Impacts of Building
What’s the problem?
We are concerned about the ecological future of the planet and its ability to support human and other life.
The movie An Inconvenient Truth recently illustrated for millions of people the frightening effect that global climate change could have on the planet, including the devastation of coastal areas from rising sea levels; more intense and frequent severe weather events such as heat waves, droughts, and wildfires; and the extinction of more than a million species of plants and animals.
More and more people are also becoming aware that consumption patterns in the United States are not sustainable. We are using up fossil fuels and other resources much faster than the earth can replenish them. Powerdown by Richard Heinberg and The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler are just two of many recent books that describe the causes and consequences of our dependence on cheap oil to keep just about every part of our economy operating.
Water, the most basic element to our survival, is in increasingly short supply. Population pressures, increased development worldwide, and an increased need for irrigation, due to climate change, are all making larger demands on our water resources. Meanwhile, available water resources are shrinking due to depletion of aquifers, and pollution of rivers, lakes, and ground water.
Pollution of the planet is growing as more and more countries change to a manufacturing economy. Pollution takes many forms, from discharge of chemicals from manufacturing and agriculture to the dumping of household, industrial, and construction trash and debris. Incineration of trash and debris also releases heavy metals and highly toxic chemicals such as dioxin.
We are also concerned about indoor air quality, an often overlooked area when we think of pollution. The US EPA estimates that Americans spend 90% of our time indoors, and the World Health Organization estimates that indoor air pollution causes 14 times more deaths than outdoor air pollution!
What does the building industry have to do with it?
The construction industry is one of the major consumers of energy and resources, and one of the largest sources of debris, chemicals, and other pollutants. And because builders, architects, and engineers have for so long ignored environmental impacts in the structures they build, many modern buildings are senseless over-consumers of energy and water, and many contain materials that are toxic to their inhabitants!
- 40% of all the world’s energy and material resources are used in the building industry. (Green Remodeling)
- In the United States, buildings account for: 39% of total energy use, 12% of total water consumption, 68% of total electricity consumption, and 38% of carbon dioxide emissions. (US EPA – 2002 numbers)
- Building-related construction and demolition accounts for nearly 60% of total non-industrial waste generation in the US (1996 – US EPA).
- Indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times higher, and occasionally more than 100 times higher, than outdoor levels. (EPA)
We believe that it’s part of our responsibility as builders to practice our trade in the most environmentally benign, resource-efficient way possible, and to create healthy, comfortable, and resource-efficient homes for our clients.
The section on Green Building has more information on principles of environmentally responsible design and construction of buildings. The sections on Standard Practices and Our Vision go into more detail on the practices and principles we use in our company. And the Resources section has links to much more information on environmental issues and green building.
For much more information, please see this excellent essay published by Community Solutions: “The Energy Impact of Our Buildings” (opens .pdf in new window).