When it comes to building more sustainably, the time is now. A feasible rebuttal could be, “The time to build greener buildings has been every day for the past decade.” This would be true. However, the current conditions present a ripe opportunity for buildings with more ecological stewardship not only because building greener makes sense, but because we may be at a point where an advance in green building practices can make the most difference for the industry’s future growth.
But the construction market is strapped now? Precisely.
The bursting of the housing bubble and the onset of the Great Recession has brought plenty of unwanted side effects, but when it comes to the prospect of making our building stock more sustainable there may be a silver lining. Tight times have a way of bringing out the glow in efficiency for consumers–whether it be in lighting, appliances, materials or even cutting down on unneeded space. But more importantly, green building activity has room to capture a larger percentage of the marketplace given that construction spending has contracted so much from pre-recession highs. As the construction industry rebuilds itself we have the chance for it to be rebuilt in a more sustainable image.
Economic indicators have yet to forecast robust growth in the U.S. construction market, but it seems as though the bleeding may have stopped. In any case, we have a long road ahead to a healthy construction market. According to the Department of Commerce, construction spending in December 2011 was $62.3 million for a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $816 billion. The industry is far from down and out, but compared to the December of 2007 that boasted numbers of $87.1 million and $1.14 billion respectively, we are a ways from boom time. Therein lies the opportunity.
In 2008, green building comprised an estimated $17 billion of a $212 billion housing market (or 8%) according to McGraw Hill. It would be one thing if the green building market contracted proportionally with the rest of the construction industry, but the data indicates otherwise. While the housing market contracted to a $98 billion in 2011 (a 54% decrease), green building remained steady at $17 billion, now comprising 17% of the market. Some industry experts expect the trend to continue. McGraw Hill’s own estimates point to a green building making up 29-38% of the housing market by 2015, as much as a 5-fold increase from 2011.
The time to ask for a greener project is now when contractors are hungry for work. We have, at our disposal, a talented work force that remains relatively inactive and likely willing to branch out into different means and methods if it leads to more work. Every building professional that is walked through a greener project makes it that much easier to build sustainably on the next one–even stalwart professionals can be turned into believers after experiencing the process. The result is a more educated work force that can better response to the inquiries and demands of a more interested pool of consumers.
Each project that gets completed in a more sustainable way is doing more than just producing a home–it’s building the base of industry evolution; giving orders to new companies for new products, securing production line quotas, establishing the baseline for a new generation of demand, building support for the evolution of building codes. Much like our energy grid, contributing to the marketplace in a green but intermittent fashion can sometimes cause more problems than it solves. Consistency is what businesses and companies are searching for.
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