Monday, 9 July 2007

The Need for a New Green Building Rating Tool

Green Homes in Freiburg, Germany

Today, buildings account for 15% of the world’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions (IPCC). The building sector is also one of the fastest growing. The IPCC estimates building-related GHG emissions to double by 2030 under a high-growth development scenario.  This increase would take place almost entirely in the developing world. 

McKinsey forecasts that the majority of low-cost abatement measures are to be found in the building sector. Developing countries present the greatest opportunity for GHG reductions through the design of Green Buildings, underscoring the need to adopt sustainable building practices and to capitalize on this emission reduction potential. 

Green Building rating systems such as LEED, Green Star and BREEAM are being widely used globally. Local indigenous systems are emerging but most use the basic platform outlined in LEED or BREEAM. Many countries are either currently pursuing Green Building standards or are planning to pursue them in the near future. This reflects the popularity of voluntarily labeling a building as “green.” 

Problems with current rating systems
These systems share inherent problems such as:
·   Details and specifications that should be basic to fundamental practice are included as ‘green’ elements,  Measures like ‘indoor environmental quality’, ‘durability’, disability access or occupational safety and health issues can be found in many of the rating tools, taking the focus away from the primary issue of GHG.
·   The mandatory minimum performance is too lenient in many cases and fails to provide adequate reassurance that the “green” building will provide lower energy costs.
·   They make subjective judgments [weighting] of different environmental issues [health, energy consumption, water consumption] in the name of contextual economic and social concerns or priorities.
·   They do not suggest technology solutions to improve efficiency and related cost savings.
·   They rely on complex energy simulation software to predict energy use, which often lack accuracy in specific local contexts. These software packages rarely provide design direction in the initial conceptual stage. This results in a large number of iterations to the design and a time and budget loss for the Green Building project.
·   The assessment process is lengthy and expensive [see LEED is Broken, 2005], especially for clients in developing countries. This limits the number of prospective builders/owners adopting Green Building strategies.
·   Investors need to be able to assess the financial viability ofa Green Building investment through reduced risks from lower utility bills, which is not possible with the present rating systems.

Developing countries currently lack a green building assessment and rating tool that addresses their unique needs. Most existing green building tools are complex, expensive, and time-intensive, as they require a considerable investment in training and a laborious data entry effort -- making the entry into this field unnecessarily difficult. This underscores the need for a simple, quick, and affordable tool that focuses on the efficient use of energy, water, and materials while exposing investment costs and length of payback time.

What could create higher adoption of green building practices?

In order to achieve significantly better market penetration in developing countries and a meaningful impact on resource efficiency, a Green Building [GB] rating system needs to have the following features:
  •     Ability to provide efficiency impacts: GB system must provide a tools with resource efficiency measures (REMs). The designers of the GB project will be enabled to choose those REMs that make the most impact. e.g.: it would be better for designers to choose 5 REMs that result in an aggregate of 25% of cost savings compared to 15 REMs that provide an aggregate of 20% of savings in that particular locality. This a la carte capability to rapidly determine the best technical solutions is critical in new, emerging markets where a streamlined process compensates for an absence of technical expertise and administrative skills.
  •      Capability to provide design direction early: There is a clear need for a tool that starts informing decisions based on efficiency early in the design process. It is preferable to have a ballpark estimate early in the design process rather than use complex accurate modeling, particularly in new developing markets, which may or may not get used in the design and may not actually give any more accuracy.
  •       Ability to provide cost information: Choices of REMs should be based on investment costs and payback, as stakeholders in developing countries are particularly sensitive to the bottom line. With information on the capital costs, as well as potential savings in operation costs, the stakeholder can calculate the payback and make a more financially informed decision.
  •      Capacity to measure building performance objectively: The classification system must provide some level of certainty in terms of efficiency. e.g., 30% reduction in operational energy and water use that correlates to 30% lower bills. The rating tool must provide efficiency information that is objective, un-weighted, and tangible.
  •      Potential to manage without expensive consultant resources: Most developing countries do not have access to green building specialist. The tool must assume a level of simplicity that eliminates the need for specialist, enabling competent building consultants (architects, civil engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, and plumbing/sanitary engineers) who have little advanced knowledge of green building practices. 
Three main innovations are required to create a large-scale adoption of green building standards: 
  1. Simplification of assessment criteria and therefore reducing the time and cost to meet the standard, 
  2. Sharp focus on areas of resource use in buildings i.e., carbon emissions, energy consumption, water consumption, and materials consumption, and 
  3. Provision of an integrated planning tool which recommends cost-effective solutions to make the building design and specification ‘green’.