Two Sides of a Coin
Historic preservation and green building:
Are they opponents or are they allies?
From the edc magazine, @ http://www.edcmag.com/articles/94652-two-sides-of-a-coin
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For too long historic preservation and green building movements have been eyeing each other warily as if they were opponents.
In reality, the movements are natural allies with much more in common than any differences they may have. It’s time for them to unite and seize vast opportunities to improve the environmental performance and longevity of buildings, both new and old.
Now a new report developed by leading advocates for each movement has brought disciplined analysis to the debate, adding compelling fuel to the fire to merge efforts.
Earlier this year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Cascadia Green Building Council authored The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse1, which was the first definitive study to address a key question: Is it greener to retrofit or to demolish and build new? Skanska participated in the study, bringing vast experience from across building types in both new construction and retrofit.
The findings — long suspected but never as painstakingly demonstrated — showed that in almost all cases, retrofit yields better environmental outcomes than demolition and new construction.
Using life-cycle analysis, the study concluded that it can take up to 80 years for a new energy-efficient building to compensate, through more efficient operations, for the negative climate change impacts created during construction. Most building types in most climates will require 20-30 years. When you consider only environmental costs and benefits, the lesson from the study was quite clear: fix it first.
Because buildings consume more than 40 percent of the nation’s energy and emit nearly 40 percent of carbon pollution, they hold the potential for vastly improved environmental performance in both new construction and adaptive reuse of existing buildings.
It’s here that the two movements can come together to become a powerful force for change, working together to accomplish at leastthree related outcomes:
First, promote both capital and operating costs in decision making. Too often, our real estate sector employs pre-bubble logic to design buildings at a lower initial cost without consideration for even modest investments that would greatly reduce longer-term operating costs. In fact, many institutions and government agencies are explicitly prevented from offsetting initial investments that improve building performance with future savings in operational costs. This practice misses a huge opportunity to reduce the total cost of ownership, reduce pollution and reduce the risk of energy-cost escalation.
Second, we need to recognize a broader range of economic costs and benefits in our decision making. Today, we externalize many environmental and health impacts, transferring costs to future generations or others beyond our lot lines. A group called Economics of Change2 is trying to address these shortcomings by creating a new investment model for green building — one that makes sense in a world where investment managers are driven by the need to show profit on a quarterly basis.
Third, we need new ways to value building attributes that may be difficult to measure but are enormously important. Neighborhood texture, beauty, commerce, social capital and walkability are just some of the qualities shaped by individual buildings. For example, at the University of Virginia — my alma mater — there are many wonderful new buildings. But the Rotunda, designed by Thomas Jefferson close to 200 years ago, is the one used as the university’s logo, as well as for existing buildings in every community. Today, we don’t have the tools or practices to adequately value existing buildings in decisions between retrofitting versus demolition and new construction.
Green building and historic preservation are growing closer. Now is the time to develop a public and shared agenda. With a mutual set of national and local priorities, there is much we could accomplish. And with our economy still sputtering, the need is urgent for a real estate sector that promotes historic preservation and green building as two sides of the same coin.