The past month has seen shock waves resonating throughout the world of sustainable architecture with two monumental reports on green building backed by some serious changes in public policy. First, the CEC released “Green Building in North America: Opportunities and Challenges”, which lauded sustainable buildings as the quickest, cheapest, and most substantive way to cut down on North American greenhouse gas emissions. Next, CoStar released a comparison report stating that LEED buildings consistently outperform their peers in terms of occupancy rates, sale prices, and rental rates, with demand far outnumbering their supply. And, last week on Earth Day, Los Angeles approved a green building ordinance that signifies a significant shift towards a policy and market-driven era of economically and environmentally viable building.
I won’t be the first to note that there’s a lot of hype in the green world right now. From product “greenwashing” to news and marketing-driven “sustainability fatigue”, vacuous developments can certainly be blown out of proportion. These recent reports are refreshing insofar as they offer scientifically grounded surveys of the current state of green building, outlining in bold terms its potential while paving the way for progressive policy.
Last week the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved of a green building ordinance that promises to cut millions of tons of pollution over the next decade. The law will require new commercial buildings and high-rise residential structures over 50,000 square feet to meet LEED standards, including drought-resistant landscaping, use of recycled materials, and energy efficient heating, cooling, and lighting. This makes LA the latest of 14 US cities that have required private developers to meet greener building practices. These legislative efforts were heralded by several groundbreaking reports released earlier in the month.
The CEC’s study found that “promoting the green design, construction, renovation and operation of buildings could cut North American greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change more deeply, quickly, and cheaply than any other available measure”. The two-year study brought together an international group of architects, developers, sustainability and energy experts, and local and national government representatives to explore the potential and pitfalls in greening our built environment.
Hot on the heels of these findings comes Costar’s report, a brazen testament to the economic viability of LEED and Energy Star buildings versus non-certified structures. The study analyzed roughly 1,300 LEED and Energy star certified buildings (351 million square feet) and compared them to non-green properties similar in size, location, class, tenancy, and age. The findings were incredible: LEED buildings sell for $171 more per square foot, command rent premiums of $11.24 per square foot, and have 3.8% higher occupancy rates. Energy star buildings showed similar stats, selling for $61 more psf, with rent premiums of $2.38 psf and 3.6% higher occupancy rates.
While green buildings can incur a larger upfront investment, the recent reports and policy shifts show that profitability, desirability, and demand commensurate with that expense, which presents solid economic incentive for their construction. Taken as a whole, these recent developments lend credence to sustainability consultant Charles Lockwood‘s mantra that non-green buildings will soon be obsolete.