Green Building: No Longer a Choice


I always look forward to the annual McGraw-Hill Construction magazine’s “Green Outlook” report. The 2011 edition is out now: The Green Outlook is valuable because it is straight economic data, issued by an organization that doesn’t have a vested interest in green building; it’s factual, empirical.

What does the new Green Outlook contain? For starters, the green building growth figures are remarkable. Look at the headline: “Green Building Market Grows 50% in Two Years Despite Recession.”

I call your attention to two other recent reports. The first is the story about the Federal Trade Commission’s efforts to regulate green claims on product labels, finally bringing adult supervision and standardization to manufacturers’ claims (November/December Residential Design+Build)

The second interesting report is the American Institute of Architects’ “Local Leaders in Sustainability”:, which reports on the rise in green regulations. It finds that green is increasingly being required and regulated. The AIA report found there are 138 cities with green building programs — more than 20 percent of cities surveyed. That’s a 50 percent increase in green building programs since 2007. Today, more than 53 million Americans live in cities with green building programs, and 24 of the 25 most populated metropolitan regions in the U.S. are built around cities with green building policies.

Now, let’s look at some of the numbers in the Green Outlook report. The value of green building construction starts was up 50 percent from 2008 to 2010, from $42 billion to as much as $71 billion, depending on the calculation method. That represents 25 percent of all new construction activity in 2010. According to projections, the green building market size is expected to reach $135 billion by 2015, as noted in the report.

“A third of all new nonresidential construction is green — a $54 billion market opportunity. In five years, nonresidential green building activity is expected to triple, representing $120 billion to $145 billion in new construction [40 to 48 percent of the nonresidential market] and $14 billion to $18 billion in major retrofit and renovation projects,” cited the Green Outlook report.

The green building industry is exploding with growth, the feds are regulating what can be said about products, and cities are adopting green building standards and requiring architects, engineers and contractors to build to certain standards for efficiency and nontoxicity.

A movement that started out less than a decade ago has matured, with all the expectations of having entered its adult years. The excesses we tolerated in the green building movement’s adolescent stage — fickle sense of direction, wild claims, and even a sense by some older observers that this was something they had to put up with for a while — are a thing of the past.

The green building movement has become increasingly professionalized, training and certifications made more rigorous, and products held to higher independent standards. From the looks of the McGraw-Hill report, the AIA study on regulation, and the actions of the FTC, this is a trend that will get stronger.

Today, “going green” is no longer a luxury or a choice. It’s a mainstream movement that even the recession couldn’t stop, and it now requires your participation, often with the force of law.

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