Green Construction Preserves Natural Resources

New system enables construction industry to manage their environmental obligations.

What in the world is green construction? No, it's not a building made from moss. The "green" refers to a method of design and construction that minimizes burdens on our natural resources and the environment.

The United States is home to 5 percent of the world's population, yet consumes 26 percent of the world's energy. Buildings in the United States account for 36 percent of this consumption. In addition, 136 million tons of construction and demolition debris is generated in the US each year. Responding to the increased global interest and awareness of environmental issues and the principle of sustainable development, environmental assessment systems have been created specifically for the construction industry. One example is the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

"USGBC has developed an innovative way to define what constitutes a 'green' or 'sustainable' design," says Dennis Day, executive director of public affairs for the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). The LEED rating system now provides standards for the industry to follow, and certifies nonresidential and other buildings that meet USGBC's strict criteria.

The LEED program is a voluntary national standard for developing high-performance sustainable buildings. The rating system awards points for a range of state-of-the-art strategies including sustainable site planning, safeguarding water quality and water efficiency, energy efficiency and renewable energy use, conservation of materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality. Launched in 1998, the program has already certified 44 projects nationally, with almost 860 registered projects awaiting certification.

"There are numerous advantages to designing for sustainability that far outweigh the up-front construction costs," says Day. Reduced environmental impacts, lower operating costs, higher productivity due to increased occupant comfort and health (which also may lead to reduced insurance costs), reduced strain on local infrastructure, and community stewardship are just some of the benefits.

More and more, owners from the public and private sector are attracted to the concept of green construction and are starting to demand high-performance buildings. Some state and local governments have established "green" guidelines and incentive programs, as well as requirements for their own public-sector buildings. As interest expands, the construction industry is increasingly challenged to demonstrate its commitment to the environment.

As part of a nationwide effort toward conservation and sustainability, AGC is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop an environmental management system (EMS) "template" that is specifically designed for the construction industry.

An EMS is a tool that helps companies from all industries manage their environmental impacts. In the construction industry, an EMS would provide the necessary framework for contractors to effectively manage environmental obligations, build "green," and achieve certifications such as LEEDs or participate in programs such as EPA's National Performance Track. Building on the EMS template, a construction company will be able to identify company actions that impact the environment, set improvement goals, and plan how to achieve them. Some environmental impacts to address in an EMS include controlling soil erosion and sedimentation, minimizing dust and noise, storing and handling fuels, managing waste, preserving natural resources, protecting wetlands and endangered species, and handling hazardous materials.

The Bush Administration is seeking a significant increase in public and private EMS use in the United States and public and private owners are more frequently requiring contractors to have an EMS. Whereas most green construction, such as a LEEDs project, depends on owner specifications, implementing an EMS is a step that contractors can take on their own to contribute to a more sustainable community.

AGC strives to increase public awareness of the construction industry's many contributions to environmental improvement and the nation's quality of life. "AGC recently updated and expanded its online green construction and recycling resources to assist members as they implement environmentally-friendly building techniques and achieve certifications," says Day. By supporting green construction, AGC is encouraging nationwide innovation in sustainable design and green building practices.

Courtesy of ARA Content