The green revolution is coming, but not as fast as most of us would like. We are stuck with fossil fuels for the time being. The good news is that there is a strategy to reduce our energy use, which concurrently reduces our energy costs.
That strategy is green buildings — buildings that are water- and resource-efficient; filled with non-toxic materials and cleaner, fresher air; and most important, energy-efficient.
According to Connecticut's Draft Comprehensive Energy Strategy, residential and commercial buildings consume 58 percent of the state's energy and 87 percent of its electricity. That's a huge opportunity for savings, efficiency and waste elimination. Simply put, more sustainable buildings can change Connecticut — and energize its economy.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is setting a strong example when he proposes energy-efficiency strategies in state buildings, measures that promise to save Connecticut taxpayers millions of dollars and reduce waste and pollution. Green building is a winning strategy.
I know this from my years working for United Technologies' Carrier Corp., a world leader in designing and manufacturing heating, air-conditioning and ventilation systems. While at Carrier, I helped start one of the most influential organizations in the sustainability community today: the U.S. Green Building Council. Carrier, long a supporter of energy efficiency and sustainability, was the first company to join. So did United Technologies, whose headquarters are here in Hartford. (By implementing green building and other energy-saving strategies, UTC has been able to reduce energy costs by 30 percent across the company.) Today, we have 14,000 member organizations.
The Green Building Council has gone on to create the well-known Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, green building rating system. This global standard that has transformed the sustainable building marketplace. It measures the health of the building in categories such as energy, materials, air quality and others. It's a point-based system, and the more points a building earns, the greener it is — all the way up to LEED Platinum, the highest rating. Connecticut alone already has more than 100 LEED-certified building projects, but there is much more to be done.
Energy-efficient technologies often cost no more than conventional systems while saving significant money and resources over time. But the benefits of green building go beyond the bottom line. Take one vital example: our school buildings.
In study after study, children in green schools have higher test scores, lower absentee rates and fewer respiratory illnesses such as asthma. The Green Building Council launched the Center for Green Schools to raise awareness about the tremendous benefits green schools create for students, teachers, parents and the entire community. Our goal is to have every child in a green school within a generation.
Of course, green building advantages apply to all structures. Workers are more productive in green buildings. Manufacturing facilities report higher output and higher quality, and with fewer workplace injuries. Carnegie Mellon reports better lighting and individual temperature controls can increase productivity 10 percent. Respiratory illness can go down as much as 40 percent. In green hospitals, patients get discharged earlier because the environment promotes faster healing.
When you see the benefits of building green, it's hard not to dream big. We spend 90 percent of our days indoors. Why shouldn't all of Connecticut's buildings be green buildings? More practically, why not retrofit existing buildings to be more sustainable? Let's find ways to increase natural indoor lighting to lessen the need for electric lighting. Let's use gray water for irrigation and save potable water for drinking. Let's use furniture finishes, paint, carpets and floors that don't emit toxic fumes. Let's have only green buildings.
And where better to start than in Connecticut? The need is great — but innovative solutions are flourishing here every day. Building green has an immediate and measurable impact — saving energy, limiting natural resources use and reducing harmful emissions.
Most important, today's innovations do more than save us money. They make the world a healthier, more sustainable place. In other words, exactly the kind of world we want to build for our children.
S. Richard "Rick" Fedrizzi is president, CEO and founding chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council. The council has been the leading voice in the global sustainable building movement for two decades and its LEED rating system is recognized as the world standard.