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Groundbreaking Report Examines Green Building in the Pacific Northwest

By:    Published 12:31 pm / February 26, 2010

All over the world, individuals, corporations and nations are pledging to “go green,” but progress too often is slowed or stopped by lack of information, resources or precedent. A team of researchers at Boise State has addressed these challenges in a groundbreaking new report titled “Green Building in the Pacific Northwest: Next Steps for an Emerging Trend.”

Focused on Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Utah, the report consolidates information about green building issues and opportunities facing communities across the region. Researchers surveyed nearly 500 members of the construction industry and more than 300 local governments, providing an understanding of why green building is important to communities, a look at the emergence of green building standards, research evidence on the obstacles to and incentives for green building, and original research on green building in the Pacific Northwest.

“This report encompasses one of the largest examinations of the aggregated voices of both the public and private sector on factors that affect green building,” said principal investigator Susan Mason, director of Boise State’s community and regional planning graduate programs and assistant professor in the departments of Political Science and Public Policy and Administration. “Reports have been done on this subject, but not on this scale.”

One of the elements addressed in the report is lack of consumer demand for green building despite its prominence in the news and popular culture.

“Consumers are driving everything, and until there is more demand for green building, there will not be construction professionals skilled in its methods and suppliers creating its materials. It’s a chain reaction,” said Anthony Marker, co-principal investigator and assistant professor of instructional and performance technology. “One of the primary barriers is the perceived cost the builder has to absorb on the front end, but the research doesn’t bear that out. While there is some small premium at first, a lot is captured in the learning curve. Once you get past that, the price difference between green and non-green is little to none.”

Marker added that lack of awareness and opposing interests regarding the comprehensive pros and cons of green building also hamper progress.

“Increased awareness will bring developers concerned about construction costs, owners concerned about operations and maintenance costs, and tenants concerned about worker productivity together for a discussion about balancing the relative costs and benefits of green building,” he said. “All should be able to come away as winners.”

In addition to exposing roadblocks, the report offers strategies for building urban landscapes that work better and smarter for everyone. Mason and Marker called it a “starting point” for formally identifying the next steps in making green building more likely.

“Cities wanting to address the biggest barriers see financial incentives as the key to promoting green building in the short term,” Mason said. “Over the long haul, cities see education about the benefits and practices of green building as essential to ensuring the desired return on the investment and meeting community goals — a perspective shared by developers.”

Strategies addressed at length in the report are:

  • Marketing to increase public demand for green building
  • Policies and processes to support financial payback for developers
  • Information, demonstrations and training to encourage the adoption of green building
  • Support for current users of green building and LEED certification to continue their use and advocacy

“Ideally, we want to make the information available to everyone interested in green building, from mayors who have signed the Climate Protection Agreement, to construction industry professionals currently using these practices and those just beginning to contemplate it,” Mason said.

Other contributors to the report include associate professor of construction management Rebecca Mirsky and graduate students Catherine Dickerson, Kevin Taylor, Michael Rogers and Jacqueline Spratt.

Research sponsors include Avista, Capital City Development Corporation, City of Boise Planning and Development Services, City of Boise Public Works, Energy Policy Institute, Idaho Power, Urban Land Institute-Idaho District Council and Boise State’s Office of Sustainability, Public Policy Center and Energy Policy Institute.

To read the full report, visit http://www.boisestate.edu/sustain/resources.shtml.