Building sector stakeholders need compelling metrics, tools, data, and case studies to support major investments in sustainable technologies. Proponents of green building widely claim that buildings integrating sustainable technologies are cost effective, but often these claims are based on incomplete, anecdotal evidence that is difficult to reproduce and defend. The claims suffer from 2 main weaknesses: 1) buildings on which claims are based are not necessarily “green” in a science-based, life cycle assessment (LCA) sense and 2) measures of cost effectiveness often are not based on standard methods for measuring economic worth. Yet, the building industry demands compelling metrics to justify sustainable building designs. The problem is hard to solve because, until now, neither methods nor robust data supporting defensible business cases were available. The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Building and Fire Research Laboratory is beginning to address these needs by developing metrics and tools for assessing the life cycle economic and environmental performance of buildings. Economic performance is measured with the use of standard life cycle costing methods. Environmental performance is measured by LCA methods that assess the “carbon footprint” of buildings, as well as 11 other sustainability metrics, including fossil fuel depletion, smog formation, water use, habitat alteration, indoor air quality, and effects on human health. Carbon efficiency ratios and other eco-efficiency metrics are established to yield science-based measures of the relative worth, or “business cases,” for green buildings. Here, the approach is illustrated through a realistic building case study focused on different heating, ventilation, air conditioning technology energy efficiency. Additionally, the evolution of the Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability multidisciplinary team and future plans in this area are described.
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Vol. 5 • No. 3