Are Green Buildings the Future in the U.S?

Vinnie DeRose – BCT

Katelyn Pike – NRC

Garrett Stanowicz – ENVISCI

Sustainable building is a modern way of construction that refers to both a building structure and the use of processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle. In other words, green building design involves finding the balance between home building and the sustainable environment. A green building material is composed of renewable, rather than nonrenewable resources. Green building materials are environmentally responsible because impacts are considered over the life of the product (Spiegel and Meadows, 1999). Sustainable building is not only a new way for structuring a building but it tremendously helps the environment grow better. The main problem is the amount of energy used by buildings. One of the best ways to limit the energy consumption and negative impacts of the environment that buildings cause is through using green building materials. Green building materials are better to use in construction because they use less energy and involve less resource extraction.

What causes buildings to use so much energy? The major consumer of energy in buildings is lighting and HVAC(heating). Lighting and HVAC account for more than 50% of energy use in buildings. (Buildings and emissions,2016)This can be attributed to poor design as well as the materials they are made of. By not letting enough natural light into a room, more energy would be needed to light the room. Another factor that can cause this is bad insulation. If a place is not well insulated it can lose heat through a process called conduction. Conduction or thermal conduction is the transfer of energy(heat) due to temperature differences between adjacent parts of a body(Britannica, Encyclopaedia, 2016). So if the inside of the house is warmer than the outside, the heat on the inside will slowly move through the wall to the outside. By having a wall that is better insulated indicates the material has a better thermal resistance.



This use of energy leads to greenhouse gas emissions. One of the biggest greenhouse gases that buildings produce is CO2. It is responsible for 38% of all CO2 emissions in the U.S.(green building council) Part of this is due to the emissions from the transportation and  mining of the materials that the buildings uses. In 2015 gasoline emissions produced 1,105 million metric tons of CO2 and diesel emissions produced 440 million metric tons of CO2. (U.S Energy Information administration) This output of CO2 emissions affect the earth in a negative way causing temperatures to rise.  Increase in temperatures causes a rise in sea level due to the melting of ice caps, changes in migration patterns and plant activity (Bradford, A 2014). The damage being done on our natural resources also has a large impact on our lives “We urgently need to address this problem before we have irreversibly depleted the resources that power our economies and lift people out of poverty” (Kirby, 2016 p. 6). President Obama in 2015 submitted a target the U.S should attempt to reach for the reduction of net greenhouse gases.He proposed “to cut U.S climate pollution by 26-28 percent from 2005 levels”(fact sheet. 2015)

To cut back on the try to reduce the amount of energy buildings are using we plan to create a minimum energy efficiency standard for commercial buildings. (Salom, B.,2015) A minimum energy efficiency standard will help reduce the amount of energy these buildings use by forcing them to meet a standard for energy efficiency. Along with this energy efficiency standard, all commercial buildings will be subjected to an Energy efficient rating. (Salom, B.,2015) This rating will be similar to the Energy Performance Certificate(EPC). The EPC is a system used in the UK to rate buildings on how energy efficient they are.(Energy performance certificate) The rating is on a scale from ‘A’ to ‘G’, with ‘A’ indicating the building is very energy efficient and “G’ being the lowest grading. The minimum energy efficient standard we will use will be ‘E’. This means that buildings must meet a standard of ‘E’ or above.(Salom, B.,2015)

The standards will be regulated by the weights and measures Division. “The Weights and Measures Division promotes uniformity in U.S. weights and measures laws, regulations, and standards to achieve equity between buyers and sellers in the marketplace” (Weights and measures division)) They will be going through and rating these buildings along with keeping track of the energy efficient rating of the commercial buildings. They will also be able to give out fines for breaking these standards. For every month the standard is not met they will receive a fine that will continue to increase for each consecutive month that the standard is not met.

There are also some exemptions to this regulation. If the building doesn’t pay back the value of the investment in 7 years of energy savings and if the energy efficient improvements devalue the property by 5 percent. (Curnow,E. 2016) This is so people won’t be losing money by trying to meet the standards that won’t actually benefit them in the long run.

The implementation of this regulation will take some time since energy efficient ratings must first be given to the commercial buildings. We will allow 2 years for the buildings to get rating, then the implementation of the standard will be put in place. Then a 3 year grace period for the buildings to make adjustments to try meet the standards if they were placed below the standard.

By raising these standards green materials would be substituted for normal materials making the buildings more energy efficient in order to meet them. In order for the buildings to meet these standards they may have to change some of their current designs or their plans for future builds to include using more green materials. Because green materials are more energy efficient and create less resource extraction, they would meet the new standards as well as help the environment.

