Environmentally friendly construction on the rise, experts say

Environmentally friendly

Contractors are increasingly looking to build green buildings, and fewer people are complaining about the slight extra cost, panelists at a green building workshop said last week. The Israeli Institute of Energy and Environment hosted the workshop for professionals at its building in Tel Aviv. The sense of those involved on the ground - contractors, consultants and environmental officials - was that green building was becoming increasingly prevalent. Local environmental officials noted more housing complexes in the Dan region being built to the green standard. The Union of Contractors advocates adopting green building practices, and large companies such as the Arison Group's Shikun & Binui have pledged to meet the Israeli standard for green building in all new projects. All new government buildings must meet that standard as well. One panelist, Yehuda Olander - chairman of an NGO that promotes green building - added that during a recent home-buyers meeting for his new apartment, not one person had complained about the extra cost when informed that the building would adhere to the green standard. Instead, they had all wanted to know what "extras" they were receiving because of it. Significantly, conference organizer and M&S (Management & Sustainability) CEO Joel Weill pointed to two studies in the US that showed green building added just 2 percent to the costs of a project. Weill said that a study his company had undertaken showed that in Israel it would add up to 5%, but that return on investment would come within three to five years. For that 2% to 5%, green building would secure savings of 30%-50% in a variety of areas, mostly electricity and water. On the other hand, only five buildings in Israel have actually received certification under Israel's "Green Building" Standard 5281. Another 20 have applied for certification, Weill said. Weill defined green building as "planning, construction and renovating buildings of all types to limit their damage to the environment in general and to create significant savings in energy, water and land costs, both in the construction phase and in the ongoing operations and maintenance phase." "It's not just making sure the building doesn't pollute," he said. Across the world, buildings gobble up 40% of a nation's energy costs, Weill said. Nitzan Eyal, coordinator for environmental issues at the Standards Institution of Israel (SII), noted that buildings used 70% of all electricity, produced 65% of waste and 30% of greenhouse gases, and utilized 12% of a country's water resources - all of which demonstrated that green building had tremendous potential savings. Weill stressed that most of the savings could be achieved in the planning stage rather than in the construction phase. Eyal noted that Standard 5281 took that into account by demanding that contractors receive the institute's approval for their plans before proceeding to the construction phase, in order to receive certification. The 5281 voluntary standard was enacted in 2007 and is set for review and upgrade in 2010, Eyal said. Right now, the standard only applies to homes and office buildings. Eyal said the Standards Institute was weighing a request to extend the standard to other types of buildings, such as malls and hospitals, but nothing had been decided yet. However, he added, extending the standard to retrofitting and renovations would probably happen. To receive certification, a building has to meet the requirements in all fields, not just one, according to Eyal. If a building had an excellent water system but poor energy efficiency, it would not be certified, he said. The standard applies to four areas: energy, land use, water, and seven other environmental considerations all lumped together. Those seven are waste disposal, environmental management of the building site, recycling of construction waste, noise and acoustics, radiation, transportation (bike rooms or stands and showers), and construction materials. Buildings are given a rating between 55 and 75. Just building a structure correctly - i.e. conforming to all of the laws - would give a building a score of 45, Eyal said. Anat Elner, chief architect for Shikun & Binui real estate, said the company's new projects in Netanya and Karkur would receive a rating of 70. "We're not perfect yet," she said with a smile. Meanwhile, there are some problems with how green building is encouraged, according to Yael Cohen-Paran, executive director of the Israel Energy Forum, an NGO that encourages a sustainable energy policy. The primary problem is that the issue falls under the jurisdiction of several ministries, rather than being consolidated under one, she said: "[The] National Infrastructures [Ministry] for the energy issues, Construction and Housing for building standards, and Interior for urban planning." Environmental Protection Ministry official Dalia Ben-Shoham concurred. "There is no 'father' for this issue. At an upcoming cabinet meeting, we've been asked to lay out exactly who has responsibility for green building," she admitted. At various points throughout the conference, audience members also voiced their opinions that some of the criteria in the standard were impossible to measure and therefore impossible to meet. Eyal invited them to give feedback to the new standard when the time came. Some also complained that salesmen were not hyping the benefits of green building, so the majority of the public was unaware of them. Meir Barkan, chairman of the planning and building committee for the Union of Contractors, said the law required that contractors only show certain specifications, which so far did not include green building specifications. However, Elner said Shikun & Binui was equipping its salesmen with more general information about green building to improve its sales pitch. Ze'ev Gross, head of the Infrastructure Resource Management Division at the National Infrastructures Ministry, reminded the audience that a government decision had set a goal of 20% savings of electricity through energy efficiency by 2020. Worldwide, 6,830 buildings have been certified by the British BREEAM system, and another 1,600 by the US LEED system, Weill said. He added that green building had begun to flourish in the US in 2000. Having returned recently from a conference in China, he said that country was becoming very serious about green building as well.