Green Building Thoughts from 11,000 Feet

Last Updated:
Fri, 2014-04-04 11:06

Out on the trail this weekend, I was appreciating the building clouds, hoping for rain, and reflecting on our work in the green building community. Here in Colorado, we’ve had a rough start to the summer. In fact, our whole country has. Wildfires continue to consume vast portions of the West, while the worst drought in a generation and erratic weather is forcing farmers in the Midwest to abandon their ruined crops, and residents in the East have to dig out from the freak land hurricane that hit earlier in the month. These events are terrifying and costly reminders that reinforce the connection between a changing climate and our own backyard. What does this have to do with green building? It’s simple: if buildings account for approximately 40% of total energy consumption, 13% of potable water consumption, and 40% of raw materials consumption, then our work to reduce these things matters.

Usually this time of year the high mountain meadows are exploding with wildflowers, but this year there are only small stands of stunted flowers. Instead of being discouraged by these struggling beauties and the bad news that seems to be everywhere, I’m thinking about the positive developments in the green building world.

We are making reductions in greenhouse gas emissions at a national level. Architecture 2030 described a report released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) that shows “a nation-wide decrease of 22.8% in electricity generation from coal between April 2011 and April 2012.” One of the stated reasons for this dramatic decrease is “increasing energy efficiency in end-use applications.” Congratulations, all of your hard work is paying off!

Another interesting national discussion involves the federal government, the largest landlord in the country, which is evaluating which green building standard the government should be using to rate and verify the performance of green buildings. The General Services Administration (GSA) is considering the use of Green Globes or Living Building Challenge in lieu of LEED, which is currently used by most federal agencies. The GSA held a two-hour listening session last week where all but one person spoke in favor of continuing to use the LEED standard. This snapshot of industry opinion validates my sense that LEED has come a long way in the past decade to become the most globally recognized and rigorous green building standard in the market.

Standing at 11,000 feet looking out at mountains shrouded in invaluable rain clouds, power plants and the GSA seem far away. But they aren’t; I know it’s all connected. I also know that there will be more bad news - rising food costs, water shortages, and more - but our work in the green building arena is making a difference, one water closet and HVAC system at a time. Keep up the great work green builders!

By Lesley Cowie

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