Sustainable building – Why is there Resistance to it in the Industry?

The idea of sustainable building or “green building” has been around for decades, yet there is resistance to using these practices.  Why is that?

Before answering that question let’s look at exactly what we are talking about when we say sustainable building.  This refers to the design and construction of buildings that are environmentally responsible and resource efficient throughout a building’s life cycle.  To do this designers and builders look at:

  • Efficient use of energy, water and other resources.
  • Material choices
  • Reduction of waste, pollution and environmental degradation.
  • Indoor air quality and occupant health.

To give you an example of what we are talking about, let’s look at a building in my home town of Louisville, KY.  The building is appropriately called “The Green Building”.  The building was opened in the fall of 2008 and is the first commercial building in Louisville to achieve LEED platinum level.

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So why is there resistance to incorporating sustainable building practices?

CostThis seems to be the biggest reason people resist pursuing sustainable building design and construction.  Many of the materials and systems in a green building do cost more.  But the cost of dollars, does that compare to the cost at the expense of our environment?

I have seen cost first-hand when I am quoting a truss job that requires FSC certified lumber.  In most cases the lumber cost can be double the cost of “standard lumber”.  In this very competitive building market, builders are trying to generate the most competitive bid they can and many times the “green” items get removed.  In researching this topic, I have seen numerous studies that suggest the upfront costs are <2% of traditional building costs.  Many people get scared away from a green building due to the perceived notion that the cost will be prohibitive.  Whatever the number may be, green buildings are designed to offset these upfront costs with the operating efficiencies you will see over the life cycle of a building.

Too much work –  Let’s face it, most people don’t like change.  I think that many builders get in to the “That’s the way I have always done it, and it works for me” mode.  Designing a sustainable building does require a change in one’s thinking.  Your knowledge base must be expanded, certifications may need to be obtained and your network of suppliers expanded.  It takes some effort to make these changes and many don’t have the desire to do it.

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Outside the box – Sustainable building practices and ideas are different from traditional methods.  You are looking at designs to incorporate natural lighting and ventilation, green roofs, geothermal systems, and rainwater harvesting to name a few.   Some of the ideas may seem a bit “out there” for some people and so they choose to stick to the old standards and what they know.  Some green buildings can look a little “funky” and I think may be a turn off for some people.

What has your experience been with sustainable building?  Were you resistant to it?  What was the end result?  I look forward to hearing from you.

Bill Hoover – Design Professional

Gould Design, Inc