Energy Efficiency - Buildings: What Is Green Building?

Santa Fe Prep Library (LEED Gold), Photo by John G. Redhers Green building, also called sustainable building and high performance building, is the term given to a set of emerging practices in the design and construction of new and renovated buildings. Green building strives to balance economic needs and environmental impact with human health and comfort. This is sometimes referred to as the People, Planet, Profit triad, or triple bottom line.

Minimization of building energy requirements is a major factor in the design of sustainable buildings. The Energy Conservation and Management Division is concerned with the optimal use of energy resources to meet our needs while simultaneously minimizing negative impacts to our environment and our dependence on foreign oil.

New Mexico Promotes Green Building
In January 2006, executive order (EO 2006-001) to improve the energy efficiency and overall sustainability of new and renovated state-owned buildings. In addition to a significant energy reduction goal, buildings over 15,000 square feet must be certified as green using the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. Through a Clean Energy Grant, ECMD developed the How-To Guide to LEED Certification for New Mexico Buildings to assist design professionals in meeting these objectives. (A hard copy of this guide can be obtained by contacting ECMD.) New Mexico's executive branch agencies are charged with implementing a Lead by Example effort to institutionalize energy efficient and sustainable practices in government operations.

David Shaw Photography, used by permissionIn 2007, the New Mexico State Legislature passed the Sustainable Building Tax Credit for the private sector to design and construct buildings with similarly high requirements. This was the culmination of an effort that began in 2004 when Governor Richardson created a Green Building Task Force that developed the proposed, and adopted, legislation.

In November 2007, Executive Order 2007-053 to set aggressive energy efficiency targets for both state government and the state as a whole.

The Five Aspects of Green Building
Creating a green building should take a comprehensive approach and consider the broad impacts a building has on its surroundings, its resource utilization, and its occupants. A project team uses an integrated design and construction approach that carefully balances issues of building site, water consumption, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality. These are the basic categories that make up the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating systems. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED establishes an objective method of measuring how green a building is.

 
  • Site deals with where we build and how we use the site on which we build. Where we build affects how far people have to drive to reach the building; whether or not new infrastructure has to be built to serve the building; and what alternative transportation options are available. Those site considerations all significantly affect personal vehicle use and gasoline consumption. How we use the site includes managing stormwater runoff, reducing heat island effect, and providing quality open space. High levels of stormwater runoff increase the need for pumping and processing water, both requiring the use of energy. Heat island effect can raise the temperature of the surrounding environment by as much as 10° over an undeveloped location, which results in a higher need for cooling. The connection between open space and energy includes reducing cooling needs, because occupants can open windows and enjoy the fresh air. Open space reduces gasoline use by creating appealing outdoor spaces that don’t require driving to the country.
  • Water addresses both indoor and outdoor use of potable water. As mentioned above, there is a direct relationship between water and energy use because of pumping. All potable water that is delivered to our faucets is pumped. All wastewater that leaves our buildings is pumped and treated. Reducing our water use could significantly reduce that energy use. And, of course, we do live in a desert; the benefits of water conservation cannot be overstated or overlooked.
  • Energy looks at how much and what type of energy we use. The evidence is clear that global climate change is causing many environmental problems. The emission of CO2, which ties to the consumption of fossil fuels, is known to be impacting global warming. Thus, there is a strong impetus to reduce fossil fuel use. The first step is energy conservation and efficiency, which is the most cost-effective approach. When building energy requirements are minimal, it then makes sense to meet them with clean renewable fuels.
  • Materials covers appropriate choices for resource management. Embodied energy of a product is the sum of all the energy that is required to mine or harvest the raw materials; process or manufacture the end product; package, warehouse, and transport it throughout the distribution chain; and dispose of the materials at the end of the product’s life. Many products made from recycled materials use far less energy than those made from raw materials. Aluminum is a good example. Related to global warming, reducing construction waste by minimizing material use and recycling scraps helps lower the methane emissions from landfills. Considerable savings can be realized by choosing products that are produced within the local area. This not only saves energy by reducing transportation costs, it improves the local economy.
  • Indoor environmental quality assures that buildings are healthy and comfortable for occupants. Health and comfort are the reasons we build buildings in the first place. Ironically, as we progressed in our use of technology, some of the desired outcomes for our buildings actually got lost. Electric lighting led to reduced daylighting. Heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems led to fewer operable windows. More sophisticated energy management systems led to less individual thermal control of spaces. In all of these areas, taking advantage of natural systems such as daylighting and natural ventilation has been shown to both reduce energy consumption and improve occupant wellbeing. When people have control over their own environment, paradoxically they have tolerance for a broader range of conditions. This in turn results in better use of energy.
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