Knowing the Cost and Effect of Green Building is Key

News last week that a recent study by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) had found the industry perception of green building’s costs and benefits was way off base was disheartening news to green enthusiasts.

The survey found that real estate and construction industry officials often misjudge the costs and benefits of building green. Their general estimations of what green building added to a project budget hovered around 17 percent (the true cost is just 5 percent); industry members also thought greenhouse gas emissions from construction were 19 percent of the world’s total when they truly are 40 percent.

Yikes. It seemed like a setback for green building, which has enjoyed considerable positive press and word-of-mouth promotion this year.

But are things really all that bleak? There are a number of positive things going on in the green building world that would imply the construction industry is supporting green building:

  • Green building is gaining political attention. NAHB testified in front of Congress in July to encourage green construction tax incentives and other programs that would encourage sustainable building. According to NAHB, more than 100,000 homes have been built and certified by voluntary, builder-supported green building programs around the U.S. since the mid-1990s.
  • Home buyers are buying in to green building. A survey of more than 250 residential builders sponsored by Green Builder® Media and imrecommunications.com showed that buyers will to pay 11 to 25 percent for green building in new home construction, the Realty Times reported.
  • Green construction is a healthy business. Industry expert Jerry Yudelson, principal at the green building consulting firm Yudelson Associates, said in March he expects the value of green building construction starts to exceed $30 billion this year, according to FM Link.
  • And its future seems bright. LEED has begun creating several new programs to customize green building for different industries. Its core and shell accreditation program became available in July 2006; LEED for homes and LEED for neighborhood development are currently in the testing phase.

It’s unclear how the industry perception of sustainable building’s costs and effectiveness got so warped when there has been plenty of news to the contrary in 2007 — but the WBCSD report, and others like it, should help to turn around any incorrect public perception.

Green building does add some cost to a project — but it’s dangerous to have industry experts overstating what that cost is.

Green building’s perhaps biggest task is either bringing the cost of green construction down further or publicizing the over-time projected energy and other savings so widely that developers, architects and, ultimately, buyers will always weigh that factor in their decision to build green or not build green.

As David Duchovny, one of the celebrities mentioned in yesterday’s green star supporters blog entry, told ecorazzi.com, "Unfortunately, you have to have the means to be green. That’s what has to change in this world. It should be cheaper to be green. I can afford to put solar energy in and I can afford to drive an electric car because I can also have a gas car if I need to drive more than eighty miles in a day. So that’s too bad.”

Wise words from a man who spent the greater part of the last decade saving the world from aliens. Maybe this time, Duchovny’s insight will help save the world from itself.