Photo courtsy of HOK
Designing the International School of Kuala Lumpur, HOK achieved a Malaysian Green Building Index Platinum rating amid the challenges of the tropics.

Green and sustainable design techniques are quickly becoming a mainstay in the construction industry. What might have been a pipe dream 15 years ago is now reality for architects and engineers. Although the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards still lead much of this revolution, green building work also is pushing into new boundaries beyond LEED standards.

The growing market for green design can be seen in the results of ENR's Top 100 Green Design Firms list. As a group, the Top 100 generated $4.73 billion in design revenue in 2013 from projects registered with and actively seeking certification from third-party ratings groups under objective sustainable-design standards, such as the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) LEED standards. For the group, this revenue is a 13.3% increase from the $4.18 billion in 2012.

Domestically, green design revenue rose 12.3%, to $3.88 billion, in 2013 from $3.45 billion in 2012. The Top 100 had $855.1 million in revenue from green projects outside the U.S. in 2013, up 18.2% from $723.2 million in 2012. Green design revenue rose in all buildings sectors except for government offices, which was off 2.5% domestically and 3.3% overall.

Most designers believe the market for green building will continue to grow. "Whether through stricter codes or the 2030 Challenge or Living Building Challenge, the market has accepted that sustainable design and construction will continue to be innovation drivers for the foreseeable future," says Susan F. King, national sustainable practice leader for Harley Ellis Devereaux.

"If anything, we have seen clients become more open to high-performance design, in large part because we present it first and foremost as an opportunity to create value around clients' existing goals," says Lance Hosey, chief sustainability officer for RTKL. "As a result, our green revenue nearly doubled between 2012 and 2013. Partly, this is due to tracking projects more carefully, but it is also due to offering a more persuasive business case to clients."

Public demand is driving some of the increase in the market for sustainable design. The competitive nature of real estate has increased client demand for sustainable design, says Kirk Teske, COO and chief sustainability officer for HKS. "Smart developers are leveraging traditional third-party certifications and actively seeking the next big thing in sustainable design to differentiate themselves in the marketplace."

Green Regulations

Another driver is the growing number of jurisdictions adopting sustainable-design regulations and codes. For example, states and local jurisdictions are beginning to adopt the Washington, D.C.-based International Code Council's International Green Construction Code (IGCC). Further, many jurisdictions are incorporating the ASHRAE 189.1 total building sustainability standard into their building codes.

"As sustainable design becomes increasingly codified through codes such as CalGreen [California law for green building] and the IGCC-ASHRAE 189.1, the market is shifting from voluntary to mandatory measurements," says Tom McDuffie, group vice president of Jacobs. He says Jacobs is conducting feasibility studies for clients in anticipation of the future adoption of these codes at the local and state level.

As green building codes become more common, some designers believe some clients may not be satisfied with merely meeting the new minimum standard. "I expect clients to seek ways to differentiate themselves from their competitorslet's call it 'out-greening'by pursuing new or stepped-up certification systems such as the WELL Building Standard and Living Building Challenge," says Teske.

One change in the sustainable-design market is in the increasing number of available sustainable-design systems and codes, many of which are being adopted by state and local jurisdictions. For a long time, USGBC's LEED rating system seemed to be the only game in town. Over the past couple of years, clients increasingly have looked at LEED as the baseline, and designers are beginning to push beyond LEED.

"We are getting at least an inquiry per month on net-zero-energy buildings, when, two years ago, the thought was that net zero was something that would not be feasible for many years," says Anica Landreneau, director of sustainable consulting at HOK.

"Net-zero energy is not nearly the audacious goal it was a decade or two ago," says Russell Perry, co-director of sustainability at SmithGroupJJR. He concedes that designing a net-zero building is still difficult, requiring high levels of envelope, systems and operational efficiency. But he says the number and size of planned net-zero buildings is increasing, and the uses are becoming more diverse. "This is no longer the exclusive realm of the small environmental education building built for a non-governmental organization."

There are many clients that worry about the costs of building green, particularly at the higher certification ratings. "The biggest challenge remains getting to net zero within market-rate construction," says Hosey. "We find that we can design for much lower consumption, but closing the gap with renewables always throws off the budget."

Many designers say renewable-energy systems remain costly investments that many owners are not yet willing to fund. "Solar, wind, and geothermal systems make much more sense when they are part of a net-zero-energy approach" that includes other high-efficiency building systems and equipment, says Jeffrey T. Gaines, director of sustainability and urban planning at Albert Kahn Associates.

First-cost concerns and the cost of certifying a project under LEED can be offputting to some owners. So, alternate green building systems are gaining more traction. A major alternate certification program is the Green Globes certification program run by the Green Building Initiative, Portland, Ore.

"With the new leadership from Jerry Yudelson, Green Globes may emerge as a low-cost, less-rigorous alternative green rating system for those clients in that market," says Perry. Yudelson is a longtime sustainability advocate who many call the "Godfather of Green Building." But Perry says many designers perceive that the Green Building Initiative is too closely aligned with the chemical and timber industry, which "have been using Green Globes as a club in their war on LEED in the political arena." Perry says Green Globes would be more accepted if GBI publicly distanced itself from these industries.

However, GBI objects to this perception. "GBI is not aligned with any group," says Shaina Sullivan, GBI spokeswoman. She notes that Green Globes standards are developed under American National Standards Institute procedures and open to several rounds of public comment. "We even share many of the same board members as USGBC," she says.


LEED v4, the new set of LEED standards that were issued last fall, continue to be a source of controversy. The most contentious component is the LEED credits for using products from manufacturers that disclose the chemical composition of their products. The chemical industry has been fighting this provision, claiming it unfairly stigmatizes certain chemicals without scientific proof the products are harmful.

Many designers say LEED v4 adds a new focus on green design by emphasizing the health and safety of building occupants and users. "I think it will become easier for architects and designers to specify, and general contractors to incorporate, healthier products," says King of Harley Ellis Devereaux.

Many designers see the chemical-composition transparency provision as driving building-product manufacturers to develop new, healthier products for architects to specify. "We recently saw the emergence of a polyisocyanurate foam insulation manufactured by Johns Manville that does not contain [toxic] halogenated flame retardants," says Perry of SmithGroupJJR. "Architects now have an option that does not include these chemicals, and, with increased market demand, the cost will be competitive."

Architects worry that disclosures may leave them vulnerable to potential liability. "With more knowledge about what is in products, do we expose ourselves to risk when we specify materials we know to be potentially harmful but cannot avoid because better alternatives are not available or affordable?" asks Hosey.

"Liability issues are a cause for concern," says Landreneau of HOK. However, she points out that materials in building products are currently legal, so there should be no liability issues. Further, content disclosure makes up only a small number of points toward LEED certification. "If an architect is uncomfortable with possible legal issues that disclosure would create, he or she can simply forego them," she says.