GreenerBuildings.com released its 2008 Green Building Impact Report yesterday, the first comprehensive evaluation of the real and verifiable environmental improvements of LEED design and construction.
The report is filled with figures measuring the amount of emissions reductions or the impacts of indoor environmental quality, but for the more the casual observer, what’s more interesting is the tepid tone the report takes.
“Our findings are both encouraging and cautionary,” said GreenerBuildings.com Executive Editor Rob Watson in a GreenBiz article yesterday. “Overall, we believe that LEED buildings are making a major impact in reducing the overall environmental footprint of individual structures. However, significant additional progress is necessary if LEED is to contribute in meaningful way to reducing the environmental footprint of buildings in the U.S. and worldwide.”
LEED was designed to lead by improving the performance of the top 25% of buildings and by any measure – in terms of membership, the number of accredited buildings, or even the general collective mindshare – it has succeeded.
However, as Joel Makower writes, “The question, of course, is how to put this into context — whether, say, reducing energy [consumption] by 25% is sufficient to address climate change.” He says this is where the good news is tempered.
The report cites that green buildings today represent 6% of total construction, which is an “astronomical ramp-up” with new construction that incorporates LEED elements shooting up 40%.
Makower notes, though, that even these improvements are insignificant if we as a society are to meet the goal of 80% greenhouse gas reductions by 2050. To do that, every single building would need to meet LEED standards – “a 100% market penetration.”
LEED has proven to be a very strong engine for market transformation – green buildings alone have saved the US billions of gallons of water and enough energy to avoid the burning of 1.3 million tons of coal for electricity – but as Watson says, if the guys at the back of the train have the brakes on, not much is going to happen.
To get closer to achieving carbon emissions goals and to make a much larger environmental impact, the report advocates for much more comprehensive policies to be enacted. They range from very market driven mechanism that give technology incentives and energy pricing to requiring all new buildings to have smart-grid technologies to non-market drivers such as expedited permit approvals. It even calls for greater action by policymakers to be “less squeamish” about pricing carbon.
“It’s always critical that we stop and celebrate our success,” says Makower. “But also take stock. And then quickly get back to work, recognizing that, even on a good day, we’re merely scratching the surface.
Some notable achievements from the report:
Nearly 400 million vehicle miles traveled have been avoided by the occupants of LEED buildings because of alternative transportation options. This will grow to more than 4 billion vehicle miles by 2020.
The water savings in 2008 would fill enough 32-ounce bottles to circle the Earth 300 times. This number is expected to grow 7% by 2020.
LEED buildings consume approximately 25% less on average than comparable commercial buildings. By 2020, these energy savings will amount to more than 1.3 million tons of coal equivalent each year, representing approximately 78 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) avoided emissions.
Indoor Environmental Quality
Conservatively calculating, companies with employees working in LEED buildings realized annual productivity gains exceeding $170 million resulting from improved indoor environmental quality, a number that will grow to nearly $2 billion of annual productivity improvements by 2020.
To see the full report, click here.