Can America afford not to go green?

Jan. 1, 2009
The Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago, however, believes that America's flagging economy gives the business community a perfect reason to pursue green building with even greater determination.

According to a national survey, America's current financial slowdown could threaten to put green building on a back burner. The Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago, however, believes that America's flagging economy gives the business community a perfect reason to pursue green building with even greater determination.

The CMO Survey, recently released by Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, states that “As the economy tightens, marketers report that their firms have a weaker emphasis on ‘marketing that is beneficial for society’ and that ‘minimizes the impact on the ecological environment.’” The CMO Survey collects the opinions of top marketers from America's leading business organizations.

That trend could apply to both green products and green building. In the case of green products, a financial slowdown could shift the priorities of consumers, causing them to switch to less expensive brands that are not green. But applying that same shift in priorities to green building would have long-term negative results for businesses nationwide.

Stephen Lamb, executive vice president of MCA Chicago, believes that cutting back on green building efforts during a financial slowdown illustrates the definition of a false economy.

“Such an action might save money at the beginning, but over a longer period of time, it will result in more money being wasted,” he points out.

When it comes to green building, how much does going green actually cost? The study “Costing Green: A Comprehensive Cost Database and Budgeting Methodology” compared the square-foot construction costs of 61 buildings pursuing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification to those of similar buildings without green goals. Taking into consideration climate, location and other variables, the study determined that for many of the sustainable projects, aiming for LEED certification resulted in little or no impact on the budget.

Green buildings require intensive planning to ensure optimal results, but that additional effort is worth it, when you consider that operating costs will be substantially reduced for the life of the facility.

According to the Green Building SmartMarket Report 2006, energy represents the single largest controllable operating expense for office buildings, typically contributing as much as a third of a building's variable expenses. The report adds that the commercial office building sector in the U.S. spends approximately $24 billion annually on energy costs, and that a 30% reduction in energy consumption, or $7.2 billion, is readily achievable by improving building operation standards.

MCA Chicago took control of its own building operation expenses this year by moving its headquarters from a downtown high-rise to a green building in the suburb of Burr Ridge, Ill. MCA Chicago is striving to receive LEED Gold status for the building, and the new headquarters will save on energy expenses in numerous ways. In lighting expenses alone, the building is projected to save 30%. Artificial lighting is one of the major consumers of energy in any commercial building.

In addition to saving energy, green buildings can increase productivity by providing a superior work environment. According to the Indoor Environment Department of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the nationwide value of improved office worker productivity that would result from providing a better indoor environment is an estimated $20 billion to $160 billion.

Not only does green building have long-term financial benefits, but it also has other benefits that meet the needs of various sectors of the population.

Most people can see why green building has gained the support of environmentalists, and we are witnessing a growing investment from corporate America. Those who are conscious of national security realize that it reduces our dependency on foreign oil. To an increasing number of city administrators, it means doing the right thing for the public they serve.

Currently, all of Chicago's public buildings must be constructed with green standards in mind. Also, cities such as San Jose, Calif., Austin, Texas, Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., and Seattle, among others, mandate that municipal buildings larger than 10,000-sq.ft. must meet LEED standards. It is realistic to suppose that someday, all public works projects nationwide will need to be green.

An excellent source of green building information is the green contractor Web site of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America at

MCA Chicago founded the Green Construction Institute in 2008 to offer educational opportunities for its members. The Institute provides green classes for engineers, building owners and contractors, among others.

Dan Bulley, LEED AP, is senior vice president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago, Burr Ridge, Ill. He is executive director of the Green Construction Institute and treasurer of the Chicago Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. He can be reached at [email protected].

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