Green Building Worldwide Proposal
The United States has one of the largest construction markets in the world, with approximately $578 billion in gross domestic product. In 2007, the construction industry initiated many codes and laws that require buildings to be more energy, water, resources, and waste efficient. CALGreen is a green building code that is mandatory first in the nation. The goal is to reduce the environmental footprint through sustainable operations and practice. Unfortunately, only California and Washington have state green building codes and the city of Charlottesville, Virginia has local city codes. These states and regions alone will not be able to reduce the carbon emissions and environmental impact the United States has done over the years. U.S building’s impact 40% primary energy use, 72% of electricity consumption, 39% of carbon dioxide emissions, and 13.6% potable water (drinking water) consumption.
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California has the codes to design and construct these eco-friendly building however, we need to inspire other states and countries to adapt green codes. Other states need to hear from architects, engineers, contractors, and suppliers to understand how new techniques and methods can solve many environmental issues faced today. I propose to spread awareness about green building and pursue a nation mandatory green code. For the sake of the environment, it is crucial for the construction industry to get the same awareness as plastic bags and straws.
Problems with the Construction Industry
The scarcity of water is already an issue in parts of the world, and it is mind blowing how the United States flushes toilets with clean water. In Texas, and parts of Southern and Western US regions face strains of growing populations and shrinkage in supply. Currently, the average toilet manufactured flushes 1.5 gallons per flush. Toilet water is mostly fresh water, because the bacteria inside is so diluted that it only makes up a very small amount of the water. Now, water that is flushed down the toilet, laundry water, or shower water all flows the drain and into the sewerage pipes. That is gallons of water going to waste, when there are grey water systems that can recycle that water. Another water issue is the lack of rainwater storage systems, installing a residential system allows people to collect rainwater and reduce the demand for water facilities and improves conservation efforts. Upshaw states, “rainwater collection reduced municipal water consumption by approximately 53–89%, depending on the system size” (par. 1). Landscaping is another issue with water conservation because sprinklers are usually on a timer and water is being wasted on a time of drought or in time or storms. Sprinkler irrigation puts out 1 inch of water, and waste 30 to 50 percent of water through evaporation and other factors.
Many materials used in the construction industry are not produced with sustainable methods, most factories produce damaging carbon dioxide emissions. Chandler from the MIT News Office reports, “worldwide steel production currently totals about 1.5 billion tons per year. The prevailing process makes steel from iron ore — which is mostly iron oxide — by heating it with carbon; the process forms carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Production of a ton of steel generates almost two tons of CO2 emissions, according to steel industry figures, accounting for as much as five percent of the world’s total greenhouse-gas emissions” (par. 4). This is just one raw material, the construction industry commonly also uses aluminum, copper, and stainless steel. Extraction and consumption of raw materials have a major environmental impact. Another issue is transportation, materials are often not produced locally and are shipped across the country or the world, increasing the carbon footprint. The demolition and renovation of construction projects result in a large amount of waste. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency “548 million tons of C&D (Construction and Demolition) debris were generated in the United States, in 2015—more than twice the amount of generated municipal solid waste. Demolition represents more than 90 percent of total C&D debris generation, while construction represents less than 10 percent” (par. 3). Construction waste can sometimes contain hazardous substances, such as lead and asbestos.
Currently, the building sector is the largest consumer of energy in the United States. Both residential and commercial consume the most energy lighting, water heating, and space heating and cooling. There are about two million solar systems installed, providing electricity for nearly 12 million homes, however that is only a fraction of the buildings in the U.S. Light pollution are excessive, misdirected, or obtrusive artificial (usually outdoor) light, which wastes energy. Refrigerants raise an environmental threat due to ozone depletion potential and global warming potential. Energy efficiency is the most innovative and popular technique in new construction; however, California is the only state that will mandate zero-net energy (ZNE) for all new residential construction by 2020 and all new commercial ZNE by 2030. Hall states, “Zero energy means buildings use no more energy over the course of a year than they produce through solar power or other energy production technologies” (par. 1). The highest energy priority for this plan is to strive for cost-effective energy efficiency measures over both the short and long- term
Proposed Solutions for Green Building Worldwide
The United States Building Council is a nonprofit organization that offers building LEED certification. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and is the most widely used rating system for green buildings. This is a certification system that rates a building’s environmental performance based on characteristics on the project. Depending on the number of points in each category a project will be awarded Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum rating. California minimum building codes will already earn a project Certified LEED rating. A huge environmental impact can be done by duplicating CALGreen codes nationwide. Green building does not only reduce or eliminate negative environmental impacts, but will have a positive impact on the environment.
