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.