By Andy Mannle | Friday, 23 May 2008
Green Building is both a rediscovery of old technology - like siting buildings properly, and using natural sunlight and airflow to heat and cool them - and the latest high technology, like photovoltaics to provide power, smart meters to control energy use, and more efficient building materials.
But the real challenges to building green are not technological, but human.
At the recent GreenWest Expo in Los Angeles, panelists identified three of the main challenges to Green Building, and discussed ways to move the field forward.
1. Educating and Informing
Architects, engineers, builders, and inspectors need to be up on new technology, regulation, and best management practices. Panelist Henry Shea is trying to green his families’ 100-year old building business, Shea Properties. He says one of his biggest challenges is convincing “grizzled veterans” in the business that they need to change the way they do things. To a contractor, 'new' means scary and more costly. Shea says getting contractors and systems’ engineers involved earlier can streamline the design process, allow professionals from different sectors to educate each other, and ultimately make more energy efficient, and environmentally friendly buildings.
2. Lack of Infrastructure and Pricing Policies
Establishing policies that encourage Green Building is an ongoing challenge that many communities are dealing with. Panelist Claire Bowin of LA’s Planning Department, says Los Angeles is now the largest city in the country to have a required Green Building program. To streamline the process, Mayor Villaraigosa has condensed the required permitting from 12 departments down to two, which will save builders both time and money.
In California, points out Ken Lewis, president of AC Martin Partners, it’s possible to build to LEED silver standards at no extra cost, and advanced stormwater and energy policies are increasingly being written into the building codes. But in other states it’s harder to achieve these levels, and we still need to do more. “We want to take it to the next level, to make LEED Gold the new minimum, and Platinum more normal,” says Martin. What’s needed, he says is a national standard, so builders from New York to Chicago can accurately compare their work using the same benchmarks.
3. Challenge of Changing Personal Behavior
In Los Angeles lawns are still the norm, and free parking encourages car use. Taking shorter showers has been recognized as a water-saving strategy for years, but is still difficult to get people to do. Panelist Tim Kohut of the Los Angeles Community Design Center says that building without air conditioning is still seen as a fringe approach, but new passive-cooling designs can actually perform better than AC, while saving energy and money. Panelist Rick Fochtman of Bernards says incorporating technologies like this into green building is “a great tool, because you’re modifying behaviour without modifying behaviour.”
Taking Green Building to the Next Level
All the panelists were positive that support for Green Building will only grow stronger, and that builders who don’t go green now, will be forced to in several years. “If you don’t jump on the bus, you’ll be left out,” says Shea. But it’s important to point out the rewards of going green too. It’s not just about doing the right thing anymore, but about buildings that work better, and save money by using less water and energy.
In closing, the panelists were asked what one thing they would do differently going forward.
Henry Shea said you have to commit to going green before you put a pencil on paper. “Bring everybody together and give them religion. Tell them this is what we’re going to do,” and then figure out a way to work together. Green building isn’t something that can be added on at the end, it has to be built in right from the start. That’s the way to achieve the design synergies that make the best buildings for the least cost.
For Rick Fochtman it’s about moving beyond regulation and mandates, which “contractors have their fists up to fight” and toward incentives and promotions for green building. For example, faster permitting for green projects saves builders a lot of money which is a strong incentive to go green.
Ken Lewis of AC Martin says you need to “mandate at a minimum level, and reward at a higher level.” For him, it’s about moving beyond the regulatory minimums, and technical solutions. “We’re looking for the next level, what’s beyond that?” Buildings are not built in a vacuum, and the real synergies are achieved “through linkages between projects.”
“Commercial buildings generate waste heat,” says Lewis. "If we can link that to restaurants or residences we can create community-wide co-generation of power, or find a use for industrial waste-products."
Ultimately, “thermo-dynamics knows no property lines,” the panel pointed out. As we learn to integrate our technologies, we will also have to learn to work together if we are to achieve our goals of making truly green, zero-energy, zero waste buildings.