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The Need for an Environmental Context

The Benefits of Building Green

The construction and use of buildings in the United States consumes enormous amounts of natural resources, including the extensive use of land, water, chemicals, and other man-made products.

Consider the following:

  • The construction and use of US buildings consumes 3 billion tons of raw materials annually.
  • The building sector consumes 40% of total US use of raw stone, gravel, sand and steel, 25% of virgin wood, 40% of US energy (including 68% of total electricity), and 12% of freshwater flows.
  • The building sector also generates significant waste as well as 50% of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) emitted and 30% of CO2 emissions, which create climate change.3

Buildings also create dangerous emissions and pollution through the use of toxic building materials and products.

  • For example, 75% of all polyvinylchloride plastic (PVC, also known as vinyl) is dedicated to building materials. PVC’s main component is vinyl chloride, one of only a handful of chemicals classified by the US EPA as human carcinogens. PVC is also estimated to be the largest source of dioxin, a potent toxin and also a human carcinogen.4

The built environment has a vast impact on the environment, human health, and the economy. By adopting green building strategies, religious institutions can put their beliefs into action while creating buildings that are healthier for their inhabitants, better for the environment, and less expensive to operate.

The Impact of How We Build: Who is Affected?

Though buildings appear unmoving and solid, they are not static objects existing independently of one another or of the environment. Rather, throughout their construction, use, deterioration, and repair, buildings are connected to people and places across the globe.

Both in their production and everyday use, buildings are centers of activity with resources flowing in and out of them. As our bodies are connected to the larger web of life through the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the clothes we wear, our buildings are intertwined with their environment through the energy they consume, the water they use, and the land and people from which their materials are derived.

Broadly speaking, a building impacts its users and its environment on three different levels:

  1. The immediate: in the people using the building and the land it is built upon,
  2. The regional: affecting local neighborhoods, watersheds, and ecosystems, and
  3. The global: affecting parts of creation shared by all, such as the air and the oceans, as well as peoples and places across the globe producing the materials from which we build.

By building green, you are being a good steward and a good neighbor to people and places near and far.

Immediate Impact: Congregational and institutional life

At its most immediate level, a green building benefits the people using it – your congregation and staff; the daycares, schools and community groups which use your building, and those who maintain your property.

  • Green buildings have direct health benefits for those who live, work, study or worship within them by purifying the air they breathe and reducing exposure to toxins found in many common building materials.
  • A building’s most immediate and direct environmental impact is, not surprisingly, on the land on which it is built. Proper building and landscaping practices can help protect the soil, prevent erosion and harmful runoff, and provide habitat for wildlife or a community garden.
  • Green building can give religious institutions unique educational opportunities. Not only can members of these institutions learn about green building practices – these buildings can become tangible expressions of a community's shared values. In many successful religious green projects, Pennsylvania, lessons drawn from the experience of green building have been integrated into sermons and educational programs.

Regional Impact: Surrounding human and ecological communities

Your building’s environmental impact does not end at your property lines. It reaches throughout your neighboring communities. Buildings affect their neighbors, for good or for bad, and affect local ecosystems.

  • Green buildings create local ecological benefits. Through reducing the amount of impervious surface on a building lot, they may reduce water pollution and run-off that harms local watersheds. Through eliminating the use of toxic pesticides on their grounds, they may lessen the amount of toxins in the neighborhood environment. Through increasing the number of trees planted on their property, they may help cool the neighborhood in the summer months, reducing the “heat-island effect” and improving air quality.
  • Green building affirms a religious institution’s commitment to the well-being of its neighborhood. Building in such a manner sets a positive community example, and provides a model for others to follow.

Global Impact: The earth and distant neighbors

Your building’s impact does not end at your community’s limits, either. Building materials are part of a global system of exchange. They allow for an incredible diversity of products and options; they also may create environmental costs for people and places most of us will never see or visit.

  • Green building can reduce the harmful impacts that many building materials have on the environments where they are produced and where they are disposed of at the end of their lifespan.
  • Green buildings are more energy efficient than their conventional counterparts, helping fight global warming and reduce air pollution.
  • Increased demand for green building materials encourages the development of environmentally healthy forms of construction and building products.

3 http://www.healthybuilding.net/healthcare/ASHE_Green_Healthcare_2002.pdf and at www.ggch.org and www.cmpbs.org.
4http://www.healthybuilding.net/healthcare/ASHE_Green_Healthcare_2002.pdf


 
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