News

Building as If Every Day is Earth Day

04/22/2019

Unfortunately, the construction industry has historically been the biggest culprit of energy depletion and CO2 emissions, to the tune of globally accounting for about 36% and 39%, respectively.1 These numbers may be disheartening, but global dialogue has increased awareness and industry leaders have responded with action. By implementing green building policies, sharing data-driven information, and promoting environmentally-sustainable practices, we can all do our part to be conscious, responsible contributors within the construction industry. As the preeminent tenant improvement general contractor in Southern California, Howard Building Corporation (HBC) builds workspaces – or “second homes” – while recognizing the potential impact on our larger collective home. At HBC, we do everything in our power to positively impact the environment, and it is crucial, more than ever, that we continue to be a leader in the green building movement.  

Environmentally-Aware at Our Core

Part of celebrating Earth Day includes reflecting on how we have committed to doing our part historically while seeking ways to continue to make a positive impact in the future. As a result, we look towards and support industry organizations who make it their sole mission to promote green building, such as the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Los Angeles Green Business Program. Our involvement with USGBC extends deeply, to the extent that our CEO, Paul McGunnigle, sits on the Board of Directors for the Los Angeles Chapter. Presently, HBC is involved in an educational effort that exposes 100% of our project personnel to USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system; subsequently, thirty members of our team, both in office roles and in the field, are LEED-accredited professionals.

HBC is proud to have completed the first LEED Platinum interiors project in California - The Herman Miller National Design Center in Los Angeles - and to date has successfully completed four more LEED Platinum projects – Google, RealTech, Glumac, and Vans. Within the LEED rating system, Platinum is the highest possible certification level, indicating the highest dedication to green building practices. All LEED certifications denote commitment to sustainability, water efficiency, energy management, and using recycled materials throughout the building process. Twenty-one of HBC’s projects are certified LEED Gold, the second highest ranking within the LEED rating system. Eight of HBC’s projects are LEED Silver and an additional three projects are LEED Certified.2 However, we don’t just apply these practices to the workspaces that we turn over to our clients. HBC commits to being environmentally-responsible on all fronts and within all aspects of our business.

As a result, HBC has been certified as a Green Business by the City of Los Angeles. This means that we strive to use green practices in all aspects of business including recycling, cleaning with environmentally-safe products, using recycled paper goods, encouraging rideshare, and more. HBC’s internal Wellness Committee operates under the premise that environmental wellness directly influences personal wellness and, as a result, they spearhead campaigns that promote conservation, such as providing re-usable cups to all employees and supplying healthy options in the breakrooms from companies dedicated to combatting food waste and protecting global resources. Our employees independently support environmentally-conscious, local organizations, such as OC Coastkeepers, ANEW Foundation, and the Surfrider Foundation, among others. In so many ways, we operate daily with the environment in mind, doing our part to reduce our carbon footprint and promote sustainability.

In the Midst of a Global Issue

We realize that HBC is but a microcosm within a larger network of institutions, regulations, and factors that play a massive role in the green building movement. In addition to external social and political influences, the construction industry must account for the financial impact that green building undoubtedly causes. Consistently, higher upfront costs are cited by construction professionals as the greatest obstacle to green building. Other barriers include lack of political support, the perception that “green” only applies to high-end projects, lack of public awareness, and lack of market demand.3 Indeed, these obstacles are insurmountable in some cases, as investing in green building typically has an average payback time of 7 years for ground-up buildings and 6 years for retrofits.3 Furthermore, these barriers differ by location, accounting for the push and pull of location-bound priorities. As a result, the green building movement on a global scale requires a strategic, geographically-minded approach.

Based on studies conducted to gauge the benefit of green building, a plethora of evidence points towards positive results for everyone involved.1,3 Despite increased upfront costs attributed to building green, there are immediate financial benefits, including reduced short- and long-term operating costs, increased asset value, and government-delegated incentives, depending on the location. Beyond the raw financials, green building sets out to tackle the very issues that catalyzed the movement in the first place — energy depletion and CO2 emissions.4 These practices, by their nature, tend to have benefits that snowball beyond their immediate intent; for example, efforts to reduce water consumption indirectly minimize the need to transport as many materials. Therefore, in addition to saving water, this singular action cuts fuel consumption and reduces the emission of transportation-related greenhouse gases.5 Beyond benefitting the environment, green building directly impacts the health of the building’s inhabitants by optimizing fresh air ventilation, sound attenuation, and sunlight, among others, thereby reducing employee sick time, increasing productivity, and improving a sense of community.3,6 As multiple studies point to innumerable benefits resulting from the green building movement, changes have also started to take place at the institutional level.

