According to the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA), green building, also known as sustainable or high-performance building, is the practice of creating structure and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout the building’s life cycle. It minimizes a building’s impact on human health while maximizing energy efficiency.

“Environmentally sound building design focuses mainly on energy and water efficiency, environmentally conscious materials and resources, indoor air quality, and site selection that enhances the community,” said May Chiu, coordinator for the Green Building Resource Center (GBRC), Santa Monica, Calif.

According to a 2006 report published by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), more than 70 percent of green-building research is focused on energy and atmosphere research. Therefore, achieving an environmentally friendly building that is healthy and comfortable for the occupants requires energy--efficient systems, nonpolluting materials, and a low carbon footprint.

“Green buildings use less energy and water and incorporate improved energy efficient systems and indoor air quality,” said William J. Worthen, AIA, LEED AP, and senior associate of Simon & Associates Inc., Green Building Consultants, San Francisco.

Components of green building include technologies designed and implemented over the last decade, such as green roofs; solar panels; geothermal systems; modern heating, ventilating and air conditioning design, equipment and controls; storm water management; gray-water reuse; using recycled materials in construction; and recycling building waste.

“Everything must be taken into consideration when dealing with green building, from site orientation, the distance materials have to travel, and the energy used for heating and cooling and other electrical needs, to how construction debris is eliminated and the long-term energy performance of the building,” Worthen said.

Energy management is the backbone of green building, according to Chiu.

“Green building is a tool that allows improved management of energy usage and helps buildings lower their carbon emissions and impact on the overall environment,” she said.

According to the EPA, energy management has a broad environmental and health impact on the life cycle of a green building. The EPA also endorses the whole-building approach and promotes integrated design, including the involvement of electrical contractors in a green project from the design phase. It is the agency’s opinion that the electrical contractor is in the best position to ensure the design intent is carried out.

Electrical contractors (ECs) can bring practices and technologies to bear and have an impact on a building’s energy management strategies. To do so, however, they must learn about green building, design and construction practices.

“Electrical contractors can use their knowledge to help the design team determine what energy-efficient products and systems are compatible with each other and that will meet energy management goals,” Chiu said.

ECs should work with electrical and mechanical designers and engineers to ensure a green project’s constructability and that all energy-efficient opportunities are being used cost-effectively.

“Since lighting accounts for up to 60 percent of a building’s typical energy consumption, electrical contractors must fully understand the application of daylighting and dimming control technologies and how they fit into a smart building’s integrated management system to really begin to manage energy consumption,” Worthen said.

Contractors that understand modern green design practices can evaluate and offer energy-efficient and green technologies and work with the green service companies, manufacturers, suppliers, general contractors and architects that have embraced the concept.

The future of green building and energy management lies in quantifying the results of the increased presence of green building in carbon dioxide emission levels, Chiu said.

“This information will allow people to really understand the benefit of green building and its positive impact on climate change,” she said, adding that, in the future, green building will place more emphasis on both indoor air quality and energy management. “There will be increased focus on how improved indoor environments that stem from green-building practices actually improve occupant comfort, health and productivity.”

ECs also need to keep an eye on the trend toward lessened carbon emissions. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a net zero-energy building generates enough renewable energy on-site to equal or exceed its annual energy use. Despite the excitement over the concept of zero energy, there currently is no common definition, or even understanding, of what it means.

“Net-zero-energy buildings, however, are probably the next step in sustainable energy system design,” Worthen said.

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 and darbremer@comcast.net.