Water efficiency will greatly reduce water waste and will also have financial benefits. Water efficiency system can be easily added to preexisting building or pre-installed in new construction. Buildings can have dual flush toilets that gives the user a choice to flush solid or liquid waste and control the amount of water flushed. Greywater systems are an innovative way to conserve water in an energy efficient method. This recycling system collects water that was already used for other activities, filters it and pumps it back to get reused. Another water collection method is a rainwater storage system, which captures rainwater to save and distribute when needed. Pros for this system is water is free to collect, rainwater does not contain the chemicals or additives municipal supplies have, saves on utility bills, reduces potential for local flooding, and rainwater is better for landscaping. The cons would be rainfall is unpredictable, storage tanks take up space, and construction and installation time and money. There are many ways to be water efficient when it comes to landscaping. There is rainwater storage as previously mentioned however, there are also smart irrigation systems and drip irrigation. Smart irrigation systems had a satellite that will detect weather conditions, soil conditions, and evaporation to water adequately. In addition, drip irrigation is a system that drips water directly to the roots potential, allowing more nutrients and minimize evaporation.
The issue with raw materials is that they are being excessively extracted and for many reasons, impacts the environment such as carbon dioxide emissions, fossil fuels, pollution. Furthermore, from raw material shortage, the actual cost makes up, but it can only be extracted at the expense of a higher use of energy. A possible solution to this is recycling non-hazardous materials from demolition, building and recycle or salvage materials and finishes in a new construction. For example, instead of crushing a concrete structure, it can me dismantle as a whole and re-used floor are wall in another building. The waste will avoid the landfills and will minimize the extraction of raw materials to produce more concrete. Innovative construction materials, such as bricks made from cigarette butts, light generating cement, pollution absorbing bricks, and self-healing concrete is going to reduce the consumption of waste and energy. Transportation of raw materials is in issue considering that extraction sites are within China or owned by Chinese companies. There are large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions and energy usage when it comes to shipping the materials. Local sourcing will help the environment and communities, and many costs can be reduced by localizing the supply chain.
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Energy efficiency similar to water efficiency has many systems that can reduce the environmental impact. Changing light bulbs to low mercury lamps can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, more energy efficient, cost less to use, and last longer. Motion- activated light can also be costly and energy efficient. Solar power systems derive clean, pure energy from the sun, and help combat greenhouse gas emissions and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. California, is taking up the challenge of zero-net energy for new residential construction by 2020 and commercial buildings by 2030. A stronger solution would mandate these codes nationwide, if all homes and commercial buildings went net zero in the U.S. that would be 40% of the nation’s consumed energy. Net zero homes and buildings are already up and running, proving that it is possible, these buildings redefine the relationship between humankind and the environment. To reach net zero most commercial and residential buildings will use solar panels, windows to reduce artificial light, tight insulation, and low-energy appliances.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Understanding the environmental impacts, the construction industry can put in perspective what sector needs a push in efficiency. Many homeowners or developers see the cost in these efficient systems, however most of these will save on utility bills. Green buildings are designed for the comfort and productivity of the occupants and much as environmentally responsible
I recommend implementing mandatory nation green building codes to improve water, waste, and energy efficiency. If possible, states should give incentives for renovating or building efficient systems into homes or buildings. As well as encouraging states to educate and promote green building with commercials and advertisements. With zero net energy homes and buildings rising, the impact of this code being mandated across the country will be a large positive environmental impact.
These codes seem like a big change, and seem more difficult than switching from plastic to paper straws but it is the biggest environmental impact. If my proposal is accepted, I will be able to provide an in-depth analysis of the problems and detail possible solutions to the construction industry. I look forward to meeting with you to further discuss green building codes, benefits, and answering any questions.
- Chandler, David L. “One Order of Steel; Hold the Greenhouse Gases.” MIT News, 8 May 2013, http://news.mit.edu/2013/steel-without-greenhouse-gas-emissions-0508.
- Hall, John. "California Moves on Zero Net Energy." Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration News 232.9 (2007): 1,24. Web.
- “Sustainable Management of Construction and Demolition Materials.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 13 May 2019, https://www.epa.gov/smm/sustainable-management-construction-and-demolition-materials.
- Upshaw, Charles R, Joshua D Rhodes, and Michael E Webber. "Modeling Electric Load and Water Consumption Impacts from an Integrated Thermal Energy and Rainwater Storage System for Residential Buildings in Texas." Applied Energy 186 (2017): 492-508. Web.
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