Cost of building green

Sustainable design, also called “green” or high-performance building, provides economic, human and community benefits as well as reduced environmental impacts.

  • Economic benefits. Green buildings may be easier to finance because they are designed to be durable, flexible, and healthy. In addition, the lifetime costs are lower. Strategies for energy efficiency and water conservation yield operational savings for the lifetime of the building. Integrated design strategies allow tradeoffs that can reduce first costs. For example, strategies such as passive solar allow heating equipment to be downsized. Chiller size can be reduced with the use of high efficiency lighting, which generates a smaller heat load in the building.
  • Human benefits. Daylighting, improved air quality, greater thermal control, and other indoor environmental quality strategies typically improve occupant satisfaction. Greater satisfaction often leads to increased productivity and morale, decreased turnover, and reduced absenteeism. Potential risk and liability may be reduced as well. Integrated design strategies reduce the risk of sick building syndrome and minimize callbacks.
  • Community benefits. Green buildings often result in less wind/water erosion and sedimentation of waterways during construction. Sustainably designed sites permanently reduce stormwater runoff and watershed pollution. Furthermore, resource-efficient buildings place less demand on the community infrastructure for potable water, sewage conveyance, and power generation.

Concerns about the potentially higher first costs of building green have not been borne out by research. Studies conducted during the pre-recession building boom demonstrate that reasonable levels of sustainable design can be incorporated into most building types at little or no additional cost.

Making the business case for green building

B3 case studies database
Provides design and performance information on projects using the B3 Guidelines and the SB 2030 Energy Standard. Each project case study includes a Scorecard with several performance metrics including energy, carbon, water, stormwater, and waste.

HTML icon The business case for green building (2015)

Includes useful statistics on the benefits of green building, such as cost effectiveness, it's ability to attract tenants, and increased worker satisfactions. (Feb. 2015)

HTML icon The business case for green building: A review of the costs and benefits for developers, investors and occupants (2013)

This 2013 report by the World Green Building Council shows green buildings can be delivered at a price comparable to conventional buildings and investments can be recouped through operational cost savings and, with the right design features, create a more productive workplace.

Additional research

PDF icon Costing green - A comprehensive cost database and budgeting methodology (2004)

This paper uses extensive data on building costs to compare the cost of green buildings with buildings housing comparable programs, which do not have sustainable goals. This report looks only at construction costs. (Lisa Fay Matthiessen/Peter Morris, DAVIS LANGDON | July 2004)

PDF icon Green building performance - A post occupancy evaluation of 22 GSA buildings

The federal government’s General Services Administration (GSA) selected 22 representative green buildings from its national portfolio, including 12 buildings whose performance was assessed initially in 2007. The evaluation was comprehensive, measuring environmental performance, financial metrics, and occupant satisfaction. Results were compared to both industry and GSA baselines. All buildings in the study incorporated sustainable design practices. The results of the study confirmed that, on average, GSA’s sustainably designed buildings use less energy and water, emit less CO2, cost less to maintain, and have occupants who are more satisfied than those working in typical buildings. (2011)