Commercial construction is going green. The market for sustainable products, practices, and processes in the building industry is being bolstered by public awareness and supported by increased legislation—and it’s creating new opportunities for construction companies who are eager to meet the rising demands from customers for eco-friendly building materials and techniques.
At the most fundamental level, green construction is better for our environment. It’s less taxing on natural resources and ensures cleaner and safer construction sites and workplaces. More practically, green construction—and, subsequently, greener facility maintenance—result in lower costs associated with energy and water usage and even waste management.
Let’s look at three green construction trends that are sure to shape the future of commercial building:
1) LEED Certification
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is the world’s most widely used green building rating system, devised by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) to evaluate the environmental performance of a building and encourage market transformation toward sustainable design. There are nearly 80,000 projects participating in LEED across 162 countries, including more than 32,500 certified commercial projects. Around 1.85 million square feet are being certified daily, meaning they’re sufficiently resource-efficient, using less water and energy, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Studies support that LEED-certified construction results in significant advantages for both builders and commercial businesses. Consider these statistics from a USGBC study from Booz Allen Hamilton:
- The construction of LEED-certified buildings accounted for about 40% of green construction’s overall contribution to GDP in 2015.
- LEED will directly contribute $29.8 billion to GDP by 2018.
- From 2015 – 2018, LEED-certified buildings are estimated to save as much as:
- $1.2 billion in energy savings
- $715.3 million in maintenance savings
- $149.5 million in water savings
- $54.2 million in waste savings
2) Human- and Eco-Friendly Building Materials
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are contained in many building products, such as paint, drywall, furniture, and carpeting. These can become vapors or gases and harm our air quality. Short-term exposure to these airborne chemicals can cause headaches, dizziness, and eye and respiratory tract irritation. Long-term exposure can affect the function of organs and the central nervous system.
As a result, more builders and commercial clients are choosing materials that either don’t contain VOCs or that carry low levels, such as low-VOC paints. Both Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), which disclose a building product’s list of ingredients and their health effects, and Health Product Declarations (HPDs), which focus on the environmental impacts of a building product throughout its lifecycle, are helping consumers make informed product choices.
What’s more, according to ConstructConnect.com, the production of concrete and steel is hard on the environment, accounting for up to 15% of the global greenhouse gas emissions annually. While manufacturing processes can be changed, builders are increasingly looking at more environmentally friendly alternatives that are made from renewable resources or are recyclable at the end of their life, such as various mass timber products.
3) Net-Zero Energy Buildings
Buildings that create as much renewable energy as the building consumes in a year is considered a net-zero energy building. Net-positive energy buildings, on the other hand, generate more energy than they consume. These buildings are far from standard, but according to the Global Buildings Performance Network, “such a paradigm shift in the building sector is necessary if we are to tackle the predicted climate change impacts of the historically unprecedented boom in new construction in emerging economies and to ensure the supply of affordable energy for all.”
As reported on ConstructConnect.com, the California Public Utility Commission has set net zero energy goals for all new residential construction by 2020 and commercial buildings by 2030. And we’re seeing examples of companies who are demonstrating their commitment to zero-net or net-positive energy construction.
Walgreens, for instance, has built the world’s first net-zero energy retail store in Evanston, IL. Aside from solar panels, the store uses wind turbines and a geothermal energy system to produce energy equal to or greater than it consumes. Today, rooftop solar power systems provide 15-20% of the power at specially equipped Walgreens stores. And even where solar panels are not installed, energy-efficient bulbs are making an impact. According to Walgreens’ website, by decreasing the already energy-efficient 28 watt light bulbs to 25 watt light bulbs, the company will save enough energy to power 6,020 households a year.
If you are a contractor that constructs LEED certified or other green buildings, check with your insurance agent to ensure that the builder’s risk policy includes additional coverage for “green” materials as they are often more expensive and difficult to obtain than traditional building materials. In addition, a traditional builder’s risk policy may not cover the cost to recertify a LEED building after a loss. Acadia Insurance can also provide targeted “green” insurance if your business installs or operates solar panel equipment.
Speak with your insurance agent to discuss what special coverages you may need as a green building contractor or energy installer. To learn more about Acadia Insurance’s products or to find an agent to obtain a quote, visit acadiainsurance.com.