Green Building Ebbs Slightly in Recession, But Sentiment Remains Strong

Tight economic times have a way of recalibrating priorities. According to a recent study, although the economic weight of the recession has caused a small retreat in sentiment for green building in design and construction professionals, the vast majority still promote building sustainably to their respective clients, helping to stoke a global green building industry worth $558 billion in 2009. Fewer, however, remained supportive of seeking LEED certification for buildings as a means for a more public display of green efforts.

Conducted jointly by Allen Matkins, Construction Technologies Group and the Building Insider, the 4th Annual Green Building Survey shows that 92.3% of respondents claim to endorse green building practices in their projects. With 1,600 construction and design professionals surveyed across the country, the latest figure marks a continued drop in sentiment from previous highs of 96.8% and 93.8% in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Regardless, getting 9 out of 10 in the building industry to be pro-green building is a healthy achievement.

The trend of seeking LEED certification has not weathered the storm quite as well. The 61.7% of professionals endorsing the pursuit of the rating from the United States Green Building Council is a significant drop from the 77.4% that the survey tallied in 2007 before the recession hit. The architecture community has been divided on the merits of the LEED system for some time now, with some claiming that it serves as a checklist of values that fails to promote a creative, evolving use of sustainability in the design process. On the other hand, it provides the industry with a publicly familiar way to ratify and display a greener mission to the populace.

Even with green building support undoubtedly rising over the course of the last decade, cost forever remains a factor in the American construction landscape, especially when national rates for new construction remain at multi-decade lows. To many, LEED certification is viewed as only an added cost. Admittedly, the process entails fees and a notable number of man hours spent on paperwork. From the survey respondents that claimed to have completed a LEED-Gold project, 59.4% believed that LEED certification raised the cost of the project by 4% or more. When the cost of a Manhattan high-rise apartment can venture into the realm of $250 million, 4% can become a considerable figure.

Unsurprisingly, saving energy and operating costs stood as the number one reason for incorporating sustainability into new building projects with 88% reporting that they are more likely to introduce energy saving components into projects in the next year. The least important reasons for green construction were apparently achieving higher rents and increasing tenant productivity. The latter could be due to the mix of project types that the particular respondents were involved with. Commercially oriented projects can value worker productivity much more than residential ones—it served as one of the main reasons for Bank of America to construct a greener workplace in their headquarters at One Bryant Park.

These figures represent an important practice. With only so many consumers educated in the merits of sustainability, let alone the numerous ways that it can be implemented, industry professionals are responsible for helping to bestow that education in their customers to fill out the demand. The fact that 92% of the industry is actively pitching that direction to potential clients marks a good sign for the years of economic rebound ahead. While it is nice to have LEED certified buildings, as long as they are designed and built sustainably, we are accomplishing the real goals.