Page E1.2 . 22 August 2001                     
ArchitectureWeek - Environment Department
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  • Barriers to Building Green
  • Breathing Easy

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    Barriers to Building Green


    Barrier 2: Product Information and Sourcing

    Respondents lamented the scarce and poorly accessible information available on green products and high-performance building systems.

    The lack of information about performance and cost attributes of building elements can force projects to depend on specialized consultants. Alternatively, designers and builders risk costly call-backs to remedy green products that don't perform well.

    Another consequence of limited product information is skepticism from municipal building and safety departments. High fly ash content concrete was cited as an example of a useful product currently stymied by official skepticism. Green products can only deliver their air quality and energy conservation benefits if regulators allow them to be used.

    All participants confirmed that, once a product becomes mainstream, product information barriers are quickly overcome. The challenge is to get the information in the first place.

    Barrier 3: Client Knowledge

    A common theme for private sector participants was the "customer-driven" nature of their projects. Architects, contractors, and developers all agreed that clients' desire to incorporate green elements into their building projects is an essential element in overcoming the time and cost barriers inherent in adding these features.

    To support green clients and convert new ones, participants identified a need for credible evidence of the advantages of green: case studies of green building materials and performance, long-term studies of the value of environmental effects resulting from building materials and operations, fiscal studies of capital and operating cost increments for green features, and research on the impact of green building design and construction techniques on occupant productivity.

    Another aspect of the client knowledge barrier pertains to codes and regulations. As the regulation of building design and construction becomes increasingly complex, developers and clients have difficulty assessing the costs and requirements of complying with regulations. When regulations require modification of a building design or site plan, clients sometimes conclude that the green specifications have caused these costly delays.

    Improved communication of local building codes and their implications for green process and product choices would allow developers and clients to make choices among efficiency, aesthetics, product choice, and cost that would satisfy regulators without costly delays and changes.

    In response to these three main barriers, focus group participants generated proposals to address project funding, product information, and public awareness. Four of these proposals attracted broad-based support:

    A Public Goods Green Building Fund

    This proposal calls for a fund analogous to the existing Public Utility Commission fund. In the PUC fund, the state has invested substantial public funds in energy efficiency, and participants agreed that this investment has indeed sparked private sector activity in this area.

    They believe a similar strategy could be effective in creating financial incentives to build green. Essentially, the fund would consist of a pool of state-administered money which would be available on a matching basis for specifically defined green building activities. For example, building designs meeting the U.S. Green Building Council "LEED" standards would qualify for a matching grant.

    As with the current energy efficiency fund, support would be available on a "first come-first served" basis to owners and builders of qualifying projects. Independent auditors could verify the performance of green design and construction, ensuring that money from the fund would be well spent

    Voluntary Product Standards

    The second solution that participants recommended was the creation of voluntary product standards to raise the green performance of building components in at least three key areas: water efficiency, indoor air quality, and energy efficiency.

    The EnergyStar program, which certifies and labels electronic appliances that meet energy efficiency standards, provides an example of how this program might work.

    Several participants noted that standards have already been drafted for state facilities, and that consultants are available to help characterize the performance of the best green products available in the market today.

    Green Building Awareness Campaign

    The third solution preferred by focus groups was an outreach or marketing campaign to promote the benefits of green building. While participants divided on whether the campaign should target the general public or the design and architecture community, they agreed that the green building idea simply does not have a high enough profile.

    Elements of the marketing effort emphasized by participants include:

  •   Lifecycle cost savings of green buildings (energy savings and employee productivity benefits)
  •   Natural evolution of building standards (i.e., from indoor plumbing to the Americans with Disabilities Act to green building requirements.)
  •   Health benefits of green buildings
  •   Targeted outreach to architecture schools.

    Resources for Local Governments

    Focus group feedback indicated an urgent need for local governments to invest startup resources in policy research and development in the area of green building. Once local officials have enough data about policy options for construction debris recycling, resource-efficient mortgage programs, and high-performance buildings, for example, local decision makers can move forward with a local solution.

    Resources supplied by the state, if used at the onset of a new program, could leverage the drafting of new ordinance language or the creation of new incentive programs for local builders and developers.

    Additional solutions that attracted varying levels of support include lending rate subsidies for green development, tax or density credits for builders, assistance with interpreting the implications of building codes for green building choices, and a fast-track permit process such as the one currently used in Santa Clarita in which greener projects receive expedited processing.

    The entire Natural Strategies report will be posted at the California Integrated Waste Management "Green Building" Web site.

    Adam Davis is a principal in Natural Strategies, a management consulting firm that helps organizations achieve "bottom-line" results through the application of sustainability principles.



  • ArchWeek Photo

    The Bateson Building, 1977, by Van der Ryn Architects, uses passive solar storage, a night air cooling system, adjustable shading, and efficient lighting to meet 70 percent of the building's heating and cooling needs.
    Photo: Great Buildings Photo Donald Corner and Jenny Young

    ArchWeek Photo

    On the roof of a 19th century building in San Francisco, a photovoltaic solar energy system silently provides more than enough electricity for the entire building.
    Photo: Van der Ryn Architects

    ArchWeek Photo

    Dharma Sangha is a Buddhist meditation hall in the Sangre de Christo Mountains in Colorado, designed by Van der Ryn Architects. The interior of all-local materials was finished with fine Japanese joinery.
    Photo: David Hoptman

    ArchWeek Photo

    A house in the Los Altos hills of California wraps around to the south for optimum solar performance. Other design strategies include straw-bale walls, in-floor radiant heating, a minimum of interior wood trim, and recycled cellulose insulation.
    Image: Van der Ryn Architects

    ArchWeek Photo

    A rammed-earth fireplace from the Corte Madera Demonstration Residence currently under construction.
    Photo: Van der Ryn Architects

    ArchWeek Photo

    The Sustainable Design Implementation Program of the City of Los Angeles, another focus group participant, is supporting environmentally sound building design and construction in several libraries, including this one by GA Design Architect.
    Image: City of Los Angeles

    ArchWeek Photo

    Natural lighting in the Mar Vista Library through sidelights and clerestories, with awnings to control glare.
    Image: City of Los Angeles

    ArchWeek Photo

    Landscaping at the Mar Vista Library uses plantings to provide shade, cool by evaporation, and filter street noise.
    Image: City of Los Angeles


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