Green, as it turns out, is a matter of degrees, and the costs are not necessarily proportional to the benefit. If you’re going to embark on a green building strategy, you have to answer the question: how green do we want to be? With legislation anxiety as the motivator, most companies would have sought the path of least resistance. How do you check the green building box for the least cost, the least deviation from standard practice, the simplest and the quickest? How do you become just green enough?
Through our detailed research, it became clear that “green enough” just wasn’t good enough. And in fact is the costlier path. The only way to do it cost-effectively, is to do it right. Green building experts will tell you that the only way to make a building green is through a process called “integrated design.” This process starts at the beginning with a blank slate, brings together all of the design professionals involved in the creation of a building, and teases out a design that balances costs in some areas with savings in others. The theoretical result is a super-engineered, if somewhat unorthodox, finely tuned building machine. Based on the beautiful LEED platinum buildings that we read about in the media, this process can yield incredible results.
However, in production development, you never start with a blank slate. With standardization providing the basis for profitability, the puzzle pieces are already set. Aside from the variability of individual sites, each new project is mostly just a rearrangement of those puzzle pieces. A complete overhaul just isn’t feasible.
So, incremental change became the process by which we could implement green building practices. And we discovered that the key to getting it right was in selecting the right increments and executing them well. The horror stories of deal-breaking green building costs generally come from developers taking the seemingly easiest course: build as you always have but slap on some green stuff. Instead, the first step – which offers the greatest benefit for the least cost – must be energy efficiency.
In our next “Getting Green Right” blog post, we’ll share our experiences and lessons learned with ENERGY STAR® for New Homes.