it will not always be profitable to be green, and when the profit margins disappear, so will those green projects. We need to have further regulations in place requiring responsible building practices. It should be illegal to build environmentally irresponsible projects. No different than a building code concerned with safety or restrictive covenants concerned with aesthetics, an environmental code would be available for government jurisdictions to adopt requiring that developments address environmental concerns. Organizations need to be held responsible for their buildings and the impact they are making.


Julie said...

Why do you expect it to become unprofitable to build green? Usually things are unprofitable in the beginning and eventually become more profitable over time, so if it is already profitable I would think it would become even more so.

green mormon architect said...

You are probably right in the short term, but over time, the profit margin will get less as more people jump on board. This has the potential to cause owners and developers to rethink their decisions. A lot of incentives currently exist to make green building financially possible. But these are starting to phase out. While I don’t think conditions will ever revert back to what it was, it would be nice if environmental stewardship was mandatory, rather than optional. This way it’s not tied into trends or profits. It is not an option for a building be designed to withstand an earthquake. That decision has already been made by the government through the use of Building Codes. I feel that the same should be done with environmental resources since buildings are such a large contributor of depletion of natural resources and creating waste.

adrian2514 said...

Hey! Thanks for all the great research. It's interesting to see what companies actually care about building green. I think that a cap and trade system would definately help increase the incentive to build green.

I was browsing through a bunch of green websites and blogs and I came across yours and found it very interesting. There are a bunch of others I like too, like the daily green, ecorazzi and earthlab.com. I especially like EarthLab.com’s carbon calculator (http://www.earthlab.com/signupprofile/). I find it really easy to use (it doesn’t make me feel guilty after I take it).

Are there any others you would recommend? Can you drop me a link to your favorites (let me know if they are the same as mine).

green mormon architect said...

Hi adrian,

Thanks for stopping by. Here are some of the sites I follow pretty regularly:

-Green Building Elements (http://greenbuildingelements.com/)

-Climate 411 – this is from people at the Environmental Defense Fund – lots of good stuff. The president of the EDF, Fred Krupp, wrote the new book Earth: The Sequel (http://environmentaldefenseblogs.org/climate411/)

-Sustainablog (http://sustainablog.org/)

-The Good Human (http://www.thegoodhuman.com/)

-Tree Hugger – although it almost has too many posts to really keep up with (http://www.treehugger.com/)

I have not heard of daily green or ecorazzi, so I will be sure to check them out!

Michael said...

Great post. I came here after seeing your bike commuting pictures at BCC (what a dream commute you have).

So, through my employment I have access to a very up-to-date comprehensive list of LEED registered projects. The spreadsheet is over 12,000 lines long. As far as I know, it is available to the public by requesting it at the "info (at) usgbc dot org" email listed listed on their website.

I ran my own pivot table and came up with roughly the same percentages as you, except the number of projects totals 12,651. Not sure of the reason for the discrepancy.

I did get a slightly higher number of for-profit orgs (46%) than you.

I am not an architect, but am on the operations team for a large healthcare facility that is being designed and built. I can tell you by way of anecdote that we ultimately decided not to seek LEED certification due to the expense. We are building to many LEED standards, and hope to emphasize these to the public through other venues (the mayor of our city, for example, has one such initiative we hope to take advantage of).

In checking with several peer instititions who are involved in similar construction projects, we found we were not alone in our decision to forego LEED, but to continue building to as many LEED standards as possible.

I think my point is that there may be a very large, unseen undercurrent of facilities like ours who are trying to be as green as possible without seeking LEED certification. It definitely does pay to go green, as many facilities are doing it, but sticking to one of the four LEED rubrics can ultimately create added expense that building operators are struggling to correlate with a financial incentive. Nothing personal against LEED, I was simply surprised to find out my organization was in the same boat as so many others.

There were even a few folks I talked to who seemed to think that LEED was on its way out and would eventually be replaced by something more practical, or that the market would simply render it obsolete. I don't feel like I understand enough about LEED to say whether or not I agree.

Best regards! I will be checking back.

green mormon architect said...

Hi Michael,

Thanks for your great comments and info. The discrepancy is probably because the best list I could find was a year old. Looks like your numbers are more recent. That's remarkable that the list of LEED buildings has doubled, from 6,000 to 12,000 in just over a year. I will have to request the latest list as you recommended.

I agree that building green is the goal and the prime objective. For me, the rating system is good to have as a guide and to keep people focused, but it is not written in stone, and I would hope it would improve over time. If it makes sense to do the right thing but not get a ‘credit’, then I would hope that the right thing is chosen. And certain credits are certainly cost prohibitive compared to others, depending on the type of project and the site.

They just pre-released LEED 2009 and it is now open for public comment for another couple of weeks. I haven’t had time to go through it yet, but it will be interesting to see what changes are proposed and how flexible the USGBC is with changing demands and technologies over time.