When it comes to a natural material, it’s hard to find something that fits the bill better than stone — but does it fit in with a growing new trend of socially responsible construction?
The idea of environmentally friendly construction dates back to at least the early 1970s, reappearing in the nation’s conscious every time energy prices take a bump.
Not surprisingly, the recent $3 plus prices for a gallon of gas is causing those same general thoughts of energy conservation, especially from building owners fretting about heating costs this winter — and once again thinking green.
For some, however, concern about green building doesn’t just go up and down with the petroleum supply. Back in 1993, a few people seeking to provide resources for those interested in going green developed the Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council. (USGBC).
Today some three percent of all commercial construction in the U.S. is estimated to be green, and at least one natural stone organization is now trying to determine just where stone fits in green construction.
Just how strong the green movement is reflected in the growth of the USGBC? Today, it has more than 6,000 member companies, and thousands more individuals serving on its committees.
Taryn Holowka, USGBC’s communications director, believes its growth is due to the development of its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System®.
“LEED is based on referenced standards,” she says. “It’s a whole-building approach put together by people with a variety of `specializations’.”
The council released its first LEED standards (known as version 1) in a test program in 1998, and publicly launched its version 2 in 2000. Since then, the standards progressed into the current version 2.2.
“LEED is always evolving,” says Holowka. “‘Sometimes, we make administrative changes to the whole process. At other times, we make changes to the credits (projects are evaluated based on how many credits they attain for utilizing LEED standards) based on the feedback we get from LEED users.”
A good case in point, she explains, is how credits are given out for utilization of` innovative design and technology. The only problem with that is what’s considered innovative at one point may be commonplace within a couple years.
Where issues of this nature do arise, they’re handed over to the appropriate technical committee for review. Holowka explains that tor each technical area there’s a core committee that averages a dozen people with expertise in a particular area of construction.
However, all USGBC members are welcome to belong to the corresponding committee for each technical area. The members receive monthly updates and are asked to provide feedback. They’re also eligible to run for seats on the core committees, with elections held every year.
Nadav Malin, editor of Environmental Buildings News, published by Brattleboro, Vermont-based BuildingGreen, Inc., calls the LEED rating system a trigger that released a tremendous amount of interest in green building.
“People were either sort of doing green building but not knowing what to call it, or they were interested in doing it but didn’t know how to specify or ask for green building systems,” Malin says. “With LEED available, a building owner or developer can say, I’m interested in a green building, and there’s a system that defines what that would mean for me.”
The key factor of the movement is a mix of corporations interested in the benefits of green construction, as well as a few architects bringing the concept to their clients.
“However, it varies by market sector,” says Malin. “lf you look at the education market, both K—l2 schools and particularly colleges and universities, there’s a tremendous drive from the institutions themselves to require green buildings.”
Holowka agrees that it’s a mix of developers and architects who are helping generate interest in green construction. She says also helping the process has been the commitment of` some large corporations, such as Toyota and Bank of` America, to such projects.
Still another high-profile green project is the William I. Clinton Presidential Center, which opened in late 2004 in Little Rock, Arkansas (“Executive Action, December 2005 Stone Business.)
“These buildings serve showcases for us,” says Holowka. “People see that the Clinton Library has been certified and it has all these attractive features, and it’s helping to main- stream green building.’”
There’s still another component that’s helping to drive awareness of` green building: government regulations. So far, only few communities have made a serious push to go green, however.
“There are a few pockets in the country where it’s happening,” says Malin. “San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and Seattle all have requirements on the books that affect municipal construction and some of that is spilling over into the private sector. There are also places that are providing incentives for the private sector to use these approaches, but there’s not much nationwide along those lines.”
That, too, may be changing. While the Chicago—based American Planning Association isn’t usually involved with “the building envelope and the interior elements of a building,” says Megan Lewis, a senior research associate, the group is interested in going green in affordable- housing planning.
“APA has a policy guide on energy that says we specifically support green building and green-building practices,” Lewis says. “Energy concerns are a big driver to get people to ask if there are smarter ways to do things, and we want to see housing that’s not only affordable to purchase, but also affordable to live in.”
That’s a key reason why APA is partnering with a diverse group of organizations ranging from the Enterprise Foundation to the Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) on the Green Communities Initiative.
