Tackling Climate Change With Green Buildings

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It's hard to find good news in the news, as they say. But it does occur, and there's plenty of encouraging news out there as well. Take climate change, for example. No, the polar bear isn't saved, and the Eastern seaboard is still scheduled to be swamped by the 23rd century, unfortunately. But in small but steady ways, gains are being made that are reducing the waste and global footprint made by construction projects. What's more, structures being produced under the growing and international "green construction" movement not only are done with more environmentally sustainable construction methods, the resulting structures save owners and tenants considerable money in using them.

And contractors and their clients aren't the only ones who are enthusiastic about green construction. At the recent Conference of the Parties 21(COP21) an international climate-saving conference in Paris, the national non-profit U.S. Green Buildings Council (UGBC) pledged to add five billion square feet of new green construction by 2020. This was one of a number of promises made during the COP21 gathering by more than 25 countries to reduce waste produced by construction and reduce global warming by two degrees. Occupied buildings contribute as much as one third of the world's emissions leading to climate change. Creating and following programs that encourage both smarter construction and environmentally friendly finished products are hoped to be helpful. One hundred and fifty countries now participate in the LEED program, and because of its success, a program called EDGE has been formed to help developing nations create and comply with environmentally friendly construction practices.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is of course the 1994 UGBC program that uses a rating system to determine that a building is being constructed or renovated with practices and materials that insures that occupants can continue to maintain it in an environmentally correct manner after construction. There are different LEED classifications for retail, commercial, private dwelling, and neighborhood buildings, and different rankings within each classification. Revamped and greatly believed to have been improved upon in 1998, the program has been adopted by a number of other industrialized nations, and is the world's most popular environmentally sound building program.

But will all of these green buildings cool down the planet? LEED studies done show that while the indoor environmental quality of these buildings is superior to non-LEED ones and while LEED buildings use less energy overall, Earth's climate seems so far to be showing no benefit from green construction. But no one's throwing in the towel on programs like LEED and EDGE. On the contrary, the number of U.S. LEED projects is expected to triple in the next few years, and COP21 leaders urged other participants to increase LEED efforts. So firms in the process of becoming LEED certified will not only find those efforts rewarding but necessary as we progress further into this century with more sustainability in construction.