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Sustainable Green Development – Definitions, Strategies, and Implementation
As a green building consultant, one of the biggest fundamental flaws I hear in the green building debate is that green building costs more and is less profitable. Our goal is to help you design projects that are cost-effective AND green. Yes, you can be profitable and green at the same time, they are not mutually exclusive.
That said, one question still mystifies developers – what exactly is sustainable planning and development? What does sustainable development mean? Why are we concerned about issues such as climate change, environmental pollution and energy shortages? Why is everyone talking about sustainable development? Is advice on sustainable development just the latest fad? Is it just trendy to claim to be eco-savvy and plant trees and switch to CFL bulbs as proof?
Al Gore says, “There is a growing sense that we have reached the limits of the Earth’s ability to sustain our civilization.” That is the popular view and the answer to all these questions is clearly ‘no’. Earth’s climate is under negative influence, and accelerated economic development undoubtedly leaves little for our future generations. The threat to our environment is real, clear and almost here. How can we minimize the damage? Leave a healthier country to our future generations? The answer lies in sustainable planning and development.
How do we define it? The US Department of Energy defines sustainable development as – “Sustainable development is a strategy by which communities seek approaches to economic development that also benefit the local environment and quality of life.”
Christine Ervin, Assistant Secretary of Energy for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, defines sustainable development as: “Sustainable development allows economic progress and environmental quality to be compatible goals. Communities are finding that sustainable development strategies save taxpayers money, increase profits for local businesses, and make the community more livable.”
When Thomas Jefferson made the following statement in 1789, he may not have been talking about sustainable development as the term is used today, but there was a clear vision of what the future might look like if mankind refused to be judicious with the gifts of nature, “Then I say that the earth belongs to each… generation during its duration, fully and in its own right, no generation can contract debts greater than what it can pay during its own existence.”
Robert Gilaman, president of the Context Institute defines sustainability as “Sustainability refers to the ability of a society, ecosystem, or any such ongoing system to continue functioning into the indefinite future without being forced to decline due to the depletion of . . . key resources.”
The answer must start at the ‘micro level’, with us, who use the spoils of nature for progressive urbanisation. The solution to the problem must start with the way we ‘build’, ‘create’ and ‘remodel’ our places, cities and homes. Green development initiatives are the first level of sustainable development solutions.
Solutions for sustainable development are needed and they must be comprehensive, long-term policies involving governments, societies and people. But before we start talking about the benefits of sustainable development, let’s look further, “How do we define sustainable development?”
There are many definitions, but the most widely accepted definition of sustainable development is “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” More simply, anonymously, sustainable development is “Growth without cheating our children.”
The definition of sustainable development can vary by geography, culture and country. At the end of the day, however, it is a process that requires global participation at the individual level. Individual contribution is important because it forms the basis of the ‘Three Pillars of Sustainable Development’ – economic, environmental and social.
The ‘social’ pillar of people interacts with the other two – ecological and economic, and in this sense it initiates the concept of sustainable development.
Since we use the environment for social and economic purposes, it is up to us to decide whether the current trade-off between ‘environment’ and ‘economy’ is beneficial to us in the long run. We can continue to use wood to build our houses and destroy all our forests, or opt for healthier alternatives that help grow the economy and keep our planet safe and protected so that our future generations can build their homes. In this sense, ‘people’ form the central point of the whole picture. Therefore, by definition, you and I, individual home – owner, builder or entrepreneur are part of the basic principles of sustainable development – people, planet, profit.
So what steps can you take as a builder or homeowner to ensure sustainable real estate development? You can do a lot. Changing your light bulb to a CFL may not be a complete solution, but it’s definitely a first step towards it. As a homeowner, you can search for sustainable development topics online and examine the different choices you can make for a greener home. Informative articles about sustainable development abound on the web, and there’s a lot to learn about making more environmentally sound decisions for the new home you’re planning to build or the remodeling job you’re planning on your vacation home.
However, a greater responsibility rests on the shoulders of the real estate developer community because if we build them ‘green’ from scratch, we make a stronger impact. Contrary to popular belief, the role of private sector developers in sustainable real estate development is crucial and much more profitable. “Green” construction makes sense and is profitable. In addition, the government supports sustainable real estate development – “In the not-too-distant future, all development will be green. Investors, builders and buyers will find that going green not only improves their pocketbooks, but also their health and the quality of their lives. Developers who are the first to understanding will have an advantage in a huge emerging market…” – William S. Becker, Director, Center of Excellence for Sustainable Development, US Department of Energy.
The advantages of sustainable development for an investor or builder are multiple and make financial sense. Take the case of Wal-Mart, whose environmental initiatives are reaping benefits such as significantly reduced energy consumption and lower water bills. Charles Zimmerman, Wal-Mart’s vice president of prototyping and new format development, says they accomplished this by using “refrigerators that generate 50% less heat and are mercury-free, low-heat light sources, bathrooms with low-flow fixtures, and waterless urinals that cut bills in half.” for water.” Other Wal-Mart initiatives like ‘Daylighting’ paid for themselves in less than 2 years.
If builders and contractors incorporate similar systems in the design phase of a project, sustainable housing development can become a reality. Building and architectural design that helps a homeowner reduce monthly household expenses would, in itself, be a strong enough reason for the products of eco-builders to be in demand.
The benefits and increased profitability through sustainable real estate development are catching up and could become the standard in the blink of an eye. Says Brenna Walraven, president-elect of the National Building Owners and Managers Association and national director of property management at San Antonio-based USAA Reality Co. “Within five years, sustainable construction will become the norm, in part due to falling product prices. Retail and the rest of commercial real estate must continue to go green… it keeps costs down, it’s good business and, more importantly, it is the real thing.”
Sustainable real estate development has traditionally been undermined by the perception of increased costs for the investor. However, if sustainable building development measures are incorporated at the design stage, these costs can be completely eliminated, if not significantly reduced. For example, the use of combined heat and power generation can reduce the overall capital costs of community-based systems such as heating. Other costs incurred from measures such as low/dual flush toilets and energy efficient appliances are comparable or similar in many cases to their more popular standard versions.
Buildings consume 35% of the country’s energy each year. There are more than 76 million residential and 5 million commercial buildings in the US today, and that total is expected to increase by an additional 38 million by 2010. Can you imagine the pressure on energy resources and the resulting increase in the cost of purchasing electricity for households? at this time? The use of sustainable housing development measures such as daylighting and solar water heating would not only reduce this stress on energy resources, but would also allow the developer to offer the client a more cost-effective residential option in the long term.
Another way developers and builders can benefit from sustainable development is by using more economical, sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives for construction and building materials. Using recycled content building materials can reduce construction costs and thus increase profits. There are direct financial benefits here, and costs, as explained above, can be minimised.
Innovation always pays, and builders and developers who use sustainable development alternatives can be the ones to reap the profits. There has never been a better time to adopt sustainable development measures and still make a profit than today. What we sow now, we will reap tomorrow, hence the argument for sustainable development for real estate developers and developers.
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