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October 27, 2008 7:45 AM CDT

Green Building

Initiating the initiative in your business


IAMU Assassi Exterior WaterView 2. Photographer Frashid Assassi; courtesy of RDG Planning & Design.
IAMU Assassi Exterior WaterView 2. Photographer Frashid Assassi; courtesy of RDG Planning & Design.
In the last five years, several regions of the United States have survived some of the most devastating natural phenomena. From the hurricane-ravaged areas of New Orleans to the tornado that leveled Greensburg, Kan., Mother Nature has dished some incredibly destructive forces. Many of these areas are coming back better than ever and — despite the environment not being friendly with them — constructing environmentally friendly, sustainable buildings. All of the public schools in New Orleans are being built green, and Greensburg is striving to rebuild the town entirely with LEED-certified structures.

This inclination toward building green is not unique to the United States, with sustainable designs popping up globally, from the ACROS Fukuoka in Japan and high-efficiency Wal-Marts in Canada, to the futuristic projects of the techno-savvy SmartCity Malta and zero-carbon, zero-waste Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. Internationally, the green movement has taken on a life of its own.

Today's Sustainable Design

According to Wikipedia, "The needed aim of sustainable design is to produce places, products and services in a way that reduces use of non-renewable resources, minimizes environmental impact, and relates people with the natural environment." Sustainable design can be utilized in fields ranging from interior design to architecture, often referred to as green building.

Taking this one step further, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has devised the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System in an effort to encourage and develop green building, as well as a universal vocabulary for the industry.

According to statistics provided by the United States Green Building Council:
  • There are more than 1,705 certified buildings and more than 13,741 registered projects to date

  • There are 57,417 LEED accredited professionals (LEED APs)

  • Retail sales are 20 percent higher for green buildings

  • Utility bills are 30 percent to 50 percent lower in green buildings

  • Green generates 3.5 percent higher occupancy rates and 3 percent higher rent rates

  • Green buildings' values are 7.5 percent increased

  • Green building improves ROI by 6.6 percent on average
"Green is everywhere now, not just in the building industry," says Christine A. Subasic, P.E., LEED AP, and consulting architectural engineer for C. Callista Subasic in Raleigh, N.C. "It is hard to pick up a newspaper today without reading about efforts by business or government to 'green' their business."

Kevin Nordmeyer, AIA, LEED AP and architect for RDG Planning & Design in Des Moines, Iowa, agrees.

Marion_LowePark-Kun Ext Elevation-Flowers landscape 2. Photographer Kun Zhang; courtesy of RDG Planning & Design.
Marion_LowePark-Kun Ext Elevation-Flowers landscape 2. Photographer Kun Zhang; courtesy of RDG Planning & Design.
"I would say that, just in the last four years or so, almost every request for proposal that we get from any college or government entity mentions sustainability or LEED," Nordmeyer says. "They may not say that LEED is required, but they may request that we follow the LEED program. There's rarely anyone who doesn't agree with the notion of pay back analysis in the terms of energy conservation and life cycle costs."

Nordmeyer says the ideologies behind green building are changing. "After your first project, you end up seeing that there really is no other way. You feel like you're not doing a responsible job if you don't think about sustainable issues."

He says that for many building professionals, including his firm, sustainable design is becoming synonymous with "good" design, to point that green building is almost understood.

"We really try to practice an integrated method on every project and try to bring levels of sustainability to every project, whether they're LEED or not."

The Future

"The green movement is gaining momentum, because people have become more conscious of environmental protection," says Shahnaz Jaffari, LEED AP, technical assistant at Rocky Mountain Masonry Institute and representative for Colorado at USGBC, member of the USGBC West Regional Council and chair of the Regional LEED Credit Task Force.

"Demand for resources and energy has rapidly grown in the past few decades, and lots of pollution has resulted from it. Buildings account for about 48 percent of energy consumption in the United States. People have become aware of the effects of their consumption on the world, and would like to remedy it. Therefore, the market will keep growing for green buildings in the future.

"It also makes perfect economical sense to build energy-efficient buildings when fuel costs are rising," she adds. "Building owners understand today that a green building pays for its extra costs in a few years by a reduction in its energy bills, and from then on, it is pure savings."

ISU Morrill Hall_Kun Ext East Facade G2. Photographer Kun Zhang; courtesy of RDG Planning & Design.
ISU Morrill Hall_Kun Ext East Facade G2. Photographer Kun Zhang; courtesy of RDG Planning & Design.

Why Should You Get Involved?

The very nature of masonry materials makes it a perfect fit for sustainable design.

"Masonry is such a great, long-lasting and durable material, that it just fits the sustainable concept from the beginning," Nordmeyer says. "When comparing masonry to other types of materials, it's still a good decision to use masonry materials in buildings. In many of our buildings, we choose to use some form of masonry if we can."

Just because the material is a perfect fit does not guarantee that a mason contractor will be chosen to install it. Designers who are building green are often looking for contractors who have completed at least one green building project. Mason contractors need to get involved and educated on green building concepts now so they simply don't miss the boat.

"I would think my attitude would be similar to a client looking at my credentials when hiring me," Nordmeyer says. "I wouldn't necessarily think that [mason contractors] would need someone that's a LEED AP on staff, but what really helps is if they've been involved in LEED projects — at least one. They need to be familiar with on-site recycling processes, submittals for flashing types, mortar mixes and all that kind of stuff. And, they need to be more aware of any paperwork submittals that would be required."

Subasic agrees, "All those involved in the masonry industry should educate themselves in this area. It is important to understand the various rating systems and what designers are looking for from material product manufacturers and suppliers.

"The use of green building rating systems continues to grow. If it hasn't touched your business yet, it likely will in the near future."

Larisa LaBrant, CAE, LEED AP and executive director of the Rocky Mountain Masonry Institute, takes it a step further, encouraging mason contractors to get involved in not only educating themselves, but also at a leadership level as well.

"I'd compare it to when the masonry industry started participating in the building code and fire code revision process," says LaBrant. "If we aren't part of making the rules, we're going to be penalized by competing systems who are participating.

"As an industry we know, feel and believe we're the best green building system," she says. "Now, we need to participate in, educate [ourselves], and convince the green building community. We've been on the sidelines too long, we're behind and we need to gain ground before we lose our core markets to inferior building systems that have been participating."

About the Author

Jennie Farnsworth is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and editor. She is a former editor of Masonry magazine.


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