For the last several years, the Modular Building Institute (MBI) has attempted to address the inequalities of the International Green Construction Code when applied to small commercial construction projects, as these are the heart of the commercial modular industry. MBI promotes the fact that modular buildings are one of the best platforms for sustainable building construction today for the following reasons:
- Factory construction means greater waste diversion from landfills
- Factory controlled construction means greater use of recycling practices
- Off-site construction means less site disruption
- Ability of modular buildings to be relocated and repurposed means fewer buildings being demolished and ultimately less waste
As we have stated before, sustainable construction practices make sense when applied in scale to the overall project. Small projects bear an inordinate amount of costs to attain certain levels of sustainable construction when compared to large public and private sector work; however, there may be more to question when it comes to green construction.
Recently the LinkedIn discussion page from the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) posted a piece from USA Today titled, “Green Schools: Long on promises, short on delivery”. The article questions the actual energy savings realized by school administrators after attaining LEED Certification on new school construction. The most notable example given was from the Houston Independent School District who recently constructed three elementary schools, each one LEED Silver Certified. District wide audits taken this year addressing energy cost per student placed one at 205 out of 239, another ranked 155th. And the third built in 2010, ranked 46th in the report. The gap between actual energy usage and energy consumption projected during design was blamed on poor equipment maintenance. This opens the door to planners questioning the real cost of sustainable construction and what is the return on investment (ROI)?
In the article, McGraw Hill cites that currently 45% of all new school construction incorporates some degree of sustainable construction. This is up from 15% in 2008. By 2025 they forecast all new school construction will be green. Costs cited to obtain LEED certification range from 2% up to 10%.
I believe these quoted costs are not realistic when applied to total project costs, as they barely cover the hard costs of constructing a LEED certified facility. Significant additional costs are incurred during design and commissioning and are rarely mentioned by those pushing for added green construction mandates. If we use the HISD model, these costs would increase even more as enhanced commissioning is required to assure proper maintenance techniques are being employed to extract the intended performance out of the building systems and equipment specified.
If we are now compelled to question the ROI of sustainable construction, and we’re convinced widespread adoption and enforcement of the IgCC will hurt small business owners and a construction industry that primarily caters to that segment of the economy, you have to ask how much good is really coming from our good intentions.
Linc Moss is President of Ramtech Building Systems, Inc. He has been in the modular construction industry for 36 years, has twice been President of the Modular Building Institute, and has represented the commercial modular building industry before Congress.