The green building groundswell the real estate industry is experiencing might best be described by writer Victor Hugo: “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”Of course, it has taken time for going green to gain its current momentum. Only a decade or so ago, green was still more novelty than necessity, more marketing than maximizing ROI, more “should do” than know how to do it.
To see how quickly green has come into its own, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), in 2012, 41% of non-residential building starts were green, as opposed to 2% in 2005. That is extraordinary progress in seven short years. For 2015, the USGBC anticipated 40% to 48% of new nonresidential construction would be green. Today, it is no longer whether to go green, but more a question of where and how to maximize the benefits from energy savings, water conservation, recycling, enhanced workplace health and productivity, attracting and retaining a higher quality of tenant and, not the least, adhering to the growing number of local, state and federal laws mandating everything from reporting energy usage to handling construction waste.
What then will be the top green commercial building trends of 2016?
The number of buildings seeking LEED ratings will continue to increase dramatically. There are LEED rating bashers out there, as well as those who question whether LEED is enough. But, for now, the answer is yes it is and will continue to be. The “L” in LEED stands for leadership and LEED standardization took a global leadership position when it revolutionized green building with measureable standards for best-in-class building strategies and practices.
We will be seeing more cool roofs and green roofs. Cool roofs, achieved by using foam, rubber, special tiles and/or solar-reflecting paint, lower temperatures inside a building and can result in energy savings of as much as 15%. Green roofs, planted with vegetation, can increase a roof’s life span, result in major energy savings, greatly reduce water runoff and mitigate the Urban Heat Island Effect. In addition to all of the environmental reasons for a green roof, they are outstanding tenant amenities. Green roofs being built as urban produce gardens for tenants to manage, is a beginning trend we would like to see much more of.
Sustainable construction which uses materials and products that require less use of natural resources and more sustainable resources, is also on the rise. Steel, glass, prefabricated parts and additives to concrete serve to reduce waste.
Significantly trending is LED lighting. With so many benefits – reduced maintenance, much longer life and substantial energy savings – there is an advantage in saving up to 50% in energy. The obstacle remains upfront cost but a LED lighting retrofit can pay for itself in less than three years.
Lastly is a look at net zero or zero energy buildings. These buildings, although they may also store power from the grid, are designed with energy saving techniques and depend on renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Energy use is further reduced with state-of-the-art HVAC and lighting. Once considered impossible to achieve, net zero buildings are on the rise but remain problematical to realize. The most adaptable building type is multifamily given the density. There is one newly built in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn: R951 – a super-efficient, three-family row house. The NYC School Construction Authority recently built P.S. 62, a net zero energy elementary school on Staten Island.
But net zero energy is difficult to achieve in structures such as high rise commercial office buildings. As most buildings that generate their own energy use solar PV (or photovoltaic) on their roof, a low-rise building would be able to achieve net zero energy well before any high-rise. Add in the factor of not having trees or other buildings shading a structure with solar PV and the opportunities for net zero in high density, high rise Manhattan especially is rather dismal.
The future of green building is exciting and, if you pardon the pun, energized with regard to development of new ideas, products, techniques and technologies that will conserve energy and natural resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our carbon footprint and result in healthier homes, learning centers and workplaces.