I am certainly not the first … and certainly won’t be the last … person to write about Robert Watson’s webinar presentation yesterday afternoon entitled, Building a Sustainable Future: Progress & Trends Toward Improving the Environmental Footprint of Commercial Buildings.

Green Buildign Market and Impact Report

Watson, Executive Editor for GreenerBuildings.com, is most commonly referred to as the father of LEED because of his pioneer role as founder of the USGBC rating system. Watson spoke from his home in Shanghai at 1:30 a.m. Watson began his presentation with the following bold statement:

Green buildings [are the] only bright spot in the construction market.

Even then, Watson suggested that there will be some lag in the green building market due to the introduction of the more stringent LEED 2009 requirements, as well as the economic downturn in the market generally.

One of the primary purposes of the webinar was to highlight the release of the second edition of the Green Building Market and Impact Report 2009, which was authored by Watson. The Report sets out to document how and how much green building is making a difference in the world today. Some of the key finding include:

  • The estimate of reduced vehicle miles traveled has grown to 780 million to date versus 400 million in 2008, which means there are significant annual gasoline savings.
  • Total water savings from LEED through 2009 is estimated at 15 billion gallons, comprising 0.5 percent of annual non-residential water use.
  • Annual carbon dioxide savings from LEED buildings is approximately 2.9 million tons from energy efficiency and renewables.
  • Based on average materials costs, green building materials represented approximately $7 billion in cumulative spending through 2009.
  • Moreover, the embodied energy in buildings that are renovated instead of demolished is expected to save significant sums of energy.
  • Finally, an average of over 60 percent of construction and demolition waste was diverted from LEED projects, totaling 25 million tons to date.

According to the report, employees are currently enjoying improved indoor environments in LEED buildings at present and the productivity benefits from LEED buildings to date range from $230 to $450 million.

What do all these number mean to the traditional commercial developer, the hard hat contractor or the construction litigator? Here are some thoughts:

  1. The Report recognizes that new construction of green buildings is growing, while actual LEED certification is lagging. In my simple mind (…and I admit this may be an oversimplified conclusion…), the industry wants to be green but does not want to pay for the green plaque.
  2. The growth of the green building industry has created a "several billion dollar market" for LEED qualified and sustainable materials. From a practical point of view, subcontractors and suppliers of old will need to transform some of their product lines so as not to be edged out by the new material suppliers.
  3. The energy performance issues raised by green building critics will have a significant impact on the future of building standards. Shari Shapiro has addressed this issue on a number of occasions.

Watson concluded his presentation with the following statement: "In spite of the economic downturn, or perhaps because of it, LEED has reached target market saturation."

Question: Do you agree with this assessment?