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Sustainable Development, “… development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Bruntland Commission (formerly the World Commission on Environment and Development), 1987
I have spent the greater part my career during the last two decades working with a few select conservation groups. Earlier this year in lockstep to that end, I found myself as a member of an evaluation team looking at a 2,500 acre property in an adjoining state. Old friends from years of similar expeditions, the as usual conversation centered on our latest experiences across the country, preservation of pineapple plantations in Hawaii; carbon sequestration in California; and as always, concerns for the ongoing biodiversity battleground, the Chesapeake Bay. This time however, another conservation effort consumed much of our back and forth. The sustainable or as it is commonly referred to as green, development finally seems to have caught the public’s eye.
Mark Twain once quipped that there is nothing common about common sense. To think, new buildings being built and existing buildings being retrofitted to not buck the system – climate, but instead take advantage of it. Imagine, orienting and siting buildings (or homes), then selecting building construction components by giving priority to their sustainability, energy rating and life cycle cost! Important to note is that we are at this Green juncture is not an unintended consequence of high fuel, it’s not that simple. High fuel cost is but a symptom. Things are changing in the valuation of real estate and we need to be prepared for it.
The modern take is that all real estate even homes is an investment. From this perspective we have grown accustomed to a quantitative bottom line approach to the worth of our real estate and that has not changed. But recognition of a new bottom line is starting to gain momentum, one that is demonstrating a greater upside higher investment performance. Says who? One prominent source is the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
The new bottom line is the “Triple Bottom Line”. “Triple Bottom Line” expands the analysis of benefits beyond being purely economic to include environmental and social cost/benefit analysis. Though sometimes hard to grasp as a reality this perspective and goal orientation is to sustainable development. In a rush to get comfortable with new terms, and there is a sea of coffee clatch information out there, often “sustainable” and “green” are used interchangeably, but sustainable is better understood as the goal and green a description of an activity or product used toward the goal of sustainability.
The USBGC that I referred to earlier was formed in 1993 in the private sector to promote something in the U.S. similar to what has been going on in Australia and Europe for decades, sustainable development through green building construction. Early on in this effort, the USGBC realized the need for a rating system for green buildings. As a result a “Green Building Rating System”, the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) system, was developed and first used in a pilot program in 1996. This system (was) and still is a “voluntary, consensus-based, market driven rating system based on existing proven technology” (USGBC).
Whatever your ilk may be, residential, land or commercial, you have to be intrigued that LEED is a private sector initiative, not a big brother one; market driven, not government imposed; and, uses existing proven technology.
LEED is a holistic rating system that is divided into five categories,” Sustainable Site; Water Efficiency; Energy & Atmosphere; Materials & Resources; and, Environmental Quality” (USGBC). The LEED with a primary focus on commercial and multi-family projects in the past is always expanding. Now in development is “LEED for Homes”.
Worthy of mentioning is that there are a dozen or more other green building programs out there; the most prominent are Energy Star-Qualified New Homes and Earthcraft House. With Mark Twain’s hand on our shoulders, we should build or retrofit Green simply because it makes sense to do so. Today there are over 1,500 LEED certified buildings worldwide and more than 13,000 in the pipeline. It’s our choice, embrace Green and give professional guidance to our clients or tap the next glass ceiling.
Donald N. Briggs, MAI, SRA
Director, the Catoctin Land Trust,
Trustee, Maryland Environmental Trust