Green Sustainable Design: The Economic Challenges

A major economic challenge to green building techniques is the lack of incentives for builders to invest in green sustainable design. Because the benefits of green building are long term in nature, the owner — not the builder — of the building receives the benefits.

This is considered by Adam Davis of Architecture Week (“Barriers to Building Green“) to be the greatest challenge to seeing a transition toward green construction becoming the norm in architecture. To mitigate this challenge, a system is needed where some of the long-term paybacks are distributed to the builder.

Perception of Sustainable Design

A 2009 case study in the Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education & Practice shows Singapore architects think green building will cost more, and therefore do not inform and advise clients that these options are available. However, while a sustainable project can cost more initially, over the life cycle of the project, costs will actually be lower.

Currently, LEED is the premier standard for green remodeling and green sustainable design. Meeting LEED requirements costs, on average, less than five percent of the total costs of any building project. This extra cost can be difficult in communities with low-income residents that are already struggling economically, according to Julie Cidell in Local Environment.

Lack of Expertise; Expense of Green Consultants

There is a lack of information and best practices available to the average builder or designer concerning green building. In some cases, a specialized green consultant is needed for a project to lend expertise and find resources to help keep a green energy project on time. If sustainable green design was an industry standard, a designer or builder could handle this aspect of the work and avoid adding an unnecessary expense for the buyer.

If a product or other aspect malfunctions with the green building, it can be very expensive to fix the issue because of the lack of reliable information, points out Architecture Week‘s Adam Davis. Likewise, the lack of information makes it difficult for builders and designers to know the lifespan of the green products and how those materials affect the building site or interact the other materials, as show in the Singapore case study.

Finally, the construction industry is extremely fragmented. Suppliers, designers, architects and builders have very little vertical or horizontal integration, making it difficult to communicate ideas, writes Leon R. Glicksman in Physics Today.

Currently, buildings produce almost half of the greenhouse gases in the United States. The energy efficiency program LEED rates both new and remodeled buildings and has contributed to the certification of several green architectural designs. However, home owners can avoid the high costs of remodeling their homes through LEED standards by investing in the best home renovations for green buildings. Additionally, strategies to mitigate sustainable green building challenges are being actively developed now.

References:

  • Lam, P.T.I., Chan, E.H.W., Chau, C.K., Poon, C.S., & Chun, K.P. (2009) “Integrating green specifications in construction and overcoming barriers in their use.” Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education & Practice, Volume 135, No. 4.
  • Cidell, J. (2009) “A political ecology of the built environment: LEED certification for green buildings.” Local Environment, Volume 14, No. 7.
  • Glicksman, L.R. (2008) “Energy efficiency in the built environment.” Physics Today, Volume 91, No. 7.