Building for a greener future

Buildings utilize a significant percentage of energy, raw materials and electricity, as well as generate 48 percent of U.S. carbon emissions, according to the U.S. Green Building Council.

By designing, building and operating green structures and communities, the average reduction in consumed resources can be as much as 30 to 50 percent.

Buildings that consume fewer resources are a benefit to the environment decade after decade.

Through increased awareness of the impact of buildings on the environment, construction professionals - architects, engineers, builders - are finding solutions to make buildings more eco-friendly.

The three main objectives they consider are the social objective of the building, economics and sustainability.

Of course, not all builders include “sustainability” in their list of priorities, but Jane Leonard, a member of the U.S. Green Building Council San Diego Chapter board of directors and an architectural designer thinks there is a growing agreement that buildings must be greener. “There’s now a consensus that there’s now a climate change affecting our environment and that buildings are a significant component of the problem,” she said.

Leonard said there is no one solution to lessening the environmental impact of buildings. She pointed out the need for public awareness and education, because “everyone in the society is involved in the ‘built’ environment.”

Organizations such as USGBC are gaining traction and acceptance among decision-makers, as well as industry professionals.

Legislation such as California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, known as AB32, passed in 2006 to target the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, is the first comprehensive program adopted by a state. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, a nationally accepted benchmark, provides standards for the construction and operation of high-performance green buildings.

“Sometimes it’s hard to understand the relationship between things like energy and water,” Leonard said. “It’s not really one narrow focus on green buildings that’s going to save the world. It’s about figuring out how we live, modifying our behavior, how we use products.

“People really need to accept that there’s really no turning back from this environmental crisis we’re in. There’s so many aspects to sustainability that are going to change the way we live. It affects all of us.”