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The Progress and Benefits of Green Buildings

Green buildings are becoming more common around the world, as governments and private organizations invest in the efficient use of energy, water, and other resources. The role of buildings is particularly important in energy conservation and emission reduction; the buildings sector is responsible for 28% of global energy-related CO2 emissions and 30% of global final energy consumption, according to International Energy Agency’s Global Status Report 2017.

Sustainability Factors for The Buildings Sector
A key sustainability issue with the buildings sector is insufficient energy efficiency measures compared to the rapid increase in buildings. The Paris agreement sets a final energy use target of 100kWh/ m2 of floor area by 2030. To meet this target, the buildings and construction sectors need to increase energy intensity/ m2 by 30% on average, adds the IEA report.

time-2101549_640The situation is further complicated by the absence of mandatory energy building codes in countries where the majority of new buildings will be built over the next 20 years. IEA notes that out of the 132 nationally determined contributions (NDCs) they received, most did not include specific goals or projects related to “energy performance standards or efficient building technology deployment.”

Another noteworthy factor is the interaction between occupants and technology. Sensors and user controls enable occupants to interact with the building and provide real-time energy consumption data to utilities. “Active controls could reduce energy consumption by 230 EJ cumulatively to 2040,” suggests IEA analysis.

Climate, Health, and Business Benefits of Green Buildings
Industry research indicates green building benefits in several areas, including CO2 emissions, public health, operational costs, and asset value.

A comprehensive study done by Harvard shows that green buildings can help save billions in climate and public health sectors. Known as HEALTHfx, the study spanned over 16 years and it estimates $1.4 billion in climate benefits and $4.4 billion in public health benefits.

The HEALTHfx team studied LEED-certified buildings in six countries: Brazil, China, Germany, India, Turkey, and the U.S. The total CO2 emission savings equaled 33,000 kilotons. The health savings resulted from a decrease in deaths, hospital visits, respiratory symptoms, and off days from school and work.

Besides the climate and health benefits, green buildings offer business benefits as well. A 2016 Dodge study, involving over 1,000 construction professionals from 69 countries, identified several business benefits of green buildings, including lower operational costs, higher asset value of properties, and quality assurance certification.

The World Green Building Trends 2016 report shows a median decrease of 9% in operating costs in the first 12 months for the 2015 respondents and a median decrease of 14% over the next five years of the building for the same respondents. The results are similar to the results of their 2012 study that found median figures of 8% for 12 months and 15% over five years. US participants reported a 32% decrease in operational costs in the first 12 months and 53% over the first five years. However, despite the lower operational costs, 73% of participants found an increase in building costs compared to non-green buildings. The median payback period is eight years for both 2012 and 2015 studies.

For the asset value research, property owners compared the expected increase in asset value of green buildings with non-green buildings. The owners reported a 7% median increase in the 2015 study, a 2% increase compared to the 2012 study. Researchers also asked the architects and contractors among the participants to estimate the increase in building value. They estimated an 8% and 7% increase in 2015 and 2012 respectively.

Growth in The Certified-Green Buildings Sector
Several countries and regions are moving towards certified-green buildings. The U.S. Green Buildings Council’s (USGBC) recently announced the top 10 countries using their LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification. China is leading the list with 1,211 projects and 47.17 GSM (gross square meters), closely followed by Canada with 2970 projects and 40.77 GSM. India (20.28 GSM), Brazil (14.83 GSM), and Germany (7 GSM) complete the top 5 of the LEED-certification ratings. For comparison, the U.S., LEED’s largest market, has 30,669 projects covering 385.65 GSM. The gross square meters data is for 31st Dec 2017.

The USGBC has taken measures to increase growth in the green buildings sector. The council recently announced a new grant program called LEED for Cities Grant Program. The program is supported by The Bank of America Charitable Foundation, and it will provide grants to U.S. cities pursuing LEED for Cities certification. Six initial recipients include Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Denver, Colorado; Phoenix, Arizona; San Jose, California; and Washington, D.C.

