This chapter is all about green buildings. Again H&L emphasize a recurring theme in this book – that the whole is different from just the sum of its parts. A design framework in which each engineer or architect individually optimizes his own component of the building doesn’t necessarily result in the optimum building. This is one of the greatest challenges of good green design. If it were merely about putting the right technologies together in the right way, that would be a fairly simple task; the real challenge is to implement a new framework with which to approach building design. H&L emphasize the need to “have the architects, engineers, landscapers, hydrologists, artists, builders, commissioners (specialists who get the building working properly between construction and occupancy), occupants, maintenance staff, and others who have a stake in a particular building all design the building together.”
H&L emphasize that, in contrast to conventional wisdom, green buildings, if done right, can have lower capital costs than traditional construction – largely by saving on infrastructure and by using passive heating and cooling techniques. Companies can also get surprisingly large returns from increased worker productivity. But these savings for green buildings don’t just apply to commercial buildings – green homes can also be much more efficient at no net additional cost. In their most impressive example, H&L write:
“A Pacific Gas and Electric Company experiment eliminated cooling equipment in two normal-looking tract houses. The first, in Davis, California, where peak temperatures can reach 113°F, was a mid-range ($249,500), 1,656-square-foot speculative home, completed in 1993. During three-day, 104°-plus heat storms, the indoor temperature didn’t top 82°, and the neighbors came into the house with no air conditioner to take refuge from their own inefficient houses, whose big air conditioners couldn’t cope. Yet if routinely built, rather than as a one-off experiment, the Davis house would cost about $1,800 less to build, and $1,600 less to maintain over its life than a comparable but normally inefficient home, because it had no heating or cooling equipment to buy or maintain.”
In addition to energy savings, natural resource savings can be achieved by retrofitting existing buildings or reusing materials from prior structures. H&L note that internet markets are appearing for trading construction materials / waste.
H&L also discuss the need to correct the incentive structure that governs building design. That is, the contractors and designers can get away with installing cheap and inefficient equipment because they’re not the ones paying the electricity and heating bills. (Also, at least in some countries, the way the building is initially designed and the way it is finally built are not necessarily the same, as contractors try to cut costs. A recent report by the Chinese Ministry of Construction found that in 2005, 75% of new buildings in Beijing were designed to follow the energy efficiency code … but only 5% were actually built that way!) For example, designers and contractors who design a more efficiency building could be allowed to recoup a portion of the yearly savings. Leases could stipulate a sharing of the energy efficiency savings between landlords and tenants to encourage both to be more efficient, both in purchasing and using the appliances.
H&L conclude the chapter by discussing the larger context – building green buildings in mixed-use, non-sprawling developments. They note that these “new urbanist” models are often more popular than traditional suburban developments: “the opportunities they create for ‘negacars’ and ‘negatrips’, for convivial communities, and for safer and better places to raise children can be welcome … to developers’ bottom lines.”