Most countries now have initiatives directing how they will act on behalf of the green building movement, including outlining specific policies to reduce environmental strain in the years to come.1 As one of the first state-level policies in the U.S., the CalGreen initiative focused on implementing green building practices for ground-up construction in California. This measure was first introduced in 2008 and later enforced in 2011—it set the precedent for minimum mandatory compliance while encouraging practices that exceed state requirements. Furthermore, this initiative emphasized that local governments within California have the jurisdiction to enforce more stringent regulations than the state-wide CalGreen initiatives, should they choose to do so.7

The Future of the Green Building Movement

In addition to legal initiatives, or perhaps as a result of, green building activity is expected to rise on a global scale into 2021, and 47% of construction professionals believe that most of the projects they build within the next three years will be “green.”3 However, it is anticipated that the global proportion of LEED accredited or third-party certified projects will decrease. According to the World Green Building Trends 2018, the gap between “those doing the majority of their projects green and those who are actually seeking certification” is expected to grow.3 One explanation for this theory focuses on the perception of what future construction looks like and how the rate of green building will not slow; rather, the push to certify these buildings will not be as forceful. In other words, green building practices will become the norm, rather than the outlier. Instead of setting an example through third-party certification, the buildings of the future are expected to put these green building values into practice.8 HBC’s Director of Client Relations, Nima Namdar, weighs in on the subject as it pertains to Southern California, clarifying that it depends on the type and size of project.

Through CalGreen, the state of California has mandatory green building codes that mirror very closely the LEED requirements. When talking about new “buildings” or repositioning existing buildings, there is value in pursuing LEED Certification. Building owners, developers, and landlords benefit from marketing and operating a LEED-certified building, and I don’t see that decreasing in the next 5 years. As for tenant improvement (TI) projects, I wouldn’t count on LEED certification significantly increasing in California [because] CalGreen mandates a lot already. 

Namdar continues on to say that this changes with larger TI projects because “with so many of the LEED points already being addressed by CalGreen, it’s an easier path to get to Silver or Gold LEED certification.” He also thinks that since USGBC’s new streamlined prerequisites more closely align the LEED point system with the CalGreen code, the number of larger LEED projects will slightly increase because it will be easier to go the extra few steps for a LEED plaque.  

Certification or not, the more we can employ sustainable design in every aspect of construction, the better off we will be. By acknowledging that the construction industry plays a large role in working towards a greener future, we can take the responsible, active role in promoting sustainable practices. These strides are not only limited to the workspaces that we help create for our clients, but they include our daily efforts in the office—ridesharing, reusing cups, consuming mindfully, etc. All of us at HBC are empowered to do our part while being responsible contributors within our industry. In the very same spirit, HBC celebrates this Earth Day with hope for an environmentally-conscious future.

Footnotes

  1. International Energy Agency and the United Nations Environment Programme. “Towards a zero-emission, efficient, and resilient buildings and construction sector.” Global Status Report 2018. https://www.worldgbc.org/sites/default/files/UNEP%20188_GABC_en%20%28web%29.pdf.

  2. “Project Search.” U.S. Green Building Council. Accessed April 10, 2019. https://www.usgbc.org/projects.

  3. Dodge Data & Analytics. World Green Building Trends 2018: SmartMarket Report. (2018). http://images.marketing.construction.com/Web/DDA/%7B79f480e5-3595-46a8-8146-15204f3c6cae%7D_World_Green_Building_Trends_2018_SMR.pdf.

  4. Mozingo, Louise, & Arens, Ed. “Quantifying the comprehensive greenhouse gas co-benefits of green buildings.” (2014). UC Berkeley: Center for the Built Environment. https://escholarship.org/uc/item/935461rm.

  5. Huynh, Christina. “How green buildings can help fight climate change.” U.S. Green Building Council Articles. (2017). https://www.usgbc.org/articles/how-green-buildings-can-help-fight-climate-change.

  6. World Green Building Council. “Doing right by planet and people: The business case for health and wellbeing in green building.” Better Places for People. (April 2018).

  7. California Building Standards Commission. “The 2010 California green building standards code: Are you ready?” https://www.documents.dgs.ca.gov/bsc/calgreen/the-calgreen-story.pdf.

  8. Thompson, Randy. “How LEED certification transformed industrial development standards.” Area Development, Q1 2019. http://www.areadevelopment.com/construction-project-planning/Q1-2019/LEED-certification-transformed-industrial-development-standa.shtml.