Our natural resources are limited and they are fast becoming scarcer and more costly. Thankfully, in recent years, awareness of this issue has heightened and individuals, companies and governments are making efforts towards more responsible usage of our depleting natural resources. Unarguably, we’re in the Age of Environmental Thrift, when ‘going green’ is just good practice—for the planet and for the pocketbook. The question remains, are we doing enough to minimize the use of scarce resources?
In the construction industry, environmentally responsible practices are being promoted by the US Green Building Council and others through programs like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED™) rating system. Overall, 26 state and local governments—the state of Arizona among them—are mandating LEED™ certification for new construction, and President Obama is currently seeking LEED™ certification for improvements made to the White House.
Despite the rapid acceptance of sustainable design and its application on a variety of both new-build and renovation projects, the practice is limited in its ability to reduce whole earth impacts. Why? Because even though continual improvements are being made in the ways in which we use natural resources—sustainably harvested lumber, energy-efficient building systems, recycled building products—we’re still consuming! Only if the scale of resource usage stabilizes will the efficiency of how they are delivered result in reducing the net environmental impact. We need to be asking how and where we can use existing assets instead of consuming more of the earth’s limited resources to construct new assets.
Significant natural resources can be saved by capturing the remaining value and extending the life of a building rather than demolishing and replacing it. But how does one know if it is viable to extend the life of a building? The state of Arizona addressed this question in 2004 by implementing a process in which consideration must be given to ‘relifing’ existing buildings before a new government building can be procured. Rider Levett Bucknall worked with government officials to develop the legislation which, in the first six months, saved the state $26 million. The legislation has since been endorsed by the American Legislative Exchange Council as model legislation for all 50 states.
Through a relifing study on an existing Arizona state medical laboratory building, including an inspection of the current condition of various building components and their life expectancies, Rider Levett Bucknall determined that investment of approximately $4.9 million would allow continued use of the building for an additional 25 years.
‘Relifing’ is mathematically-based analysis which helps building owners and managers capture the remaining value of and extend the life of their buildings after years of service. It improves the decision making process when considering whether to renovate a building versus demolish it and build new and can be used during the design of a new building to optimize the building’s design life. Throughout the development process, it helps to minimize the use of scarce natural resources.
The Age of Environmental Thrift provides an ideal time for people to reconsider the traditional approaches to green practices, especially in the construction industry. Building owners, designers and contractors should be open to new ways of approaching old problems and be willing to implement tools to help them get the most out of our shrinking resources.
Rider Levett Bucknall is an international property and construction consultancy headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona. www.rlb.com/life