Roughly half a billion square feet of “green” buildings have been completed or are under design and construction around the United States. While that number is growing, green building still represents too small a percentage of all construction projects. Fortunately (or unfortunately, for those still moving toward building green), the number of reasons for not building green are quickly dwindling.

I’m about to eliminate another reason, namely, that it’s not worth the investment.

The truth is green buildings recoup their initial investment dollars more quickly than ever before. A recent study (The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Buildings by Greg Kats) shows the long-term financial benefits of green buildings to be an increase of between $49.90 and $66.30 per square foot of building space, compared to traditionally built structures—and that’s in today’s dollars. Consider some recent reports showing that a cost differential as small as 2% in increased construction costs, resulting in savings of more than 10 times that investment in reduced energy consumption, waste management, and other costs of operation.

These water and energy use reductions are even more important in the face of rising oil prices, which have leapt above $80 a barrel recently. It’s important when considering water consumption, which is at an all-time high even while freshwater supplies are dwindling in many parts of the country.

The good news? As energy, water, and other costs have soared, technology and engineering advancements have made everything—from the use of renewable energy sources, to the collection and reuse of rainwater, to building products made of recycled materials—more practical and affordable for most types of construction.

One of these advancements is in how architects and engineers design buildings. The processes and technology now exist to design buildings—whether commercial, residential, government, medical, sports-related, or others—using Building Information Modeling (BIM). BIM represents a migration in the architectural design field from 2-D to 3-D by creating intelligent, 3-D building models. With BIM, designing green buildings is much easier because designers and developers can change out components of a building on a computer and quickly see the specific environmental impact of various designs. BIM can even incorporate “energy modelers” and “daylight calculators” that facilitate the design of a building that will use much less energy.

For example, RCMS Group worked with one of our partners, Freese Construction, and used BIM models to understand the cost impacts of using sustainable products versus nonsustainable products early in the design stages of the Murfreesboro Medical Clinic in Tennessee. For this 225,000-square-foot project, BIM enabled us to quickly identify the cost impact of various design elements, including plumbing fixtures, exterior skins, roofing membranes, and mechanical systems. When all was said and done, Freese Construction was able to design the facility approximately 15% faster and at a lower cost, if for no other reason than that BIM helped significantly reduce the cost and time associated with change orders.

Again in partnership with Freese Construction, we are now in the beginning stages of employing BIM for this same purpose with the RKR Medical Arts Center, a 45,000-square-foot, two-story specialty medical office building in Athens, Georgia. We plan to use BIM to again determine the cost impact of like-kind alternatives, such as with steel framing structure and window systems.

BIM is a welcome change in efficiently and effectively building green because it allows decision makers to more comprehensively understand their green alternatives and associated cost/benefits much earlier in the design process, compared with the traditional process of trying to retrofit green products when well into the process. By creating buildings and facilities using BIM, developers and building owners can quickly see the environmental impact of various components of the building, quickly change the design to create a greener building, and ensure that it’s within budget. After all, it’s much easier to move a wall on a computer than it is to move it after it’s built. All of this is leading to the increased use of green products in commercial building.

At the end of the day, construction projects that are designed using BIM can be environmentally friendly, safer, and take less time and money to build compared to traditional ways of designing buildings. This design efficiency is one of the forces behind the booming commercial real estate industry in places like Atlanta, Charlotte, and Dallas. Creating more green buildings is one of the real estate industry’s most pressing issues right now. While being “good for the environment” and “the right thing to do” may not be persuasive enough in themselves to drive businesses and organizations to build green, reducing the costs of building using BIM may be the catalyst that drives increasing environmental responsibility in the real estate industry and, specifically, healthcare design.

Let’s hope so because, let’s face it, we’re quickly running out of excuses for not building green. HD

K.P. Reddy is CEO of RCMS Group, a leading Building Information Modeling (BIM) services firm. Reddy serves on the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) BIM Task Force.

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