Green Building: A Real Estate Revolution? Green building now accounts for close to one-third of new U.S. construction. That's up from 2 percent in 2005, according to McGraw-Hill Construction, which tracks the industry. The U.S. Green Building Council, and its LEED rating system, have changed construction practice -- and policy -- around the country.
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Green Building: A Real Estate Revolution?

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Green Building: A Real Estate Revolution?

Green Building: A Real Estate Revolution?

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

There are many factors, and many players, in this move toward green building. But one company and its rating system have played a key role, as NPR's Franklyn Cater reports.

U: Oh, there we go, yes, some motion detectors on the sinks.

FRANKLYN CATER: The new Ross School of Business building at the University of Michigan is full of environment-friendly technology.

P: One of humorous things about studying this kind of topic is you can talk about dual-flush toilets and waterless urinals in polite company.

CATER: Andy Hoffman is a professor of sustainable enterprise. He teaches a course in green construction. And along with facilities manager John Bresette, he's giving me a tour. Among the highlights, oddly enough, is this men's room equipped with dual-flush toilets.

BLOCK: Saves a little water if you pull up, opposed to pushing down.

CATER: Point 8 in 1.6 gallons?

BLOCK: Yup.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOILET FLUSH)

BLOCK: So even with the full flush, you're just getting the 1.6.

P: It's pretty intuitive. I think this is the more culturally challenging issue for some people - is a waterless urinal. People immediately think, oh, this is going to stink. But it doesn't smell. You can't smell it right now.

CATER: As long as the filters get changed regularly.

BLOCK: That sector was practically nonexistent in 1993, when the U.S. Green Building Council got its start. The USGBC created the LEED program, and Hoffman gives them a lot of credit for helping to create demand.

P: They created a cachet around the LEED certification. And they got people to want to do this as a marketing pitch. And I think that was really a stroke of genius, to get a rather inertial industry to start to shift.

CATER: Hoffman thinks this is now key to attracting top students.

P: College campuses, they're all starting to go this way. If you want to keep up with the Joneses, you kind of got to do that.

CATER: The Ross building achieved silver. The company dumped its bronze rating a while back and renamed it simply certified.

BLOCK: They're one of the most savvy nonprofits when it comes to how do you reach out to the press, how to do marketing, and how to communicate their message.

CATER: Michele Russo is director for green research at McGraw-Hill Construction in Washington.

BLOCK: The word L-E-E-D meant nothing, you know, 10-odd years ago. And now, that is literally like Kleenex is to tissues. I mean, you think of a LEED building and people think, oh, it's a green building.

CATER: Russo says the USGBC has been smart to network in every sector. And there's a growing army of people with LEED credentials.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEED ONLINE COURSE AD)

U: Tackling the new LEED exams is an intimidating challenge for many professionals. But our proven methods and...

CATER: Michele Russo says as an industry observer, the LEED AP gives her added credibility.

BLOCK: It helps my team. I have a new staff person; he's getting the LEED credentialing. So you know, it is nice to have on the business card when handed out, just adds that additional, you know...

CATER: Yeah, it kind of looks cool. It's almost like Ph.D. after your name.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: I would not go that far.

CATER: Franklyn Cater, NPR News.

SIEGEL: One big question about LEED buildings is whether it's worth the added cost. You can find more about the University of Michigan's answers to that at npr.org.

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