Resource Depletion and Carbon Dioxide Emissions

According to the US Green Building Council, the annual direct impacts of all US residential and commercial buildings include 39% of total energy use, 68% of electricity consumption and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. Add in the embodied energy in making building materials, getting them to the job site, installing and servicing them, and total energy use is closer to 48%. Buildings make a major impact on just about every aspect of the world we live in; building design and construction can account for up to 30% of raw materials use, 40% of non-industrial landfill waste (including 31% of the mercury in municipal waste); 12% of potable water use, according to the US Green Building Council and the US Environmental Protection Agency.5 Taking firm actions to reduce the environmental impacts of buildings can have a number of beneficial effects:

• Reduce ocean and river pollution from stormwater runoff.

• Extend the life of municipal infrastructure by using less water and contributing less stormwater, thereby allowing growth without infrastructure expansion.

• Extend the life of landfills by reducing the disposal of construction debris and building materials.

Most of the buildings in this country in the year 2035 (less than 30 years from now) have yet to be built or renovated, so now's the time to make changes. Between tearing down many older buildings, renovating some that are structurally sound or architecturally significant and building new structures, most of our building stock can be influenced by actions we take today to green the built environment. The green building movement will serve to make our stock of buildings more energy- and water-efficient and less burdensome on the municipal infrastructure that we all pay for, one way or another. According to one commentator, architect Edward Mazria:

In the year 2035, three-quarters of the built environment in the US will be either new or renovated [representing more than 300 billion square feet of construction]. This transformation over the next 30 years represents a historic opportunity for the architecture and building community to reverse the most significant crisis of modern time, climate change.6

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