Houston Pushes for Green Buildings

The city of Houston is pushing for more design companies and builders to develop new construction using green materials and systems. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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Several hundred architects and builders met in Houston for the Green Building Conference. The discussions focused on commercial, residential and healthcare architecture built in an environmentally friendly method. Houston Mayor Bill White says this region is the world leader in energy supply because of intellectual capital, so there's no reason it shouldn't be the leader in energy conservation.

"Finance people, engineering people, people are chemical engineers, petroleum engineers, people who are contractors, large integrated construction firms -- all are located in one place. And it's the depth of the talent pool, the competitiveness of the talent pool and the interdisciplinary nature of that talent pool which has made this sector so strong."

All city buildings over 10,000 square feet must be built to the nation's green standards, known as the LEED program. City of Houston Building Services Director Issa Dadoush says LEED standards involves things like using recycled carpet, double-paned windows and other energy-saving measures.

"Imagine yourself when we were kids and mom and dad popped us on the back of the head and said 'turn your lights out when you leave your room.' Well what happens if you leave a room and the switch actually turns off the lights in the room by itself. Those are the LEED elements."

For many years, builders have been hesitant to move toward green buildings because the costs of construction were prohibitive. But standard energy costs are higher than ever and green designs are becoming more afforable. Dadoush says for a $5 million dollar building project, it might cost about $100,000 to build to LEED standards. But over a 20-year building lifetime -- the owner would save more than $1 million in operations and maintenance.

"So it is a no-brainer. You spend $100,000 now so you can save $1 million over a 20-year period. I think it's -- this is sound business decision that we should all take advantage of. It is good to the environment, it cuts costs, it cuts costs on the operations side and it provides, as I said, a healthier environment for those who walk into the building."

The U.S. Green Building Council estimates buildings use 40 percent of the nation's energy and account for about half of all greenhouse gas emissions. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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