Green building takes off in real estate slump

Green building remains the bright spot in an otherwise dull U.S. real estate market as companies and homeowners look to lower utility bills.

It now accounts for nearly one-third of new U.S. construction, up from 2% in 2005, according to a report aired Tuesday by NPR, which cites industry data from McGraw-Hill Construction. The story attributes much of that success to the private U.S. Green Building Council, begun in 1993.

The Washington-based USGBC runs one of dozens of green-rating programs in the United States, but its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program dominates the commercial sector and is one of the strictest in the residential market.

The number of homes receiving LEED approval tripled last year, from 1,151 in 2008 to more than 3,000 in 2009, the USGBC’s Nate Kredich told Green House in December. Homes, like office buildings, get points for water conservation, energy efficiency, durability, location, air quality and other factors.

“They created a cachet around the LEED certification,” Andy Hoffman, a professor of sustainable enterprise at the University of Michigan, tells NPR in the first of a two-part series. “They got people to want to do this as a marketing pitch — and I think that was really a stroke of genius to get a rather inertial industry to start to shift.”

University of Michigan has committed to seek LEED certification for every new construction project of at least $10 million. “College campuses are all starting to go this way,” Hoffman says. “If you want to keep up with the Joneses, you kinda gotta do that.”

The USGBC, which has expanded greatly in recent years, moved into a much larger downtown office space in the summer of 2009. Its office was retrofitted to earn the top or platinum rating from its LEED program.

The organization brought in about $107 million last year — $42 million of which related to accrediting people in its program, according to NPR. About 155,000 architects, contractors, consultants and others have passed a USGBC test to be designated as a LEED AP “accredited professional” or “green associate.”

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