Sustainable Design 101

by admin

By Colin Rohlfing, LEED AP

Green is in these days. But how do you define what makes a particular property green? If a potential buyer at your next showing were to ask, “What makes this a green property?” Would you feel confident answering this question? As the real estate market evolves, agents will need an arsenal of knowledge and terminology to effectively market green property and to respond to these kinds of questions.

The subject can be confusing. As an architect who specializes in sustainable design, I am faced with a daily barrage of the latest and greatest green products and building systems. There are eco-carpet options, green roofing materials, sustainable furniture, energy-efficient HVAC systems and all sorts of other products pitched by sales representatives as great examples of sustainability in action.

But what makes them truly green? In my line of work, it’s my responsibility to ask the hard questions. What is the product material composition? Does it contain recycled content or renewable materials? Where was it extracted and manufactured? What chemicals are used in the manufacturing process and may still be present in the product? How does the product reduce energy consumption?

As a real estate agent, chances are you won’t be asking these kinds of questions on a regular basis. But you’ll be better prepared for future conversations about green properties if you’re equipped with a working knowledge of the various types of third-party certification that help cut through the clutter and verify claims that finishes, flooring, systems and other components meet accepted standards. A solid understanding of the certifications highlighted below can give you the confidence to know that you are prepared for future conversations and will feel equipped to respond intelligently to many questions sure to come your way.

What makes this building or property green?
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED):
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has created a series of rating systems designed to indicate how truly green a new building, home, commercial interior or other built environment is. LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building project meets the highest green building and performance measures. LEED-certified homes use less energy, water and natural resources. They create less waste and are healthier and more comfortable for the occupants. Benefits of a LEED-certified home include lower energy and water bills, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and less exposure to mold, mildew and other indoor toxins. The net cost of owning a LEED home is comparable to that of owning a conventional home. Energy Star is another widely accepted green building rating system. In addition to rating buildings, the Energy Star designation helps consumers identify green appliances and a host of other products (see below). usgbc.org/leed/

What makes this appliance green?
Energy Star:
A joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, Energy Star was introduced in 1992 as a voluntary labeling program and has been widely adopted. An Energy Star label means a product meets strict energy efficiency guidelines. Ratings cover over 50 different product types, including a variety of appliances, heating and cooling equipment, lighting, home electronics and office equipment. energystar.gov

What makes this wood green?
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC):
Launched by environmental groups in 1993, FSC is a nonprofit that has established an international standard for well-managed forests and a process for tracking and certifying products derived from those forests. FSC addresses numerous aspects of sustainable forestry, including ecological functions, old-growth forests, plantations, restoration, native habitat, indigenous people’s rights and sound management for timber production. FSC Certified wood can now be found at Home Depot and Lowe’s stores. fscus.org

What makes these finishes or components green?
Green Seal:
Green Seal, another nonprofit organization, has been certifying products since 1992. Green Seal provides third-party certification for a wide range of products including paints, adhesives, windows, cleaners and occupancy sensors. Green Seal’s certifications are based on data from accredited laboratories and audits of manufacturing facilities. greenseal.org

What makes this carpet green?
Green Label and Green Label Plus:
Beginning in 1992, the Carpet & Rug Institute implemented the voluntary Green Label testing program as a result of pressure on the industry to control emissions thought to be contributing to “sick building syndrome.” Carpets, carpet pads and adhesives identified with the Green Label emit no more than allowable levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde and several other substances. carpet-rug.org

What do these other certifications mean?
There are a host of new certification systems pertaining to green products and practices. It’s sometimes hard to keep up, but it’s important to be careful and to recognize that some of the newer standards and certifications were developed by the product industries themselves. In some cases, these industry-created certifications are less stringent than the standards outlined above. Third-party certification is by far the most accepted and, in many cases, the most reliable.

Other Helpful Web Sites include buildinggreen.com,
greenspec.com, pharosproject.org and greenhomeguide.com.

Colin Rohlfing, LEED, AP, is an associate and Group Sustainable Design Leader at architecture firm at architecture firm HOK in Chicago, hokchicago.com. Rohlfing can be reached at colin.rohlfing@hok.com, or call him at 312.782.1000.

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