Buildings account for the largest portion of the world’s energy use at an average of 41% according to the US Green Building Council. By the use of green materials in the construction process we can cut back on the amount of energy that is used. Both in the cultivation of the materials and the usage of the building materials themselves. One way green material save energy is by the reduction of embodied energy. The U.S Department of energy defines embodied energy as “the energy used during the entire lifecycle of a product including the energy used for manufacturing, transporting and disposing of the product.” (Notes on Embodied energy, 2016) This includes the energy from the fuel used to power the harvesting and mining equipment, along with the processing equipment and transportation devices. The amount of energy used for the processing of aluminum is 196 MJ (mega joules) for virgin material, or material that has not be previously used. This is a large amount of energy compared to using recycled materials. The amount of embodied energy for recycled aluminum is 27 MJ.(Kim, J. & Rigdon, B. p.14) This is only a fraction of the amount of energy used compared to the energy use of virgin materials. For steel to take virgin material is 40 MJ and recycled materials is only 18 MJ. (Kim, J. & Rigdon, B. p.14)

Using green building materials is superior to using other materials when is comes to resources extraction as well. One of the most prevalent issues with our current building tactics is the amount of resource extraction done to make our building materials. The amount of resource extraction being done now is not only causing damage to the environment, but also to our health. “The alarming rate at which materials are now being extracted is already having a severe impact on human health and people’s quality of life,” (Kirby 2016, p. 7). Natural resource extraction is causing the resources we need for our everyday lives to be depleted so quickly that it would eventually become irreversible. There is also a large amount of waste produced and energy consumed in the extraction, use, transportation, and disposal of these resources. It contributes to some of the largest problems that we as people are facing today such as climate change and ocean acidification. Using green building materials will help to diminish this negative effect on the environment by lessening the amount of resources extraction overall. There are different forms of green building materials that are beneficial to the environment and to use in slightly different ways. Recycled material is one of these methods that are found to be effective. An example of this is how concrete can be used to recycle fly ash from coal-fired power plants and slag from blast furnaces of steel production among other materials (Fauldi, 2016). Another example of green building materials are reused materials. These are even better to use because in addition to not extracting any more natural resources they require less manufacturing. There are also materials manufactured using methods that limit natural resources extraction such as sustainable harvesting or using more rapidly renewable materials instead.

When many people look to green building materials there are questions about its expense, why people should care, or where would the money come from to pay for specific projects. The first major unknown to consider is if it will cost more. The answer to this is that it does not have to. Knox, 2015 states that, “the public dramatically overestimates the marginal cost of green building” (p. 4). There are definitely designs that are highly sustainable that are more expensive, but that does not mean that these are the only methods to make buildings green. Numerous studies have shown that these investments into green products will pay for themselves at least ten times over the life of the building (Rabin, 2015). Those involved in the use of green building materials have to take more consideration in how you approach the process of the build. It is widely assumed that it is overall more expensive but although it is in some cases it is usually more cost-effective in the long run. In fact it is often found that even if green building has higher start up costs they are balanced out by long term saving (Knox, 2015). Not only does it not dramatically increase cost but it adds to the market value of the property. People need to understand that using green building materials is important in the effort to reduce our energy consumption, improve air quality, reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, and provide healthier environments with higher productivity.

With the proposal of raising energy standards for buildings suggested above, a lot of people might be asking why should I have to meet the new standards and change the way I build. The fact is that using these green building materials are generally better for everyone in the long run. Not only are they better for the environment but they benefit the builder as well. Green building materials have to follow a set of criteria that allow them to be cleared to use. They are made to be durable in a way that is either comparable to conventional products or longer lasting to the lifelong expectations of building, create enhanced indoor air quality that is healthfully maintained, maximise energy efficiency and water conservation, as well as being cost effective (Dick, 2014). There is no doubt that using green building materials would be better for the environment by lowering emissions, waste, resources extraction, and energy cost by builders should learn to meet the standards because it would be better for them. They can help the negative impacts caused by infrastructure by making a better building for the environment and its occupants.

For Green buildings, the use of green building materials in new construction results in lower energy and resource use. With that Green building helps the environment by using less of CO2, using recycled renewable resources and using sustainable energy systems. Sustainability, within times has a good feedback, with renewable energy, you can produce more energy in less the time than you can with electricity. With more understanding about Green Building, people will realize the impact in can have on us and the environment and ecosystems. Setting this as an awareness for Green Buildings being the future of construction, people will turn to sustainability and understand how they can contribute to green building.




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