McGraw-Hill Construction estimates that the value of green building construction starts grew five-fold from 2005 to 2008 and will more than double over the next five years reaching $96-140 billion in 2013.

Helping to fuel the growth is state and local legislation mandating green building and the integration of sustainable building practices into building codes and regulations.

Russell Unger: “I think in the high-end market, green building is standard. When you go outside that market, the cost, the expertise ... is still not there.”
Russell Unger: “I think in the high-end market, green building is standard. When you go outside that market, the cost, the expertise ... is still not there.”

Over the last nine years LEED has evolved and grown. Rating systems are now available for offices, retail, schools, hospitals and homes. LEED 2009, released in April, reweights credits across all systems to prioritize energy efficiency and carbon emissions reductions.

Efforts to educate the building design and construction industry have produced over 114,000 accredited LEED professionals and articles in the popular press are raising awareness among the general public.

But there is still much work to be done. Many of the over 3,000 certified LEED commercial buildings are high-end projects built as prototypes. The challenge now is to move green into “mom and pop construction,” explains Russell Unger, executive director of Urban Green Council.

Meanwhile, the economic downturn is slowing the pace of new green construction. A silver lining may be a new focus on retrofitting existing buildings.

New York Construction recently asked Russell Unger, Todd Renz, chair of the Connecticut Green Building Council, and Florence Block, executive director of the New Jersey Chapter of the USGBC, to discuss the successes and challenges facing LEED and their organizations’ roles in promoting green building.

New York Construction: How would you characterize the market penetration of sustainable building and LEED in your region?

Russell Unger (NY): Let me start by talking about LEED. LEED is the standard for Class A construction in New York City. That has been the case for a number of years both for high-end residential and office buildings. We have been seeing penetration in other areas as well. It is required for government and government-funded buildings in New York City and we are seeing LEED in affordable housing as well.

We are also beginning to see some LEED, but more just sustainable construction, at the small residential level. There are a number of small residential projects in Brooklyn, for example, incorporating sustainable features or advertising their buildings as sustainable that have not gone for LEED certification.

I think that the challenge for green building is moving beyond the high end, government and institutional markets into mom and pop construction. That kind of leads us into sustainability in general which is being driven by changes already underway in the marketplace. LEED has changed the types of materials that are available and have made them fairly standard, like low VOC paints.

We are also seeing changes in the expertise in various design firms. Every major design firm you go to now has done some green building. Contractors specifying materials and designers designing buildings are not just taking sustainability and keeping in a black box. They are applying it to their non-LEED projects. You are seeing sustainable features become part of standard construction.

Finally, there have been some changes to building codes. We are involved in an effort to recommend a whole slew of changes to the code that will bring sustainability further into the market.

Todd Renz (CT): I think it is at different levels. For state projects it is incorporated by statute. New construction projects that are $5 million and up and renovation projects that are $2 million and up need to be the equivalent of...