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Journey to Sustainability


Green Building



Green buildings are an integral part of the solution to the environmental challenges facing the planet.

Today we use the equivalent of 1.5 Earths to meet the resource needs of everyday life and absorb the resulting wastes. This measure of our planet’s carrying capacity means that it takes Earth 18 months to regenerate what is used in only 12 months. If current trends continue, estimates suggest, by the year 2030 we will need the equivalent of two planets. Turning resources into waste faster than they can be regenerated puts the planet into ecological overshoot, a clearly unsustainable condition that we all must address.

The forces driving this situation are numerous. Human population has increased exponentially in the past 60 years, from about 2.5 billion in 1950 to more than 7 billion today. Our linear use of resources, treating outputs as waste, is responsible for the toxins that are accumulating in the atmosphere, in water, and on the ground. This pattern of extraction, use, and disposal has hastened depletion of finite supplies of nonrenewable energy, water, and materials and is accelerating the pace of our greatest problem-climate change. Buildings account for a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions; in the U.S., buildings are associated with 38% of all emissions of carbon dioxide, Globally, the figure is nearly one-third. The problem is anticipated to worsen as developing countries attain higher standards of living. The problem is anticipated to worsen as developing countries achieve higher standards of living.
These forces are bringing us to a tipping point, a threshold beyond which Earth cannot rebalance itself without major disruption to the systems that humans and other species rely on for survival.

The impetus behind development of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating systems was recognition of those problems, coupled with awareness that the building industry-from construction and renovation to operations and maintenance-already had the expertise, tools, and technology to transform daily operations and make significant advances toward a sustainable planet. LEED projects throughout the world have already demonstrated the benefits of taking a green operations and maintenance approach that reduces the environmental harms of existing buildings and restores the balance of natural systems. The opportunity that existing commercial buildings represent is enormous: as world population continues to increase, people have begun to use old buildings in new ways. About 40 percent of the energy consumed in the U.S. and other developed nations is attributable to building operations, and 80 million square feet of the operating building stock is commercial space.

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