About 40 percent of global carbon emissions come from buildings. Cities are waking up to the fact thatbuilding green can provide a win-win for environmental stewardship and cost savings (Governing).
Cities can compel developers to build sustainably though mandatory disclosures and benchmarking, but they can also incentivize them through green competitions. Not just for big cities, this year Woodville, Ala., pop. 741, won the EPA’s Energy Star Battle of the Buildings for achieving the largest reduction in energy use.
Industry groups are taking a lead role as well. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has created avoluntary pledge that by 2030, its members will lower emissions from the buildings they design by 60 percent (CityLab). So far, results are mixed. Lack of awareness of sustainable design resources, such as energy modeling software, is something AIA is working to change.
One underutilized sustainability feature is green roofs, which incorporate trees or other plants on flat-roofed buildings (Construction Drive). Green roofs last 200 to 400 percent longer than normal roofs and provide cost savings between 25 and 50 percent. Several cities provide tax incentives to encourage broader adoption.
Sustainability (and preservation) advocates also are quick to point out the value in restoring and rehabilitating historic buildings (ArchDaily). After all, constructing even the greenest new building creates significant up-front environmental impact. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has noted that it can take 10 to 80 years for the energy savings in new green buildings to recoup their impact from construction.
Yet cities and developers are consistently rewarded for building new. As architects Jean Carroon and Ben Carlson put it:
Extending the service life of any object avoids the environmental impact of replacing it. To extend the life of buildings, regular maintenance is required, but this is hardly the norm. In the institutional and nonprofit world, fundraising for maintenance is exceedingly difficult. Having a new building or space named after a donor is much easier to sell than the Jane Doe Repair Plan.