Earth Day is a yearly reminder of our responsibility to protect the environment, and changing how we build is a clear chance for us to help fight climate change, the effects of which we’re already seeing today in loss of glacial ice, higher sea levels and more severe heat waves.
Buildings affect the climate
2016 was the hottest year since recording started in 1880, and the third year in a row to set that record, according to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The international scientific community is nearly certain that human activity is a driver of global warming. There’s over a 95 percent probability that human actions over the past 50 years have warmed our planet, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its Fifth Assessment Report.
Buildings account for more than one-quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), according to the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction. Add in other infrastructure and activities, such as transportation, that are associated with buildings, and that number jumps.
By building green, we can reduce the impact our buildings have on contributing to climate change while also building resilience into our homes and communities.
LEED v4 acknowledges the large impact buildings have on the environment and gives special consideration to climate change with its “Reverse Contribution to Global Climate Change” impact category (page 12).
Green buildings generate less greenhouse gas
Green building encompasses a structure’s planning, design, construction, operations and end-of-life recycling or renewal, while considering energy, water, indoor environmental quality, materials selection and location. Green buildings and communities reduce landfill waste, enable alternative transportation use and encourage retention and creation of vegetated land areas and roofs.
High-performing green buildings, particularly LEED-certified buildings, provide the means to reduce the climate impacts of buildings and their inhabitants.
A 2014 UC Berkeley study found that by building to the LEED system, buildings contributed 50 percent fewer GHGs than conventionally constructed buildings due to water consumption, 48 percent fewer GHGs due to solid waste and 5 percent fewer GHGs due to transportation.
LEED rewards thoughtful decisions about building location, with credits that encourage compact development and connection with transit and amenities, helping lower GHGs associated with transportation.
When a building consumes less water, the energy—and GHGs—otherwise required to withdraw, treat and pump that water from the source to the building are avoided. Additionally, less transport of materials to and from the building cuts associated fuel consumption.
All of these strategies significantly reduce the carbon footprint of buildings and occupants beyond what energy efficiency alone does. Providing inhabitant feedback with systems like Arc, which showcases a building’s environmental efforts and performance, can drive further reductions.
For more, watch our video "What is green building?":