In 2003, Gregory Kats (of Capital E) conducted a thorough study of cost differences between conventional and green building techniques. The study served as the source for the Five Friday Facts post on October 23rd. (Click here for the PDF). He found that the differences range from no extra cost for basic and silver level LEED certification to more than 10% above building structures using traditional construction methods. Some additional expenses result from regional variations, but Kats found that the upfront price for green building has come in line with traditional costs over the past few years.
Kats refers to an article from The New York Times, written in the same year as Kats’ study, that looked at the cost of building green. As prices for materials have come down, the difference between traditional building practices and energy-efficient buildings with their insulation, reflective glass, alternative heating and cooling systems, are as narrow as ever. Unfortunately, lifecycle costs have yet to be determined for most raw materials. Without these figures, assessing the fiscal impact of materials over the life of a building (including disposal) becomes increasingly difficult. Factoring in the upstream (pre-building) and downstream (post-building) costs of materials will be essential for the future of green building. These figures can play a large role in determining the overall impact of a building from cradle to grave; or cradle to cradle. In order for green building materials to exist on a level playing field, lifecycle analysis must be used to demonstrate the full impact of construction costs and user experiences over the entire period of use, including manufacturing and disposal.
Often referred to as externalities, these hidden costs represent the full production expense incurred during the manufacturing of products. In his ground-breaking 1993 book The Ecology of Commerce (reviewed here), Paul Hawken references A.C. Pigou, “an English economist who . . . argued that competitive marketplace would not work if producers did not bear the full costs of production, including whatever pollution, sickness, or environmental damage they caused.” However, as it currently stands, many of the low-cost materials used in construction – like the toxic drywall discussed recently on 2nd Green Revolution – do not reflect the expenses incurred over the lifetime of the object.
[image source: Capital E]