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USGBC: Green Projects Gaining Ground in the Construction Industry

Environmentally friendly construction has grown consistently in recent years, even through the recession. Green construction advocates expect that trend to continue.

The national market for environmentally friendly infrastructure is rapidly growing, and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) thinks that growth will accelerate even faster in the next three years.

According to a recent study from the USGBC, construction that is considered “green” — that is, certified by the USGBC or featuring a number of environmentally friendly features in its plumbing, heating and other systems — is growing much faster than the construction industry as a whole. While the U.S. construction industry overall was hard hit during the recession, the USGBC report shows that spending on green construction kept on trucking.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the total value of new construction projects plummeted 30.4 percent, from $357.8 billion in 2008 to $249.1 billion in 2010. Then the industry began to rebound: From 2011 to 2014, the total value of new projects rose 36.1 percent, from $252.7 billion to $343.8 billion.

But the USGBC report, drawing on data from the council’s own database, as well as from the 2015 Dodge Construction Outlook report, shows that green construction spending never saw the same dip as the overall industry did. Between 2008 and 2010, at the height of the recession, spending on environmentally friendly construction projects rose 59 percent, from $39 billion to $62 billion. From 2011 to last year, the growth in green construction more than doubled that of the overall construction industry — during that time frame, spending rose 65.4 percent from $78 billion to $129 billion, according to the USGBC.

The USGBC created the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, which was one factor used in the study to determine whether a construction project was considered “green.”

Marisa Long, a spokesperson for USGBC, said consumer demand is one of the main reasons for the trend toward more environmentally friendly construction projects.

“Parents want to send their children to a school where they have outdoor sunlight and … they want to go to work in a place where they breathe cleaner air,” she said.

That demand, in turn, contributes to a demand from building operators who want to draw in business, she said.

Cliff Majersik, executive director of the green energy-advocating Institute for Market Transformation in Washington, D.C., agreed that environmentally friendly building design is a reward unto itself for the people who own and operate buildings. Customers who rent or lease space in buildings often have to pay utility bills themselves, he said. Seeing that an electric bill might be lower in one space than another can influence a prospective renter’s decision.

“The market will reward those that are doing the best, and others will follow their lead,” Majersik said.

The USGBC report projected continued growth in the green construction industry as well. The council projected total green construction spending of $151 billion in 2015, followed by 15.1 percent year-over-year growth leading up to a total of $224 billion in spending in 2018. The report also projected that green construction will support about 3.4 million jobs in the U.S. by 2018, including “downstream” jobs such as the people working to supply raw materials used in buildings.

That means increasing contributions to the U.S. economy as well. According to the study, green construction paid out $147.7 billion to workers from 2011 to 2014 and should pay out another $268.4 billion from 2015 to 2018.

Eventually, Long said, she hopes to see green construction turn from a growing trend into the norm.

“Our job is to put ourselves out of business,” she said. “So our mission for green buildings within the next generation is … [that] our children are growing up in a place where all buildings are green.”

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.
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