Existing Buildings Have Big Impact on Carbon Footprint

By Phillip Saieg and Tom Prugh  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: This PagePt. 2: What Are the Three Scopes of Greenhouse-Gas Emissions?Pt. 3: The Role of Recommissioning in Reducing Carbon FootprintPt. 4: The Role of Building Occupants in Reducing Carbon FootprintPt. 5: Alliance Walks the Talk With LEED Certification

Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe, and humans – in fact, life as we know it – are made of carbon. So how much trouble can it possibly cause?

Plenty, it turns out. That fact is the reason facility managers look for ways to control carbon emissions from commercial and institutional buildings.

The general conversation about carbon emissions tends to focus mostly on energy because more than 80 percent of global carbon-equivalent greenhouse-gas emissions are energy-related. From there, the talk usually turns to transportation.

However, while many people are working to reduce carbon emissions related to the transportation industry, the lion’s share of emissions do not come from automobiles. Instead, the primary emitter is the built environment. In the United States, buildings account for 40 percent of total energy use, 70 percent of electricity, 60 percent of raw materials, 12 percent of potable water, and nearly 50 percent of the country’s greenhouse-gas emissions. Transportation, by comparison, accounts for 28 percent.

The built environment’s carbon footprint has caught the attention of facility professionals, who are working to reduce their buildings’ environmental impact.

Tearing down existing buildings and constructing new facilities with state-of-the art products and technologies is not an option, due to the amount of money and resources required to do so. So the focus turns to making existing facilities more efficient and environmentally responsible. Eighty percent of existing buildings still will be operating 40 years from now, so transforming them into high-performing facilities will go a long way toward reducing their greenhouse-gas emissions.

High-performance buildings can increase occupant satisfaction, reduce operating costs, and command higher market value. Using green building standards as a roadmap for retrofitting existing buildings can pay dividends in myriad ways, including contributing to a healthier bottom line.

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  posted on 5/19/2011   Article Use Policy

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