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POINT: Green is Losing its Luster

July 25, 2011
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Mike Murphy

Green buildings: How’s that working out for you?

(NOTE: Do not pay any attention to the man with the stupid opinion below.)

If you have ever attended an Irish family reunion, you know that you will feast much sooner if you are an elder of the clan, at which time you will be ushered to the front of the line by a burly grand-nephew. Otherwise, you simply wait until the crowd of hungry youngsters gets out of the way.

After the huge rush for energy efficiency in new and existing buildings - a laudable and needed effort - it appears that the line at the picnic is starting to thin out.

According to Pete McCall, executive vice president at P1 Group, a large mechanical contracting company in Lenexa, Kan., which performs work nationwide, “The LEED movement is losing some of its luster, mostly because the buildings are not performing as they were intended.”

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) projects hit a high note in recent years, and the number of them still on the books may be considerable, but the fact is, many of the projects that have been completed have come under heavy criticism.

Many building owners jumped at the chance to be green, and with them came hoards of architects, engineers, and contractors. The line at the proverbial picnic table was a long one indeed and, as early adopters are apt to do, they strapped on the feedbag and even drank the Kool-Aid®.

Few people really knew what they were doing in the beginning, buildings were not being commissioned, and the promised efficiencies were not realized. In fact, one of the early Gold LEED buildings had tremendous problems. The walls with some fancy, on-the- fringe, recycled insulation material didn’t insulate to the level expected, thus being inadequately reflected in the load calculation of the building. Guess what happened?

ON THE POSITIVE SIDE

As the green movement gained momentum, the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED certification system was a likely source to turn to, and the movement had good intentions - it has simply fallen short of expectations.

As reported by consulting firm FMI in its 2011 U.S. Markets Construction Overview, “There is perhaps a bit more hype than reality to some aspects of green building. … However, we believe this trend will sustain itself and continue to grow in the intermediate and longer terms.”

Even though I really believe that the green building movement started off with great intentions, and it looks like it is around to stay, a lot more needs to be done to convince me that it is truly making a difference. A lot of contractors, owners, architects, and engineers who have been somewhat burned by the green hype must be thinking the same thing.

Simply feeling good about pursuing the altruistic green cause is not enough to justify the expense and the effort.

TREES ARE RENEWABLE

Of course, there will be those (see man below with stupid opinion) who cite the hundreds of buildings that have USGBC plaques hanging on their walls, claiming this as proof that the green building movement is a smashing success. I wonder - what will all those building owners be doing when it comes time to renew their plaques? Will they spend the money to maintain the super-duper equipment, the fancy insulated walls, or the sod-roofs planted with azaleas? If not, they will lose the bragging rights to be called a Silver, Gold, or Platinum LEED building. Maybe they will; but if they don’t start seeing some energy savings from these green monsters, maybe they won’t.

There will be the obvious references to the millions of dollars saved in energy consumption and of all the trees that have been saved as the emissions of millions of cars have been taken off the roads.

Oh, yea? Prove it. Show me a commissioning report and a year’s worth of utility invoices from an existing building that shows real savings and not just computer-generated theoretical savings.

Green needs to work better. But green is as green does. Up until now, green has not been doing much more than patting itself on the back.

Publication date: 07/25/2011
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