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A Generational Shift

We need to seize the moment, so that today's green edge is tomorrow's standard practice.


By Harvey M. Bernstein

Malcolm Gladwell argues in The Tipping Point that small changes in ideas and behaviors often emerge unnoticed, only to grow to represent significant social change. Green building is such an occurrence.

I’ve seen this in my own life. My two youngest sons, studying architecture and engineering, respectively, have been part of creating a major shift in the DNA of our communities and cities. Where I learned to recycle, it’s second nature to them. Where I came to be involved in green building and sustainability as I moved through my career, my sons have incorporated them into their lives and thought processes. Though I may not work or live in a green building or home, by the time my sons’ generation is designing the buildings of tomorrow, I have no doubt the built environment will reflect their ethos.

Recent research by McGraw-Hill Construction (MHC) has shown that by early 2007, more than half of today’s homebuilders will be constructing at least 15 percent of their homes as green homes. According to the MHC Green Building SmartMarket Report, which I co-authored, 36 percent of the AEC community cites owner demand as the number one reason for increasing the rate of green building, followed by 17 percent for the architects’ design team recommendations. Owners believe green building will show decreases in operating costs between 8 and 9 percent across the industry and result in average increases in building values of around 7.5 percent, with an expected 6.6 percent improvement in ROI. That can only be good news.

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Perked up as well, with companies such as Interface transforming the carpet industry, GE investing research and marketing in its new Ecomagination program, companies like General Motors pressuring the automobile industry to build green factories, and Toyota taking the lead on hybrid cars. These ideas and others are gaining momentum as ways for consumers and organizations to contribute to energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction. When a corporation like Bank of America develops a pilot program in which $3,000 reimbursements are offered to certain employees who purchase new hybrid vehicles, we’re witnessing a shift in corporate thinking.

Legislation is another way change has occurred. Sometimes it is through direct mandate, such as Law ESSB 5509 in Wisconsin, which requires all state-funded projects over 5,000 square feet to be certified LEED-Silver. In Pennsylvania, under HB 628, schools built to LEED standards are offered monetary incentives. These are but a few examples. With such programs underway in our schools, perhaps the biggest future motivator will not be the federal government but our children.

“Building Green Reaches a New Level,” a July 27, 2006, USA Today cover story, noted that Portland, Ore., was moving quickly to make green mainstream for its communities and neighborhoods. With the threat of global warming, coupled with high energy prices, green building has finally caught our attention. Recycling may have started my sons thinking about the environment, but the green movement is no longer a fad. It is, in fact, a most exciting time for the design and construction industry, and we need to seize the moment so that today’s green building efforts will be tomorrow’

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This article appeared in the November 2006 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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