Five Fallacies about Green Buildings
David Baggs, CEO and Technical Director
There are a number of common fallacies in the market that one
often hears in the initial conversations about green or sustainable
buildings that in fact are not necessarily true. That's not saying
they are never true, only that they don't have to be so if people
think or act in ways that avoid these outcomes. Five common
fallacies I often hear are:
- Developers don't care about sustainability;
- If the client doesn't want sustainability 'there is nothing we
- Green Buildings cost a lot more;
- Buyers won't pay more for green buildings;
- Fitout doesn't matter, it's base buildings that count.
The reality can be very different. Let us take each fallacy one
by one and discuss them:
Fallacy #1: Developers don't care about
sustainability: Indeed many developers will say they don't
care about 'going green'. However, if one carefully explains a
number of issues to them, they increasingly see this issue in a
different light. Let me explain this statement.
The world has become aware of climate change and the consequent
food and resource shortages, massive increases in flooding, storms,
droughts, cyclones, winds and consequent sandstorms and sea level
rises. Company owners are aware of 'Sick Building Syndrome' where
workers get sick, stay away from work more often and are less
productive at work because of the emissions of materials and
finishes used in buildings, poor ventilation and lighting.
The markets in many countries are now highly aware of these
issues and factor in extra market value due to buildings that are
green. These factors have seen a massive growth in green buildings
in recent years e.g. in early 2007 in Australia, there were
88 commercial office building projects registered with the Green
Building Council of Australia; in late 2010, approximately 580
office projects were registered.
Furthermore, the property owners association, The Property
Council of Australia (PCA), has seen green buildings yield better
tenants that stay longer so in 2007 mandated that buildings will
not be rated 'A Grade' unless they are the equivalent of 4 Green
Stars (equivalent to LEED Silver). The other main reason they give
for this requirement is that it assists in 'Future-proofing' their
assets over time.
In the past, one might have thought that 'over time' meant 10-20
years, however in the light of the above growth in the green office
building sector in Australia (and experienced in other countries as
well e.g. the United States even throughout the global financial
crisis) 'over time' might now be reasonably taken to mean
timeframes like 12-24 months!
Whether it be for Stars or precious metals (Silver, Gold or
Platinum), Green Rating Schemes have been demonstrated to lead to
an increasingly rapid uptake in green buildings and the average
buildings rate higher over time.
This has been exemplified all around the world by green building
rating schemes such as LEED® (United States and many other
countries such as India and China), BREEAM (UK) and Green Star
(Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) where as soon as the
tools are released, the race for best green building begins.
Importantly, while it starts at the front end on large projects,
every building in the market competes in the same sector and the
demand for green ratings soon filters down into different levels of
the market. It also filters into different sectors of the market
such as housing, health and hospitality almost immediately.
How does this affect the bottom line? Well one case in point
based on personal experience in relates to a major apartment
development of approx 2000 units about 6 years ago in Green Square
in Southern Sydney where all buildings were designed to meet the
same high, green standards. The developer decided to market 3 of
the 11 stages under the project names 'Eco#1', 'Eco#2' and 'Eco#3'.
Even though 5 other stages of the development were on sale at the
same time, these sold the fastest and sold out completely before
the other stages had gained any significant sales traction.
So, back to the developer who might initially not be so
'keen to go green'. If the immediate future of the market
is to go massively green, and it will be widely employing green
ratings, with the time scale of the uptake in green buildings
shortening rapidly and his/her building project not being delivered
typically for 12-60 months - what market will he (or she) be
delivering their buildings into? Is it the same one that now seems
not to care so much now?
Probably not - it is much more likely that it will be a market
significantly more attuned to wanting and valuing green buildings
appropriately. If so, how much is a conventional project worth when
all the buildings around it are green and the market wants green
product first? As much as if it was green too?
Probably not - hence what we have, is a rapidly changing market
where any developer, whether they be 'build and sell' or 'build and
hold' style will be better off from a capital value on resale point
of view and will end up with more cash in the bank (even in the
relatively short term) if they offer the market green rated
Fallacy #2 If the client doesn't want sustainability
there is nothing we can do: As an architect who has been
involved in designing and delivering green buildings and
professional development programs for nearly 30 years this
statement has been heard from architects and consultants too many
times to count.
The plain fact about many aspects of sustainability is they can
be delivered without cost and many should and could be just a part
of a 'good design response'. 'Climate sensitive' or 'Passive solar'
design is the first place to start, then many energy and water
efficient devices are the same market cost as the cheaper ones if
you look hard enough or know where to look. Many healthy materials,
products and finishes also cost similarly or even less than many
'glitzy' finishes. It is a mistake to think that unless a building
is bristling with solar panels or cells it cannot deliver some
improved green building outcomes.
Fallacy #3 Green buildings cost a lot more: If
you take a normal design process and add green technology to the
design you can almost guarantee it will cost more to achieve the
same ends. If on the other hand one approaches the design process
with an 'Integrated Design' approach where the
whole building is designed as an integrated system and experienced
consultants and smart processes are used, then certain synergies
can be found. Synergy is literally the 'golden word' of green
building design. Because synergy = savings. Where
synergy can be found systems can be eliminated or downsized.
Savings found in one part of the project can be used to offset
extra costs in other areas. Hence while really smart green
buildings might cost a little more, they don't have to cost a lot
more and in the US, some LEED Platinum rated buildings have been
delivered at average market build costs.
Fallacy #4 Buyers won't pay more for green
buildings: This may have been the case in the past, but
the savvy buyers already are. A chance meeting with a UK property
buyer at Citiscape Abu Dhabi in 2008 led to the explanation that he
had, the previous week paid 30% above market to purchase a
substantial Dubai building because it was sustainable, with
transparent solar cells in the windows and a host of other green
credentials 'because with climate change and carbon trading, that
is where the market is going and I want my property to hold its
value' was his statement over coffee.
This is not an isolated opinion, and one that will become
rapidly more prevalent once current pent up demand has been
somewhat satisfied. The plain reality is that utilities are
becoming more expensive and green buildings save money as evidenced
by recent US research gleaned from surveys of over 1300 US green
Here's how two building standards programs cut the energy
use and enhanced the finances of newly built green commercial
buildings in the US based on information from the US Green Building
per sq. ft.
Sales premium, per sq. ft.
LEED Gold & Platinum
* 25-30% for all LEED buildings, including certified, silver,
gold and platinum grades. For gold and platinum, the savings
Source of Information: www.usgbc.org/News/USGBCInTheNewsDetails.aspx?ID=3648
Fallacy #5 Fitout doesn't matter, it's base buildings
that counts: From an environmental perspective, detailed
life-cycle assessment of a 40,000m2 office buildings
over a 40 year life-span (by Treloar et al, 1999) has shown that
the interior fitout has at least as much energy embodied in the
furniture, wall and floor finishes than the operational energy of
the building over the same period, if not more. This is because of
the number of times internal fitout is replaced when leases end or
If we only focus on the dollar driven aspects, then we can also
see that from an occupying company point of view, one of the major
benefits of green buildings is the increased staff productivity
from less time off and better concentration. The US and Australian
Green Building Councils research shows figures typically between
2-16% but up to 25%. With salaries typically the biggest cost
centre in an organization's budget the savings can be significant.
But the full productivity benefits will not accrue if conventional
fitout is used even in a green building. So why stop at the base
building. Integrated fitout or green rated tenant fitout will
deliver the full productivity benefits of the green building's
There are many other fallacies about green buildings that are
increasingly being shown to be the products of old-thought patterns
and responses to the market that are rooted in today. The
successful design teams and building developers tomorrow will be
those who look to the future to find their current directions, not