The Greenest Building is the one that is already built

This elegant phrase by architect Carl Elefante is bolstered by an important new study, The Greenest Building:  Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse.

National Real Estate Investor opines that the study, commissioned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Green Lab, empirically shows, “It is unequivocally greener to retrofit an old building than construct a new building, no matter how many high-tech bells and whistles are in the new construction.”

The numbers are startling:

  • It can take between 10 and 80 years for a new energy-efficient building to overcome, through more efficient operations, the negative climate change impacts that come from construction.
  • Environmental savings from re-use are between 4 and 46 percent over new construction when comparing buildings with the same energy performance level.
  • The ROI on green retrofits average 19.2% versus 9.9% for new buildings.

Clearly there are occasions when new structures are greener than retrofitting.  And, after all, sustainability is not the only factor in building decisions—else we all return to cave dwelling.  Still, it’s important to always look first to reuse as the benchmark against which alternatives are measured.