Driving to Green Buildings: The Transportation Energy Intensity of Buildings

By Alex Wilson with Rachel Navaro, Building Green.com:

As the world’s first LEED Platinum building, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Philip Merrill Environmental Center is loaded with green features: photovoltaic panels, rainwater harvesting, composting toilets, and bamboo flooring, to mention just a few. However, moving the organization’s staff of around 100 into the new building meant that many employees who had been able to walk to work in the older downtown facility now have to drive roughly ten miles (16 km) to get there. To their credit, the organization spent two years looking for a downtown building to house their growing staff, and they tried to mitigate the increased use of cars in the new building with bicycle and kayak racks, showers, and loaner vehicles for non-automobile commuters, among other strategies. The fact remains, however, that the additional energy use from more employees driving to work may well exceed the energy savings realized by the green building.

Designers and builders expend significant effort to ensure that our buildings use as little energy as possible. This is a good thing—and very obvious to anyone who has been involved with green building for any length of time. What is not so obvious is that many buildings are responsible for much more energy use getting people to and from those buildings. That’s right—for an average office building in the United States, calculations done by Environmental Building News (EBN) show that commuting by office workers accounts for 30% more energy than the building itself uses. For an average new office building built to code, transportation accounts for more than twice as much energy use as building operation… Read more

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