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Green Buildings: The What & Why of Sustainable Buildings


The recent heat wave and drought across the country is certainly devastating. But with all the negatives, the disaster would hopefully raise awareness that global warming is a real problem. While there are natural causes for the warming of the Earth, we human have our share, a larger share, of the responsibility. One of our unwelcoming contributions to the problem is the generation of carbon dioxide. OK, we cannot stop breathing, or at least if we have a choice. But we can stop cutting down trees that convert the CO2 to oxygen. And there is certainly something we can do to our immediate environment and lifestyle. According to the US Energy Information Administration's Annual Energy Review, the residential sector is responsible for 21% of carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption in 2010. Think green building.


Green building goes beyond energy consumption. According to EPA, "Green Building is the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle, which includes siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, deconstruction." The practice considers the consumption of energy, water, material and natural resources, and their impacts to the environment. The goal is to minimize the damages to human health and the environment by mitigating the negative impacts of waste, pollution (from air, water, indoor air), heat islands, stormwater runoff, and noise.


Building green is not a new concept. Some form of the practice has been around for centuries. Before the advent of HVAC, people have used innovative materials and designs to counter extreme weather. Eskimos have igloos and the Cyclades islanders have white houses. Technologies seem to have isolated us into an artificial comfort zone. The climate change and environmental pollutions are leading us back to a more natural path. Since the 1990's, various government agencies and building organizations help to create awareness about environment impacts of our building practices and promote green building techniques. One of them, the US Green Building Council (USGBC), launched the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program in 1998. The standards established a target for implementation and a way to measure progress.


LEED is a comprehensive rating system for evaluating building sustainability. The standard covers a wide range of building applications. Since its launch in 2000, 9 billion feet has been registered in the program, with 3 billion outside of the US. Despite the downtown in the housing market, there are bright spots in green building.

More than a third of all LEED floor area ever certified was certified in 2011.For new construction, the share of LEED certified space edged over 20% of total new floor area.Overall, LEED registered floor area (i.e. those that has not completed certification) is up by 45% year-over-year.

These are certainly encouraging signs. On the other hand, building certified under LEED 2009 provides encouraging performance trends, confirming that our buildings are continuing to reduce their footprint on the environment. The report shows that there is strong improvement in location efficiency which leads to reduction in transportation-related resources, water savings and energy efficiency. (Source: GreenBiz Group Inc. ©2011)


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