It is almost impossible to flip through an industry magazine or visit an association website without finding a mention of going green or sustainability.
And it's easy to see why the green concept has staying power. Green buildings have many benefits to the environment, economy and the community. They reduce the effects of natural resource consumption, improve the bottom line, enhance the occupants' comfort and health, minimize strain on local infrastructures, and improve the quality of life for members of a community. Because the green initiative has had such overwhelming acceptance in the design and construction industries, people are taking notice – especially those in the concrete industry.
“We would be remiss as an industry trade association if we did not explore the basic tenets of this design concept," says Ed Sauter, executive director of TCA."Regardless of whether or not green affects your business, as a member of the concrete industry today, it is certainly a topic we must get our hands around so we can better understand the role of concrete in the trend."
LEED helps define green concept
The United States Green Building Council defines a green building as one that is"designed, constructed, and operated to boost environmental, economic, health and productivity performance over that of conventional buildings." Further, a green building's negative impact on the environment is significantly reduced or eliminated in the following five areas: sustainable site planning; safeguarding water and water efficiency; energy efficiency and renewable energy; conservation of materials and resources; and indoor environmental quality.
In order to quantify this definition, the Council developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system as the standard for green building. (See sidebar below.) LEED offers third-party certification of qualifying buildings, high-performance design guidelines, and professional training and accreditation services. Because LEED defines"green" by providing a standard for measurement, it helps prevent"greenwashing," which are false or exaggerated claims; promote whole-building, integrated design processes; and facilitate positive results for the environment, occupant health and financial return. LEED provides design guidelines, helps recognize leaders, stimulates green competition, establishes market value with a recognizable national"brand," and raises consumer awareness.
LEED and concrete
Although LEED may be the buzzword of choice today, if you are like many in the concrete industry, you are trying to figure out how, and if, it applies to you. The use of concrete in buildings does in fact dramatically help achieve a strong LEED rating.
According to the Portland Cement Association (PCA), by using concrete as many as 21 LEED points are readily achievable. Of all the building materials, concrete has the lowest embodied energy and concrete itself can be recycled and can contain many recycled materials. Further, concrete is manufactured locally, so transportation costs are reduced. In other words, concrete uses less total energy from extraction of raw materials, transportation and production.
Many of concrete's inherent properties make it a solution for the green trend. The thermal mass properties of concrete, reduced air infiltration and higher energy-efficiency insulation systems allow concrete to be a viable green building product. By reducing air infiltration, a stable building environment can be created with specific temperature set points. Concrete's reflective surfaces save energy by reducing temperatures by 5 degrees, cutting air-conditioning usage by 18 percent, and requiring less power to light the area at night. Further, concrete ensures durable structures that can be built on sustainable sites, such as a brownfield redevelopment. These attributes will add points to a building's overall LEED point total.