Green construction and retrofits on upswing

Global survey results show early idealists now ceding the field to mainstream developers
Thursday, February 18, 2016
By Barbara Carss

Energy conservation is identified as the key motive for green construction and retrofits, surpassing all other reasons cited in newly released global survey results. The multi-question poll of 1,026 real estate owners, developers, contractors and design specialists in 69 countries also indicates steady growth in the green building sector with widespread adoption of rating systems and performance measurements.

World Green Building Trends 2016 is the third in a series of surveys and reports from Dodge Data & Analytics (formerly McGraw Hill Construction) first conducted in 2008. However, the newest findings are drawn from a more heterogeneous field of respondents of which only one third are Green Building Council (GBC) members, compared to 75 per cent of those surveyed in the previous 2012 exercise. This underpins the report’s conclusions that the green building market has become more mainstream.

For example, respondents report that 24 per cent of their current projects are green — defined as certified or having the qualifications to be certified under any recognized global green rating system. This superficially appears to be much lower than the 38 per cent of respondents engaged in green construction and retrofits in 2012, but the 2016 database is seen as a more representative sample of the broader real estate industry. Positive expectations of green building performance and a significant decline in negative perceptions of upfront capital costs are also considered heartening.

Maturing market

In 2012, 76 per cent of respondents saw construction premiums as an obstacle to green building projects, while only 50 per cent did in the new survey. “This drop may suggest a global trend toward greater experience with green building techniques and wider availability of green building products and service providers, which may be reducing the premium for building green,” the report hypothesizes.

Meanwhile, estimates of operational savings were fairly consistent in the two survey periods. “This demonstrates that a more industry-representative group of participants still expects the same levels of benefits from green as those who are committed enough to green building to join a GBC,” the report maintains.

Data interpreters also see progress in the ebbing emphasis development proponents place on doing the right thing and/or supporting market transformation. These were favoured reasons for green building projects in the 2008 survey when 42 per cent of respondents claimed the desire to do good as a prime motivation and 35 per cent were seeking to help transform the market.

Today, those numbers have fallen to 25 per cent and 15 per cent respectively, suggesting that pragmatists are now filing in after the aspirational early adopters. “Generally, this indicates a more mature market driven by the benefits of green,” the report surmises.

Reduced energy consumption emerged as the top consideration — flagged by two thirds of respondents — in a breakdown of environmental and social reasons for embarking on green projects. Respondents were asked to choose their top two out of a list of five environmental and five social criteria, with results showing somewhat more consensus around environmental priorities.

Protecting natural resources garnered 37 per cent agreement, followed by reducing water use at 31 per cent, whereas there was no clear second ranked social concern after 58 per cent tagged encouraging sustainable business practices as number one. Rather, creating a sense of community, increasing worker productivity, and supporting the domestic economy each captured 29 per cent of responses.

Canada and NAFTA partners

Although Canadians contributed to the survey’s overall findings, Canada is not among the 13 countries pulled out for specific and comparative analysis. Nevertheless, in highlighting the higher priority placed on retrofitting existing buildings by Mexican (46 per cent) and American (43 per cent) respondents, the report cites “comparable expectations” in Canada. “All of the North American percentages exceed the 37 per cent of global respondents expecting to do green retrofits,” it adds.

Reported statistics also indicate Canadians have a greater aversion to the cost premium associated with green construction and retrofits, with 76 per cent calling it an impediment versus 70 per cent of American respondents and 54 per cent of Mexican respondents. That noted, an explanation of the report’s research methods does not include Canada in the list of countries for which “a statistically significant sample was obtained”.

Globally, prospects are most buoyant for new commercial construction with 46 per cent of respondents planning a project/projects within the next three years. New construction of public sector buildings ranks second with 38 per cent of respondents lining up work, while commercial interiors are expected to garner the least activity among seven project categories, figuring in the plans of just 20 per cent of respondents.

As reported, 78 per cent of respondents will prescribe to some sort of building rating system for those projects, and 75 per cent will apply some sort of performance measurement to gauge the financial benefits of their investment. Globally, the use of metrics has increased 12 per cent since the 2012 survey, although uptake rates in the United States (57 per cent) and the United Kingdom (61 per cent) fall well below the average.

Barbara Carss is editor-in-chief of Canadian Property Management.

1 thought on “Green construction and retrofits on upswing

  1. It’s really nice to see a greater emphasis being placed on green construction. As the technology and processes necessary for sustainable construction become more affordable, going green for building may very well become an industry standard.

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