Despite Hurdles, Green Measures Win High Marks from Executives

As the drive toward sustainable buildings picks up speed in commercial real estate, executives appear to be mostly unfazed by the hurdles to going green. That trend emerged last week in a variety of studies released in conjunction with GreenBuild, the national conference in Boston organized by the U.S. Green Building Council. The group sponsors the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, the best-known certification series for sustainable buildings in the United States. In a poll of 754 executives published Nov. 18 by Turner Construction Co., 83 percent of respondents described themselves as “extremely likely” or “very likely” to pursue LEED certification for projects they develop in the next three years. Seventy-five percent told interviewers that the credit crunch makes them no less likely to use green measures. The executives, who represent developers, owners, brokers, design and construction consultants as well as other professions, cited significant potential obstacles to sustainable construction. An equal number–61 percent–agreed that the cost of LEED certification and higher construction costs pose a challenge. Another 57 percent mentioned the length of the payback period. But of those who said that building green costs more upfront, three quarters agreed that sustainable buildings pay back those costs. Participants in the Turner study also said they like sustainability’s impact on the bottom line. Seventy-two percent agreed that green measures add value to an asset, and 65 percent think that sustainable buildings command higher rents. And three quarters of respondents singled out a healthier environment for occupants as a plus for green buildings. Architects, too, report favorable feedback from owners on the potential savings provided by green buildings. For 60 percent of building developers and owners, reduced operating costs tops the list of reasons to like sustainability, according to the annual survey jointly released Nov. 19 by Autodesk Inc. and the American Institute of Architects. The percentage of clients asking for green elements reached 47 percent, a jump of 15 percent over 2007, the survey found. Use of several specific measures took a giant leap. The percentage of architects using green or vegetated roof coverings on more than half of their projects increased from just 7 percent in 2007 to 34 percent this year. Also on the rise are renewable on-site energy sources; 39 percent of architects polled are now using those sources on at least half their projects–up from only 6 percent in 2007. But are sustainable measures championed by the LEED program really making a dent? A study published last Thursday says “yes,” but warns that LEED alone is not enough. LEED-certified buildings in the U.S. use an average of 25 percent energy than their non-certified counterparts. But in order to cut their carbon footprint 80 percent by 2050, commercial buildings in the United States will have reduce their footprint about 1.6 percent a year annually. “LEED buildings’ relatively exemplary performance is not helping to make enough of a dent in constraining the growth of the building sectors’ CO2 emissions,” said Rob Watson, executive editor of and chairman & CEO of EcoTech International Group, a consulting firm specializing in sustainable buildings. “We need much more–and much more quickly–to reduce total emissions,” Watson added in a statement released with the report.