One thing that all Americans can agree on is the urgent need for massive improvement in our roads, bridges, energy and water systems, as well as other important infrastructure such as hospitals and schools. In fact, infrastructure investment was one of the few issues both President-elect Trump and Secretary Clinton identified as immediate domestic priorities.
At USGBC, we couldn’t agree more—but we must do it right. All new infrastructure initiatives should focus on performance metrics, incorporate opportunities to advance energy that is clean and efficient and fully leverage all the new innovations and technologies that are powering the green economy.
High-performing, green building practices are continuing their upward trend in the U.S. and around the world, as both the public and private sectors seek to establish themselves as leaders in real estate, asset management and sustainability. With benefits ranging from lowering environmental impact to reduced operating costs to improved human experience, building green and supporting a growing green economy transcends political divides and party labels.
Earlier this year, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) committed once again to using LEED. GSA also announced that it has adopted the Sustainable SITES Initiative (SITES) rating system for its capital construction program. These decisions are especially important, since GSA is one of the largest and most diversified public real estate organizations in the world, with a portfolio of 376.9 million rentable square feet in 8,721 active assets and more than 144,000 acres of land.
With these “leadership by example” policies, GSA will ensure a more sustainable and healthier built environment by constructing federal buildings in a way that conserves energy, water and waste. This endorses what architects and developers have long known: that LEED-certified buildings save money, support federal sustainability goals and have a lower environmental impact over time than non-certified buildings.
Building green, high-performing structures has also become a matter of national security, with our military branches leveraging LEED as a pathway to energy security and resilience, while many U.S. embassies around the globe have used LEED to create resilient facilities that can operate off-grid with their own water and energy.
In fact, this year the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Defense constructed the first LEED Platinum, net zero energy aviation hangar at Fort Carson, Colorado. This innovative building includes high-efficiency lighting and solar panels that supply half its power needs. It is a major step in support of Fort Carson’s goal to become a net zero energy facility by 2020.
It is crucial that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle understand the importance of sustainability in construction practices and its real, growing, measurable impact on the economy and do not get caught up in false political narratives attributing green building to the agenda of one party.
In fact, as a 2017 infrastructure improvement plan is contemplated to help boost the critical facilities underlying our economy, local governments and private partners across the country are applying green, high-performing building practices to optimize their investments and promote resilience. Any federal program should follow this cue and prioritize performance and longevity, thus maximizing job creation while helping our country to use less water and energy, save resources and reduce utility bills.
Green building benefits include reduced greenhouse gas emissions associated with their construction and operation. Green buildings are also an important part of any city’s resiliency strategy by designing structures that feature climate adaptation and climate change mitigation strategies. They also generate impressive savings, are healthier for occupants and provide conditions for greater productivity.
The green renovation of the Edith Green–Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in Portland, Oregon, for example, has reduced water use by 65 percent and energy consumption by 55 percent, delivering millions of dollars in savings over time. And throughout the U.S. and around the globe, airport projects are using LEED and green building to ensure performance and reduce operational costs while they support economic development.
Beyond the benefits for owners, investors, tenants and occupants, green buildings support a thriving, innovative industry. The 2015 Green Building Economic Impact Study analyzed the economic impact of green construction on the U.S. economy and found that by 2018, green construction will directly contribute 3.3 million jobs in the U.S. and generate $190.3 billion in labor earnings. The report also found that LEED certified buildings account for 40 percent of green construction’s contribution to the U.S. GDP, and that from 2015–2018, LEED-related construction spending will support 1.4 million jobs, provide $95.7 billion in labor earnings and generate an additional $108.8 billion in GDP.
Clearly, green building is in a unique position as it combines the concerns of people who are both fiscally minded and environmentally conscious. The U.S. government should seize this opportunity not just to save money, or even to save the planet, but because it is an opportunity for all of us to LEED on!