The High Cost of NOT Going Green
Courtesy: Architecture 2030
In my column this month in ARCHITECT magazine, “Follow the Money,” I mention that many readers complain about sustainability, as if it’s a distraction from economic woes. “The only green we should be talking about,” writes one, “is how to get paid for practicing architecture.”
A new UN study illustrates how staggeringly myopic this view is. Issued last month, the report, “Why Environmental Externalities Matter to Institutional Investors,” estimates that in 2008 the total cost of global environmental damage caused by human activity was $6.6 trillion, or about 11 percent of the global GDP. In other words, the damage created by the economy is worth more than a tenth of the economy. Imagine how much more profitable industry would become if it had a net-zero approach to the environment.
We’ve all seen the statistics about how much of the damage is due to buildings. According to Architecture 2030, construction consumes more energy (49 percent) than any other sector and is the largest single contributor to global warming (46.9 percent of GHG emissions). Building operations alone represents some 77 percent of U.S. electricity consumption. How these proportions might relate to the numbers in the UN study isn’t clear, but even if buildings account for only a sixth of the total global damage, that’s $1 trillion, which matches the approximate annual value of the U.S. construction industry.
Architects and builders cannot afford to ignore this simple fact: To turn your back on the environment is to leave the economy in peril.