“It’s a five-year program started in 2004 that involves $550 million to build more than 8,500 environmentally-friendly, affordable homes across the country,” says Lewis. “Already there are something like 77 developments underway in 23 states and the District of Columbia.
“We hope this is a program that will have a ripple effect and continue around the country,” she adds.
Certainly USGBC is looking at more than just new commercial development. The organization has subsequently tested and put in place LEED standards for commercial interiors and existing buildings.
Holowka explains that the commercial interiors standards are for tenants interested in “greening” the floor or floors they lease within commercial developments.
“A lot of people ask us how they can green the buildings they already own,” she says. “We want to make the operation and maintenance green, and we’ve developed a rating system for that.”
Still in the pilot/testing phase are three rating programs for homes, neighborhood developments and core-and-shell. The first two are designed to reduce urban sprawl while placing people in sustainable housing. The latter is for developers who construct office or commercial space, then lease it to tenants.
With some 400 million feet of construction either LEED-certified or under review, and some 3,000 projects in the pipeline, it’s likely that more and more stone suppliers and contractors will run into the program, and clients asking them to go green.
At the same time, there doesn’t seem to be any clear-cut indication of` where natural stone fits in the green process. LEED’s most often cited requirement for natural stone is that it be quarried within a certain geographic proximity — a 50-mile radius of the project.
Malin says he expects that to change over time, however. For instance, he notes that some designers have gone out of their way to specify locally quarried stone, only to find it being shipped to Italy for fabrication.
“Other than the locality issue, people are going to look at the impacts on the environment, both when extracting the stone and then finishing it,” he says. “Then, you can compare what it costs per square foot with competing materials. You have to factor in longevity and durability. Only then can you do a real comparison.”
And, he says, to this point that really hasn’t been done for stone as a building material.
However, that may change now that the Natural Stone Council has established a committee to properly represent and position natural stone in the LEED certification and growing green-building effort.
Headed by john Mattke, president and chief operations officer (COO) of Minnesota-based Cold Spring Granite Co., the task force held its first conference session in mid-November and hopes to have a timeline established for its work early this year.
“There’s a growing movement to build green buildings,” says Mattke. “Stone is a natural product and we felt it would be important for the Natural Stone Council, as representatives of the industry, to do all we can to help educate and promote stone as an environmentally friendly material.”
To do that, Mattke says the committee plans to take a multiphase approach. One step will be to research the requirements for LEED accreditation so that stone can be positioned properly. At the same time, Mattke says his committee is anxious to acquaint the USGBC with natural stone’s attributes.
“There are some real advantages to the environmental friendliness of` stone as a natural product,” he says. “The life cycle of stone is very attractive. Generally there’s not a lot of` care and maintenance to it, and even if you have to landfill it at some point, it has no long-term environmental impacts.”
While working with USGBC to better understand stone’s attributes is part of the task force’s plan, ultimately the educational process will need to extend well beyond that.
“Once we’re satisfied that natural stone is adequately represented within USGBC’s LEED requirements, then we’ll need to find out if we need to do things to make sure stone fits with what owners and architects review when they’re planning green buildings,” he says. “Then, we’ll need to communicate the same things to the stone industry so as many suppliers and fabricators as possible can put themselves in position to be green suppliers.
“It’s definitely a multistep process.”
It’s also one the industry should probably be prepared to take, since the number of` green projects is only expected to grow over the next few years.
‘“The growth and interest in green building has been very dramatic in the last five years, and we’re not seeing any signs that it’s turning around or even slowing down,” says Environmental Buildings News’ Malin. “In the future, I think there’s going to be a pretty strong demand for manufacturers to be quantifying the impacts of their operations and sharing that information with designers who are trying to make the right choices.”
“Our main goal is to raise the bar and get the construction industry thinking in this way,” says the USGBC’s Holowka, although she adds that organization isn’t setting a specific goal on what percentage of` projects it would like to see be green by the end of` the decade.
“We want to bring green to the forefront of` people’s minds,” she says. “Right now, people think about it and do it if` they have the time or the energy. We want them to say, ‘we’re doing a new building and we can’t afford not to go green.’”