The oil-rich, fossil fuel friendly state of Texas has not historically been associated with sustainable building. Rather, West Coast cities like San Francisco and Portland, Ore. are typically the ones known for their investment in green energy and green construction.

However, the City of Dallas has quietly been implementing city code and promoting green construction aid and credits that are slowly, but surely, turning the city into a leader in sustainable building.

What is “Green Construction”?

Sustainable building and green construction are a few of many terms interchangeably used to describe eco-friendly building developments. While green energy practices have been around since the 1980s, many people still do not understand what goes into making a sustainable development. Green building is a resource-efficient method of construction that produces healthier buildings that in turn lower negative environmental impact and cost less to maintain. This sustainable approach to construction accounts for a building’s entire life cycle from design and construction to renovations and demolition.

The most commonly known designation of a green building is a LEED certification. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is the most common green building rating system globally. The certification, available for virtually all building project types, provides “a framework that project teams can apply to create healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings,” according to the United States Green Building Council.

What are the benefits of developing a “Green Building”?

While the most prolific reason behind the rise of sustainable construction around the world has been to reduce one’s carbon footprint, there are also economic and social benefits to adopting green building standards. The building sector alone has the greatest potential for reducing greenhouse gas emission rates worldwide according to the World Green Building Council.

In Australia, buildings that adopted the country’s Green Star certification were found to emit 62% less greenhouse gases than other buildings. In the United States, LEED certified buildings have been shown to consume 25% less energy and 11% less water than standard buildings.

As important as combating climate change is to many people, the bottom line is still a priority for developers. While there can be an additional cost associated with building green as compared to conventional building, the cost premium is typically not as high as is perceived by the development industry, according to a report from the WGBC.

In the report, research found that while higher upfront capital costs for green buildings are proportional to the increased level of environmental certification, increasingly, projects achieve higher levels of certification at lower costs compared to less ambitious projects.

Upfront cost increases in green buildings are often offset by a decrease in long-term life cycle costs, particularly in the case of green buildings that feature high-performance façades and energy-efficient building systems.

Any building developer knows, getting a healthy return on investment (ROI) starts with high occupancy and satisfied tenants. Sustainable building features can be the key to providing the best and healthiest work space for an office.

For example, workers in green, well-ventilated office spaces displayed a 101% increase in cognitive ability during a study by the Harvard School of Public Health. Even natural lighting plays a part in the well-being of occupants in green buildings with an American Academy of Sleep Medicine finding that workers with windows and exposure to natural light slept an average of 46 minutes more than employees at windowless jobs.

What the City of Dallas is doing to Go Green

Dallas is one of the first major cities in the nation to adopt comprehensive green building standards for both new residential and commercial construction. It stands out as one of the few large cities that enforce a green building code.

Kris Sweckard, the Director of Sustainable Development and Construction for the City of Dallas, highlighted the some of the achievements and important progress being made to ultimately reach “carbon-neutrality” in the city.

“Dallas understood the need to create awareness, and encourage building owners, design professionals, and builders to incorporate green building design strategies, and construction practices to encourage conservation of natural resources, water, and energy,” he said. “To achieve this goal, Dallas began implementing its Green Construction Ordinance in 2009 and is enforcing strong methods to achieve its goal of being carbon neutral by 2030 and eventually the ‘greenest city in the U.S.’”

The relationship between the developers and the city of Dallas played a critical role in adopting these new ordinances, according to Sweckard.

“Getting support from the development community was key to making it work for Dallas,” he noted.

After working with stakeholders and other members of the construction community, the two communities were able to actively promote sustainability practices without hurting business.

“We gave options to the developers; for commercial projects they could use the IGCC (International Green Construction Code with Dallas amendments) or use a LEED based approach. For residential properties they could use the Dallas prescriptive path, ICC 700, LEED FOR HOMES, or Green Built Texas. The City Council also passed a resolution requiring all City of Dallas buildings over 10,000 square-feet to be LEED certified,” Sweckard said.

While the environmental impact of these measures was the primary reason behind their implementation, the high costs typically associated with developing a green building are not lost on the director, either.

“Incorporating sustainability does add a little extra expense upfront, but payback is quite shorter. By adopting green building strategies, we can maximize both economic, and environmental performance,” Sweckard said. “Potential economic benefit of green building is that it delivers a lifetime of energy savings by reducing operating costs. Though savings (in both dollars and the Earth’s resources) are reason enough to build green, the benefits don’t stop there. Green buildings are more comfortable, healthier, return higher productivity rates, and have a higher resale value.”