Greentree Gazzette “The Fragile Generation” November 2006
About Design by Mark Miller
Going green without seeing red
Higher education will benefit from a cost/benefit approach to designing with the environment. Operational, maintenance, and development budgets have limited tolerance for additional costs and concerns. Will adding a “green design” mandate disrupt the balance? A lot depends on how and what you measure.
Green design is a hot topic. An impressive group of independent non-profit organizations have helped formulate guidelines to strengthen academic institutions’ ability to improve their environmental performance. They include the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), the Rocky Mountain Institute and the American Institute of Architects. And they have been supplemented by state and local government initiatives.
The USGBC’s LEED certification program is providing standards for professional accreditation as well as a system for measuring and evaluating a building’s total environmental performance. The University of California system has decided that most UC campus projects should exceed title 24 energy performance standards by 20 percent and meet or exceed at least a LEED 2.1 (certified) rating.
The impact is not restricted to our left coast. Brown University is underway with “Brown is Green.” Florida A&M has “Guidelines and Principles for Sustainable Community Design.” Universities and colleges are beginning to address the issues of environmental performance of campuses.
There is a design and budget impact, but how much?
It’s still difficult to define the actual additional costs that are associated with planning, designing, and constructing a green building. Interviews with some project administrators and developers have yielded opinions that there is an extra cost of 10 to 15 percent to achieve a LEED certified building. However, an October 2003 report entitled Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Buildings: A Report to California’s Sustainable Building Task Force, indicates that incremental costs associate with green building can reach 10 percent. The report also states that properly planned projects that adapt green strategies at the outset can experience extra costs of only two percent.
“An additional $4 “green” investment per square foot on a new academic building that would have been built for $200 per sq.ft. will return $16.50 per square foot over 20 years”
Why is there are range? The California Task Force acknowledges that learning curves and their associated costs vary. There’s also the fact that many new technologies may be difficult to integrate with existing systems. Meanwhile, there is a general shortage of complete case studies.
What about return on investment?
Quantifiable achievements have been realized. Eric Correy’s research for Greener Buildings, an online publication of GreenBiz.com has shed some light on ROI. Source data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also bolsters his findings.
A well planned 2 percent “green premium” applied to higher quality sustainable systems will return about 4X over 20 years. So, an additional $4 “green” investment per square foot on a new academic building that would have been built for $200 per sq.ft. will return $16.50 per square foot over 20 years. The EPA illustrates the savings as follows:
Operations and maintenance…$8.50
Emission savings……..……. $1.70
Water savings ………………$0.50
Source GreenBiz.com and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Other measurable benefits are emerging
Indications are that there will be benefits to individual health and productivity. Until recently, such claims have been difficult to quantify, let alone validate. This is changing. The same EPA study noted 20-year projected health and performance benefits would return $48 on the initial $4 investment.
Carnegie Mellon University and the Advanced Building Systems Integration Consortium have made progress identifying the correlations between investment in energy efficient buildings and the benefits to human capital. The CMU work evaluates six design categories: site, enclosure, HVAC, lighting, connectivity, and Interiors. Here are some highlights of their findings.
- Natural Lighting. Well designed and integrated glare-free natural light supplemented by automated and responsive controls can improve productivity as much as 40 percent and can achieve ROIs in excess of 185 percent.
- Artificial Lighting. Replacing out-dated fixtures with high performance artificial lighting can produce a 26 percent productivity gain, and ROI exceeding 236 percent.
- HVAC. Replacing or supplementing mechanical ventilation or mixed-mode conditioning can produce 1.3 percent health cost savings, and 3-18 percent productivity gains yielding an average ROI of at least 120 percent.
Click on http://cbpd.arc.cmu.edu/ebids/pages/home.aspx for more information on Carnegie Mellon studies.
Where does this leave assessment of green project values? While the available data and case studies are limited, rising energy costs will continue to make sustainability issues green design fundamental for the foreseeable future.
The economic returns of green design are becoming measurable and justifiable. When the benefits of health, performance, and other qualitative measures are considered, the argument in favor of sustainability and green building becomes more persuasive.
The big payoff becomes more certain when a systematic approach is taken that integrates green design during planning and design.