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Building Green

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Call it “eco-friendly.” Call it “sustainable. A trend that has taken hold across the USA in the past few years is evolving to a new level. What has been a patchwork of green buildings in many cities is expanding to whole communities, whole neighborhoods. The green ethic — energy-efficient, water-stingy buildings full of features that stress the natural over the chemical, the recycled over the new and the renewable over the finite — is firmly mainstream.

“The big developers, the people who build America, are slow to move,” says Charles Lockwood, an environmental and real estate consultant based in Southern California. “That’s changing quickly. There’s critical mass.”

I.G. Construction has incorporated “Green Building” techniques in much of their work building custom homes and expansive renovation projects. They have positioned themselves as experts in green building, government incentives and Net Zero building. This is part of their business culture to stay current with trends in energy efficient building, as well as be visionaries to maximize their clients’ assets.

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Common features now found in green buildings include: non-toxic paint and finishes, wheatboard cabinetry, low-flow showerheads and toilets, wood floors of Brazilian cherry, Caribbean walnut and other plantation-grown varieties, high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, recycled and locally obtained building materials, rain and wastewater captured for toilets and landscaping, and panels that double as sunshades and solar power generators.

Developers and builders aren’t joining the green revolution purely out of a sense that it’s the right thing to do. They can’t afford to be left behind. By year’s end, at least 6% of the nation’s non-residential construction, a $15 billion chunk of the industry, will be green, says Greg Kats, a green-building consultant in Washington, D.C. Six years ago it was less than 1%.

The federal government, 15 states and 46 cities require new public buildings to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standards (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which require non-toxic building materials, among other things.

Four states and 17 cities offer incentives for LEED-rated private buildings. Chicago, Pasadena, Calif., and other cities now fast-track permit procedures for builders who commit to green standards.

Raising the bar

Developers find that green technologies and construction materials add no more than 1%-2% to costs, a premium quickly recaptured by energy savings.

Green building, is no longer confined to capital-intensive office towers. Green technology is to the point where these are valid questions for Home Depot shoppers.

The Green Building Council has certified nearly 550 buildings across the country since 2002. Developers only recently have sought to stamp as green larger, multistructure projects such as South Waterfront. Same with single-family homes. The council is working on LEED versions for both.

Multibillion-dollar redevelopments on the Camden, N.J., waterfront and in New York City’s Meadowlands are going green. Seattle’s High Point neighborhood has the nation’s first green public-housing project, 600 apartments and town houses surrounded by green houses selling at market rates. At least 5,000 units of green low-income housing in 25 states have gone up in the past 18 months.

Corporate America was the first to see the value of green beyond energy savings.

Companies noticed less absenteeism, less time lost to asthma, allergies and other illnesses aggravated by mold, stale air and chemicals found in many conventional buildings. But to Ford, Bank of America, Target, Toyota, Honda, Genzyme, Starbucks and Adobe, green also was about image.

It sets a much higher standard than what we’ve seen in many cities across North America .

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