Many states and regions have also set energy efficiency goals for themselves. The over 200 members of the Under2 Coalition, who aim to keep global temperature rise below 2°C, are setting targets to make buildings more energy efficient. According to the World Green Building Council, California has established a mandate for new residential buildings to be Zero Net Energy by 2020. Since 2011, the Welsh government has provided £217 million to improve the energy efficiency of 85,000 low-income homes through their Warm Homes Wales Programme.


Environment, Home

Increasing Awareness about Wildfire-Related Air Quality Issues

More than 10 million acres were burned in fires throughout the US in 2017, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Besides damaging plant life and buildings, fires can also significantly affect air quality.

In a recent report, NPR explained wildfire-related air quality problems and the financial issues many organizations and households face when needing to buy air cleaners. According to NPR, public health departments are giving greater importance to wildfire-related air quality problems as wildfire seasons increase in duration and intensity.

For instance, at the beginning of last year, Missoula County’s Health Department started collaborating with Climate Smart Missoula to provide HEPA air cleaners to seniors before the beginning of the fire season. By summer, they extended the program to include other at-risk residents. To compare, the department’s earlier approach was to issuing advisories warning.

According to Dan Debelius, Group Analyst at industrial researcher Freedonia, “At risk populations, particularly those with respiratory ailments, like asthma and chronic bronchitis, are susceptible to further health issues if exposed to poor quality air. Air treatment can prove invaluable to these people, as it reduces or even eliminates the source of the problem, rather than just treating the symptoms.”

Chemicals, Home

Federal Policy: CPSC Warns Pregnant Women and Children Against Toxic Flame Retardants

In a landmark recommendation, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has asked consumers, particularly those who are pregnant or with young children, to ask retailers if their children’s products, electronics casings, furniture, and mattresses are free from organohalogen flame retardants. The recommendation further asks manufacturers to eliminate the use of these chemicals. Ninety seven percent of Americans have toxic flame retardants in their bodies.

This is a clear shift from the “one chemical at a time” policy. According to Commissioner Elliot Kaye,”As a policy maker, and more importantly, as a parent, I am horrified and outraged at how chemicals are addressed in this country.” He further said, “Waiting to assess the safety of chemicals after they are already in consumers’ homes and our children’s bloodstreams is totally irrational public policy.”


Environment, Home

Recycling Rates on The Decline in California

California’s Bottle Bill is 30 years old, but the 30th anniversary comes with great concern about the recycling rates in the State.

Former Assembly member Burt Margolin (D-Los Angeles), the author of the legislation, Assembly Bill 2020, stated “The legislation set a goal of 80 percent beverage container recycling, which we exceeded in 2008, reaching as high as 85 percent in (2013). But as of mid-2017, recycling rates have slid backwards and now are at 77 percent. There’s an easy fix the Legislature can make in the next few weeks to reverse that trend.”

In the last two years more than 560 recycling centers (about 20%) have closed due to a decrease in recycler reimbursement levels. In terms of container quantity, 2.5 million fewer containers are being recycled per day compared to the last reporting period.

A legislation to address the recycling issue has been put forth by Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Phil Ting and is supported by the Brown Administration. However, it was ignored during recent budget negotiations and is likely to die unless taken up by the Legislature before it adjourns in mid-September.

Environment, Grid, Home

Power Restored for 405,000 Georgia Power Customers

Hurricane Irma’s affected about 1 million Georgia Power customers. The utility has restored power to over 405,000 customers in 24 hours, but as of 18:30 Tue, about 545,000 are still without power. Restoration estimates will be given after assessment is complete.

Georgia Power must wait until conditions are safe to begin power restoration. Rain, strong winds, and other factors such as blocked areas may also delay the assessment and restoration process.

Update – 18:30 Tuesday

The company is attending to over 9,800 cases (including broken lines and poles)

The hurricane has affected supply in several areas around Columbus, Savannah, Metro Atlanta, etc.

Under severe weather conditions, Georgia Power can use additional resources as part of the Southern Company system. The utility is also part of a national mutual assistance network of utilities. While Georgia Power has requested for help through the network, resources have been assigned to harder-hit areas in Florida.