IT’S NOT EASY BUILDING GREEN
As reported by the U.S. Energy Information Administration in May of this year, 40% of U.S. energy consumption in 2020 occurred in buildings both residential and commercial, and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) estimated in 2018 that 29% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions were attributable to such structures. Arguably, the importance of the construction sector to the nation’s environmental goals could not be more self-evident.
Because most buildings can have useful lives of 40 years or more, energy-efficient choices in design, materials, components, and operation for buildings currently under construction or renovation can have an especially long term impact. The C2ES points to window insulation, LED lighting, and construction materials containing less carbon as examples of “opportunities to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions” in the building process. Similarly, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) notes that, whereas some “green buildings” have renewable energy sources such as photovoltaic panels installed directly onsite, “[o]thers employ passive solar building strategies that physically position building elements, including windows, walls, awnings, and landscaping, to maximize the benefits of cooling shade in summer and solar warmth in winter.” Ultimately, structures that implement such practices not only can reduce emissions but also “can even provide net-positive impact in terms of generating their own energy…”
Although, as the PNNL also reports, residential construction has joined the commercial building sector in embracing the green-building movement, economics remain the most daunting obstacle. Such conscientious construction carries higher initial costs, which banks are often reticent to finance despite the long-term savings potential. Hopefully, those savings can start to materialize soon in existing green buildings to draw the full support of all stakeholders. In the balance lies the possibility of a holistic, greener environment that would be built for (relative) posterity and rely that much less on changes in individuals’ behavior to effect positive change for the planet.