Green church 2010

Green church discoveries in 2010

By Pat Del Ponte

As we look at what’s to come in the remainder of 2010 and beyond, it’s a good time to pause and be reflective. Church leaders are certain to want to reach more people, gain a stronger connection with the community, grow their congregations, improve their staff’s effectiveness, positively impact their church budgets and, most importantly, transform the lives of those in their congregation. What’s often surprising for many church leaders is how their green planning, design, and construction considerations can positively impact every one of those areas.

Because of the potential impact of sustainable design and construction, it’s important to be up to date on the subject of green—a concept that has enjoyed great advances in recent years. While the benefits to churches are varied and numerous, it is understandably difficult to keep up with all that is taking place in such a fast-changing industry. As you read on, we can help you discover what the future of sustainability has to offer.

Green saves money

If you are thinking that it must cost more to design and build green, this is the year to realize that you can have the benefits of sustainability at less than the cost of conventional construction. You truly can develop a healthier building, while saving money and reducing your carbon footprint.

The myth that “sustainable design and construction costs more” has been perpetuated because of early practices and ill-informed, inexperienced firms that lack knowledge of sustainability. The inaccurate message – that costs associated with green construction are higher – is, unfortunately still prevalent. If approached wisely, green construction should cost less, not more. And, building owners receive an additional benefit of lower cost of operations over the life of the building.

In recent cost comparisons, the data proves our sustainable projects were delivered at a significantly lower price than those using conventional design and construction methods. Several of these projects received LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification. This third-party, environmental designation, awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council (, certifies that the projects meet high standards for energy and water use, indoor air quality, recycling of building materials and other significant sustainable factors.

It’s important to remember that construction cost savings are a by-product of countless thoughtful decisions made jointly by the owner and knowledgeable design and construction professionals. Initial research should determine exactly what is needed to right-size the structure, optimize Value Trading (finding ways to cut costs in some areas to allow for more important sustainable features in other areas), select energy saving products and materials, reduce construction waste, and foster collaborative energy goals with all key stakeholders. Most importantly, your ministry will be healthier by implementing a sound, environmentally responsible, holistic solution.

Destroy the myth. If you hear someone say that it costs more to design and build using green principles, tell them it’s just not true and encourage them to dig deeper, and get up to date on the facts.

Certification doesn’t = Green

Similarly, this is the year that people should realize that LEED should be considered, but understand that it’s not the only option. LEED certification provides a great service to guide building owners towards wise and principled decisions regarding green planning, design and construction. But, it’s important to realize that you can create a highly sustainable building and not choose certification. A third-party validation (LEED and Green Globes are two to consider) might be the right choice for your church, but might also raise the cost without adding any direct benefit. Additionally, if church leaders decide to pursue certification of their building, they must determine at what level. Not every project should aim for the highest level of certification.

Church leaders must seek a convincing answer to the question, “How will certification benefit our church today and in the future?” Certification produces value when it clearly enhances your ability to minister. Certification would be valuable if your local community places a high value on sustainable issues or if other government, schools, non-profits and businesses use these third-party standards. Then, being a certified church building that exemplifies the overall sustainable message of the local community would likely result in tours, exposure in publications, and stronger name awareness. Pursuing certification, and if so, at what level, deserves research and discussion early in the planning stages.

The big vision for the future is zero net-energy buildings. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) adopted a policy in December of 2005 that all new and renovated buildings reduce fossil energy use by 50 percent (compared to a 2003 baseline). Additionally, the AIA set a 2030 target for carbon neutrality. A recently constructed worship facility in Wisconsin will achieve this 2030 target as soon as it completes the phased installation of a PV (photovoltaic) renewable energy system, planned for 2011.

Another predominant new theme in sustainable materials is the elimination of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). PVC is a very durable, flexible and easy-to-use material, but it is a major source of the carcinogen, dioxin. Manufacturers of products such as flooring, window treatments, and office furniture have begun introducing PVC-free options.

It always makes sense to consider what new products are on the market when it comes to sustainability. Greater focus on research and improved technology result in a steady flow of products that improve sustainability. Ask your design and construction teams pointed questions about products to be certain you’re availing yourself of all that is available in today’s changing market.

Ultimately, a sense of discovery is critical to finding the right green solutions for your next church design and construction project. You’ll need to dig deep to find the right partners, process, price, products, and priorities.  But, when you’re done with the mining, you’ll be pleased with the treasure, a healthier congregation, a more effective staff, a stronger presence within the community, reduced expenses, and lives that are ultimately transformed for the better.

Pat Del Ponte is director of planning services for Hoffman LLC A Wisconsin-based planning, architecture and construction management firm. []


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