The True Cost of Building Green

The True Cost of Building Green


With buildings contributing to 40 percent of  emissions, architects play a key role in preserving the environment and making significant steps to carbon neutrality. With the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030, we can’t neglect to invest in green buildings.

Building green requires purposeful consideration of the impact that construction and building operation has on its surroundings. This includes energy and water usage, watershed impact, materials selection, eco-systems impact, and climate change. Building green should not only consider the project’s owner but also its occupants, the surrounding community, and future generations.

The challenge is that many believe that building green costs more than building conventionally. But, what’s the true cost? Is building green worth it?

When polled, many citizens were under the impression that green buildings cost 17% more to build than a traditional-built building. However, research shows only a 5% increase in the cost to build green.

That small increase in building costs is offset by cost efficiencies in reduced operating expenses each year.  Approximately 33% of energy used in North America is attributed to heating, cooling, and operating buildings. If one-third of energy use comes from buildings, why wouldn’t we build green? Not only would the building’s owner benefit financially for years to come, the environment benefits too. And, when the environment benefits, we all benefit.

The number one business benefit of building green is lower operating costs. The USGBC reported that 77% of US survey respondents chose lower operating costs as the most important benefit. Depending on the number of sustainable elements in a building, operating costs such as utility payments are lowered with up to 25% to 30% in savings each year.

Thinking about building green? Here are some tips to keep you in the green and on budget:

  • Plan It: Form your team early and convey your environment-conscious goals. Include the expertise of energy modelers, engineers, and specifiers. Task everyone with the role of creating and supporting a carbon-neutral plan while staying on budget.
  • Convey the Need: Get the project owner on board and emphasize that building green is a need, not a want. Explain the misconceptions about higher-costs in building green, and deliver your plan to meet the owner’s expectations with the budget and the environment in mind.
  • Stay Committed and Creative: It’s easy to lose momentum as the project progresses. Continuously remind the team of the original goals. Be flexible as the project evolves, but work together to find creative solutions that meet the expectations of all stake holders.
  • CarbonNeutralStampAvoid Business-As-Usual: Remind the builder that just-meeting-code isn’t good enough. The new approach has green in mind.
  • Use Your Resources: You don’t have to go it alone. The AIA provides support to help you meet the 2030 Commitment of making all new buildings carbon neutral by 2030.  Architects like you have used the 2030 Design Data Exchange (DDx) to enter data and best practices to track energy-savings progress. In fact, for 2017, the data reported a savings of $3.2 billion in annual operating costs. And, that’s just the savings from those reporting. This data continues to help architects make the case to project owners that building green is a win-win.

Green buildings are truly investment properties with amazing benefits to so many. While it may be tempting to compare up-front costs, it’s important that we understand the long-term savings in building green. Ultimately, those savings will offset initial costs and provide inhabitants with confidence knowing that their structure is built with the environment, and them, in mind.