The idea of building “green” has increased exponentially in popularity over the past several years. The concept may initially evoke visions of high up-front costs and following a set of complicated guidelines, but green building is actually well worth considering and is so much more than just a price tag. The U.S. EPA defines green building as, “The practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle from sitting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction.” The key take-away from that statement is efficiency. Investing some time and energy into your building right now can have long-lasting benefits to both the sustainability of the structure, the environment and your wallet. Let’s look at nine key ways that green building can have a positive impact.
One of the biggest perks to green buildings is the drastic reduction in maintenance costs over the life of the structure. While building green might incur initial charges that are higher than traditional building, these costs are easily recovered over the years. These savings can be largely attributed to the various design elements that work to reduce water and energy use, thus lowering bills by up to a third. Maintenance and operational costs such as these traditionally account for up to 80% of expenses over the lifetime of the structure, showcasing the long-term benefits of this investment. Materials traditionally used in green building are also notably more durable than those that are not. Yes, it may be a bit more costly to build green or to convert your existing property, but the long-term financial benefits speak for themselves.
Our surroundings have a huge impact on our overall experience of a space. Green building factors such as improved lighting sources, air quality, upgraded ergonomic features and thermal conditions have been proven to drastically reduce stress levels and increase the quality of life. Work environments that have embraced green technology have produced employees that are much more efficient and happier. According to a 2015 study done by SUNY Upstate Medical School, workers in these kinds of spaces recorded a 101% increase in their brain function and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine reported in 2013 that “employees in offices with windows slept an average of 46 minutes more per night”. This showcases how green building benefits go beyond just individual experience to have a more communal impact. Workers that are happier and more relaxed are proven to have a higher output and will stay at their jobs longer.
According to the World Green Building Council, green buildings that have received LEED certification are noted to consume up to 11% less water than those that are traditionally built. This is attributed to the installation of water-efficient plumbing. High-quality water purifiers can also allow green buildings to make use of natural resources, such as rainwater, and to recycle water, as well. This, again, has a significant impact, not only on the building but on the environment, overall.
The World Green Building Council also reports that LEED certified buildings worldwide consume approximately 25% less energy than non-green buildings. Additionally, the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) has shown that green structures in India can result in a 40-50% reduction in energy costs. Being that these structures are designed to draw energy from natural sources (such as sun, wind and water) over oil and coal, energy use is largely reduced. Just the introduction of solar paneling can save literally thousands over the lifetime of the structure.
Whether living or working in a green building, occupants can experience a lot of incredible health benefits. With the absence of harmful organic materials and plastics that have been proven to release toxic carcinogens into the environment, those spending their time in green buildings are reducing their exposure to many items linked to allergies, respiratory issues and even certain types of cancers. Above and beyond just physical health, mental health is equally as impacted through the implementation of green building practices. In fact, a survey by Cundell determined that the natural elements within a green building created a 16% higher perception of well-being and a COGfx study showed that they performed 131% better when it came to crisis response and working under pressure. The inclusion of natural light in green spaces has also been proven to reduce the onset of seasonal affective disorder (also known as winter depression).
With the many energy and water-saving features applied to green buildings, builders are fighting back against a multitude of threats to our shared resources. This has global impacts, as well as local, and creates the possibility that we may preserve some of these resources for future generations.
The use of sustainable materials and energy sources allows green buildings to reduce their carbon footprint exponentially. UNEP reported in 2009 that this “building sector has the largest potential for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions compared to other major emitting sectors”. In 2016, UNEP also relayed that it “has the potential to make energy savings of 50% or more in 2050, in support of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (above pre-industrial levels)”.
Green buildings also commit to using as few materials as possible, while still maintaining the quality and integrity of the final outcome. They rely on many recycled and repurposed materials to reduce waste and preserve many natural resources. This also contributes to a reduced carbon footprint and helps to improve the outlook for our environmental future.
Lastly, you can’t underestimate the durability of green structures. The sustainable materials that are used to create such buildings have been proven to last longer, on top of all of the other benefits they create. Recycled roofing and decking, for example, can be exposed to the elements for years without needing replacement and with minimal upkeep. Additionally, seeing as they are often not treated with chemicals, they further contribute to a healthy environment, both on the micro and the macro level.
It is quite obvious to see that the benefits of green building far outweigh any perceived detriments. Embracing the idea of building green has impacts that extend beyond just the structure itself, all the way out into your local community and even on a global scale. As more and more builders around the world begin to adopt green technology into their designs, we can expect that these benefits will only continue to grow. It may well be worth considering, even if the upfront costs may be a bit higher.
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