All things green for Yudelson Associates.

Jerry Yudelson, P.E. Photo courtesy of Jerry Yudelson

Jerry Yudelson, P.E., has keynoted more than 50 conferences and events since 2006. He is the author of 12 books on green buildings, water conservation, green homes and green development. Yudelson was named to the inaugural class of 34 LEED Fellows in 2011 by the U.S. Green Building Council, in recognition of his efforts to build and promote green building into the worldwide force it is today. His Tucson, Ariz.-based Yudelson Associates firm offers green building consulting services, corporate and institutional sustainability planning, water management and policy consulting, LEED training and contract research services. Yudelson took time recently to speak with pme about a number of green building topics.

pme: Has the green movement plateaued?

JY: There was certainly a slowdown in new building construction during the recession, but even then green building increased its market share in new construction. Meanwhile, the existing building market took off like a rocket. In fact, by the end of 2011 there was more total square footage of existing buildings certified by LEED than new construction, even though LEED for new construction has been around five years longer.

pme: Why aren't there more LEED-certified buildings in the United States?

JY: There are more than 13,000 certified nonresidential buildings, averaging more than 110,000 sq. ft., for a total of 1.3 billion sq. ft. Plus, there are 34,000+ LEED-registered nonresidential projects. That’s huge. Why aren’t there more LEED buildings? People don’t advocate for them strongly enough, in my honest opinion. There are no real cost or technology or knowledge barriers anymore.

pme: You talk about tackling water conservation in green building projects in a holistic way. How can this be done?

JY: Look at the whole water cycle, not just fixtures in the building. Look at irrigation and cooling tower water use. Often, these make up the bulk of water demands in commercial buildings. Then match water quality to the needs of the end use. There is no need to flush toilets and urinals with drinking water.

pme: How important are building owners (clients) in the green building process?

JY: Building owners must drive the green building process. After all, they’re spending the money. More importantly, the integrated design process has to start very early in the design process when the project is still being defined and before the A/E team is brought on board. Without the creative support and contributions of the building owner, it’s hard for the design team to make more than incremental improvements.

pme: How acute is the water shortage and what steps must we take to address it?

JY: Look anywhere in the U.S. Summer water shortages are a fact of life, some because of lack of rainfall, some because climate change has reduced summer stream flow, some because of infrastructure failures. When you look at water and energy together (the “water/energy nexus”), you realize that by 2025 we won’t have enough water for energy production or enough energy for water production. As for steps to prevent future urban water crises, the key is to combine technological innovations with policy changes that involve prices, regulation, incentives and public education.

pme: In terms of commercial buildings, how can water conservation be further improved? Are flow rates as low as they can go right now without affecting performance?

JY: I agree we’ve gone about as far as we can with reducing fixture water use, so it’s time to start thinking much more seriously about on-site graywater, blackwater, rainwater and stormwater capture and reuse. In many parts of the U.S., use of potable water can be reduced 80% cost effectively

pme: Are green technologies such as solar and geothermal utilized enough in sustainable building projects?

JY: Not really, largely owing to problems of initial cost. Geothermal works well in the colder regions across the northern tier of the U.S., but does cost more upfront. Solar can go just about anywhere and there are numerous third-party financing schemes to take away the initial cost burden. However, commercial solar incentives (30% federal tax credit) currently expire at the end of 2013, so projects need to be finished by then to take advantage of the credits. In some localities there are feed-in tariffs from utility companies that can be quite attractive.

pme: Your advice to plumbing and mechanical engineers and designers who are just starting out working with green buildings?

JY: Do whatever you need to do to get up to speed as fast as you can. The train to the green future of the building industry has left the station and you need to figure out how to get on board. This means attending green building conferences such as the USGBC’s Greenbuild (in San Francisco this November), attending webinars, doing online training and reading about successful projects.