Green buildings key to reduced energy use


POSTED: Saturday, April 25, 2009

With a growing population, the demand for water and energy escalates every day. The amount of trash generated also increases. The pressures on our environment to sustain us are becoming more and more immeasurable and impactful. Our daily routines may not allow many of us to think about the resources we use, the waste we generate, and how it affects our community. But during this Earth Week, we can hopefully stop and think about this very scenario.

Earth Week is a reminder that more needs to be done to protect our natural resources and environment and work toward energy independence (meaning no more fossil fuels).

For Hawaii to be sustainable, we need to protect our natural resources for future generations while meeting our current needs. There has never been a more critical time for government to take the lead in the pursuit of sustainability.

Did you know that according to the U.S. Department of Energy, buildings consume more energy than any other sector of the U.S. economy, including transportation and industry? Today's buildings are responsible for 70 percent of all electricity demand and more than 50 percent of all natural gas demand.

By developing green building standards and creating incentives to encourage developers to build green, we can help reduce the amount of energy our buildings consume, thereby mitigating the impact they have on our environment. Supporting a “;build green”; philosophy will allow us to create healthier and more resource-efficient homes and buildings, keep energy costs down, and help us protect the environment by reducing our carbon footprint (the amount of greenhouse gas we produce to support our activities). The U.S. Green Building Council reported that green buildings typically save 30 to 50 percent on energy use, 35 percent on carbon emissions, 40 percent on water use and 70 percent on solid waste. With increased energy savings, green buildings are perfect for seniors and low-income families because they allow people on fixed incomes to save on their utility bills.



According to the Green Building Impact Report 2008, more than 80 percent of potable water flows through buildings, which means conserving this important resource is dependent on improving how water is used in buildings. Green building standards address the need for more efficient and reduced water use. Green buildings are expected to save 245.5 billion gallons of water by the year 2020.



The PATH guide to green buildings identifies ways that green buildings reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills, thus protecting our environment. Waste management includes principles such as recycling or reusing construction and demolition materials such as recycled stone, metal and recycled-content carpet. Green buildings have used prefabricated and pre-finished building materials to help reduce trash piles and cut construction costs.



According to the Register-Guard Newspaper in Eugene, Ore., 76 percent of all electricity generated by power plants goes to operating buildings. Green buildings use 20 to 40 percent less energy than standard buildings, by incorporating design features such as using daylight instead of artificial light, using natural ventilation and prevailing breezes rather than air conditioners, and using motion-activated lights within rooms.

There is hope that Honolulu can construct buildings that help preserve natural resources, protect the environment and reduce our dependence on fossil fuel. The John A. Burns School of Medicine is an excellent example of government incorporating green-building standards in design, resulting in energy savings and less strain on our natural resources. With the help of the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, the medical school installed a Cold Seawater Cooling System, which saves an estimated 25 million gallons of drinking water and more than $1 million in air-conditioning costs every year. The installation of low-flow fixtures and occupant sensors at the school reduces the demand on the municipal water supply by more than 20 percent.

If we are to embrace sustainability and preserve our aina for future generations, we need to act now.

Our environment is our economic and cultural lifeline. While the environmental quality of this island is everyone's responsibility, I believe government needs to lead by example and be a role model for environmental leadership. I encourage you to contact your City Council member by phone or e-mail and ask him to support green-building initiatives that help make Honolulu more sustainable.



Donovan Dela Cruz is city council-man for District II (North Shore).