Regardless of whether the world’s construction entrepreneurs personally espouse an environmental vision, they are more and more choosing to go green purely due to economic considerations, an international expert said at a Tel Aviv conference on Monday morning.

“We dreamed of changing the world and making it better through green,” said David Gottfried, founder of the US and World Green Building councils and CEO of the firm Regenerative Ventures. “But the essence of green building is money.”

Gottfried was addressing participants the Second Annual Israel Green Building Conference: Building for the Long-Term, organized by the Israel Green Building Council and the Environmental Protection Ministry, and held at Tel Aviv University. The global economy was initially built with a faulty outlook, based upon the idea that there was an abundance of free resources and an ability to “throw out pollution into the air,” Gottfried explained. Yet “the billionaires of the future” are realizing that in order to achieve security and make the money that they seek, they must now respect these resources by default, Gottfried explained.

“If you do not understand this you will not be the billionaire of the future – you will go bankrupt,” he said. “And the place to start is in buildings because we are the world’s biggest industry, $6 trillion.”

Gottfried established the US Green Building Council two decades ago, and he and his colleagues established the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system for green building. Since then, 170,000 LEED certified building projects have occurred in 130 countries

“We have more than half the world with green building councils – all with rating tools and open memberships,” he said.

The US Green Building Council works very closely with the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the energy and defense arms of the American government. The first American government building to adopt green standards was the White House under the Clinton administration, followed by the Pentagon. Soon, all post offices, embassies and other federal government buildings jumped in and began to require LEED certification, and now municipalities have also joined, Gottfried explained.

All kinds of incentives, like real estate tax abatements, can really drive private real estate owners and construction firms to take part in this growing trend, according to Gottfried. For example, the MGM Casino in Las Vegas was able to save 30 percent off of its municipal taxes by adopting a LEED silver standard.

“It doesn’t matter whether they believe in going green, they believe in saving $20 million,” Gottfried said.

From 2005 to 2012 the American green building market has grown from a $108 billion to a $858 billion industry, he added, stressing that globally, this is becoming “a trillion dollar industry. For developers, green building is quickly beneficial, as rent charges typically go up 6.2%, occupancy rises 6.4%, operating costs fall 13.6% and building value increases by 10.9%, Gottfried explained. Meanwhile, the tenant also gains substantially, as utility costs will be lower due to increased efficiency and renewable energy use.

As Israel moves forward with developing its own green building industry, Gottfried reminded the conference participants to continuing exporting the country’s diverse range of renewable energy and water technologies that can be integrated into green homes and institutions around the world.

“It’s a good export business through water and solar, all the good work through your universities,” he said. “Wake up, it’s the future”

Regarding Israel’s green building plans, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz stressed that it is most important to strengthen existing infrastructure and that the benefits of green building belong as much to the weak, peripheral regions as to the strong, central ones.

“We must be careful to prevent a situation in which green building will increase the gaps and create two layers – the rich who will be the only ones with the possibility to build green, and the others who cannot,” Peretz said. “We need to reach a situation in which just as construction for security purposes is self-evident, so too will be the need for green building.”

Effi Stenzler, the chairman of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) likewise stressed the criticality of employing green building tactics in both Israel and all over the world, in the face of a booming global population.

“The challenge that Israeli society faces is critical,” Stenzler said. “We have to find a combination of technology and community in creating a model of the new neighborhood, which will lead us to green and sustainable building.”

Ultimately, in order to achieve the net zero and then restorative and regenerative energy use that green builders aspire to, industry leaders will face many obstacles along the way, Gottfried acknowledged – such as fear of change, clinging to past practices and short-term thinking. Nonetheless, because economics are so “tied to” green construction, Gottfried emphasized his confidence in the industry’s continually explosive growth.

“This isn’t because we want to hug the trees and do the right thing,” he said. “This is the future of the economy.”

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