What is a green building?

CarolinaFireJournal - By Ben Wilson
By Ben Wilson LEED AP BD&C
10/22/2013 -

The initial green building movement was brought about by studying the effects of the construction industry and buildings on personnel, productivity, natural resources and the environment. There are many definitions of green building throughout the professional architectural, engineering and construction community. Even though there are many definitions, the underlying principles are the same: a healthy indoor environment; constructing the most efficient building in terms of water, resource and energy usage; and reducing the environmental impact of site disturbance and materials sourcing.


If you decide to pursue green building principles early in the process, studies have shown there is often little to no economic impact in relation to traditional construction practices.

Each one of the aforementioned principles of green building has numerous considerations that must be taken into account during both the design and construction processes to ensure a sustainable and environmentally responsible structure is built. While there are many programs in place that serve to measure the performance of green buildings, they are not a requirement when building green.

Why build green?

Building green isn’t just about saving the environment. There are three key areas where the benefits of green building are most notable. Those areas are the dollars and cents (economic), community/personnel, and environmental.

Dollars and Cents

Many people have the common misconception that green building costs more than traditional construction. If you decide to pursue green building principles early in the process, studies have shown there is often little to no economic impact in relation to traditional construction practices. Many green building technologies and design solutions have become common place and very price competitive within the construction market.

Green buildings are a sought after product in the open market and can bring with them an increase in the value of your property. Many appraisers and investors place a higher market value on buildings that have the green designation. They can also help building owners in negotiating sales and lease opportunities more quickly because of their designation.

The obvious economic impacts related to green building are the savings associated with reduced energy and water consumption. The utilization of low consumption fixtures in toilet and bath areas can yield significant long-term savings in both water and sewer utility bills. The majority of energy savings can be seen in equipment and lighting selections. Utilizing higher SEER HVAC systems in conjunction with high-efficiency and low heat fluorescent or LED lighting will provide the return on investment and show immediate energy consumption savings.

Lowering water and energy usage can have a positive impact on the utility providers in your area by placing less demand on their infrastructure. The long-term effect of less demand is a reduced need to expand the existing infrastructure to keep up with the customer usage, and this also keeps the provider from having to pass costs on to the end user.


There have been many studies completed over the years regarding occupant health and productivity. These studies show that by providing employees with daylight and fresh air and reducing or eliminating the obnoxious VOC content of building elements, you are enhancing the health and well-being of your occupants. This translates into less sick time taken by employees and more overall productivity. It is difficult to measure the monetary value of these elements, but as decision makers and leaders, our people are our most important asset.


A major aim of green building is to reduce the environmental impacts of the building process. Many of the environmental benefits are also of economic benefit to the project. Some of these benefits include waste reduction by recycling and ordering materials fit to length, preserving natural space and wildlife habitats, reducing soil erosion, reducing urban sprawl based on site selection, providing greater access to mass transit, and reducing water and energy consumption. All potential environmental impacts need to be accessed prior to beginning design so your project team can decide the best course of action for your green building project.

Decide Early

As a fire station, you have a responsibility to your firefighters, employees and the local community. Choosing to build a green building for your next station provides you the opportunity to benefit all of these stakeholders. If done early in the process, the cost implications of each green building element can be evaluated carefully by your design build contractor or architect, so that you can make informed decisions based on accurate information.

Making the decision to build a green station too late in the process will cost both time and money. For example, if you have already selected a site that doesn’t lend itself to green design strategies, the project will have to be redesigned to incorporate key green design technologies and characteristics. Know your green building goals before you start so the design and construction professionals can maximize the harmonious performance of all your building systems.

Selecting the right mixture of technologies and design solutions will lead to a cost-effective green building with the performance characteristics that are important to your station and its stakeholders. It doesn’t have to cost more to build efficiently.

Ben Wilson is President of Bobbitt Design Build in Columbia, S.C., and a LEED Building Design and Construction Professional.
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