Blog › Surveying attitudes about green building reveals many (not always welcome) opinions


Surveying attitudes about green building reveals many (not always welcome) opinions

Marc Lefkowitz  |  07/21/10 @ 11:15am  |  Posted in Green buildings

Was it pent up demand or downright frustration that The Northeast Ohio Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council unleashed in some 200 local builders, architects and real estate developers who filled out a survey on how well the region is adapting to 'green' building practices?

"People are increasingly more interested in adapting sustainable building techniques and may experience some confusion and frustration about how to go about it," NEO USGBC president Michele Kilroy put it gently. "While there are some built environment professionals who have yet to embrace sustainability, there are many built environment professionals in our region who do have technical and hands-on experience executing these projects. These professionals recognize that it's both a good business practice and just a matter of time before sustainable building becomes the norm."

Perhaps, but the survey confirmed there's a widening chasm of opinion about green building among customer groups. Hospitals, nonprofits, and institutions of higher learning are racing to adopt it, while those fixed on return on investment are hostile or, at best, inured to arguments that green has good long-term value.

"General contractors and the real estate community are most skeptical in their perception of their clients' attitudes with General Contractor/Trades and Real Estate/Tenant Leasing/Finance registering 90% and 85% between "not embraced" to "somewhat embraced," the survey concludes.

The biggest gripe these crusty old pros have is "that too much emphasis is placed on upfront efficiencies during the design process and not enough data being made available to illustrate long-term benefits."

Of course, that hasn't slowed the adoption of green building in steadily growing real estate markets.

Green building retrofits are a good investment for building owners, even in a down economy, University of California Berkeley professor John Quigley told Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland researchers in April. Quigley's research compared rental and resale rates for green and non-green buildings in the U.S., analyzing a cross-section of 28,000 LEED-certified and Energy Star buildings and comparing them to non-green buildings in a ¼ mile radius in 2007 and in 2009. He found green buildings rent for 5% more than non-green buildings-even as supply increased and as the economy tanked.

"Having a more energy efficient building is profitable to the landlord," Quigley said. "Tenants are willing to pay higher rents for a green building, and the increased energy efficiency is fully capitalized into the selling rate of the building."

Some of the skepticism in Northeast Ohio may be chalked up to a visceral reaction in the building trades and real estate industry to green building's "social responsibility" messages – you get the sense from some of the testimonials in the green building survey that they think its environmental propaganda. There's a particular hostility toward linking green building to addressing climate change. Instead, the majority felt energy performance should be the message. Here's a sample quote:

"Stop promoting climate change and carbon footprint there are good reasons for sustainability those two are not good reasons."

Other negative trends spotted include Government and Education sectors not accepting the case for green building (the report surmises that mandating green building offers little to its value proposition). Also, premiums for green building are perceived to be higher than they are in reality. Actual cost data benchmarks should become more available as the market matures in Ohio, the report concludes.

On the positive side, heating/refrigerant engineers have ramped up their internal capacity to meet the needs or respond to the opportunities of the green building market. Also, in measuring how green building is communicated, 100% felt the terms "energy efficient" were impactful (43% agreed that the word "sustainable" is impactful).

What lessons did the Northeast Ohio green building chapter glean from the survey? Where do they go from here?

"Our Chapter identified several marketplace needs to move the green building needle forward when we completed our 2009-2010 strategic plan," Kilroy said. "The survey confirmed those needs that we've been working toward and will continue to work toward.

  1. Our programming (site tours, speaker presentations, workshops) demonstrate accessible, affordable, responsible green building in Northeast Ohio. Examples are: a session held on water efficient products that people can buy / install from big box retailers, a session on sustainable building retrofits and operations at CWRU, site tours of small to mid-size projects (Thorson-Baker, IMG, Cawrse & Associates) where owners inform attendees of reasons to "go green", real cost and ROI.
  2. Our Chapter has also been compiling a "library" of Northeast Ohio case studies that are application specific and support the economic reasons to build / retrofit sustainably. With each of these case studies, we are obtaining contact information for the project, applications addressed (HVAC or plumbing or irrigation or roofing, etc), before and after performance metrics, technologies implemented, associated costs and who actually performed the work. It's a great opportunity to broadcast individual sustainable building applications that are effective when phased into a building's capitol improvement schedule or when a building owner/operator realizes that the life cycle cost and ROI warrants the initial expenditure.
  3. Our Chapter's online Resource Directory will be able to feature individual green building companies and service providers in our area.
  4. Our Chapter's summer "green bag" session series on cleaning, waste reduction and energy efficiency for downtown Cleveland and University Circle building owners / operators will directly educate attendees on the areas that they identified as needing the most assistance with.

"To make a persuasive argument, I think we need to provide our region real life examples, building resources, financial information and positive performance data. We will continually strive to be an educational provider of those responsible green building examples."

Jeff Anderle who runs a private firm, Sustainable Rhythm, which helped the nonprofit green building group prepare and conduct the survey, notes that many national blogs and trade journals have run stories since the survey's release in mid-June.

Go here to see the report.

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