Published: January 12, 2015

    Green Buildings, Conserving Water: The US Green Building Council

    Since its inception in 1993, the private, non-profit US Green Building Council (USGBC) has dedicated itself to the creation, promotion, and implementation of sustainable building design and operations. The Council is perhaps best known for developing the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system, which makes it possible to estimate a building’s overall impact on the environment.

    Not surprisingly, the USGBC considers the conservation, recycling, and effective use of freshwater to be very important. After all, the US Geology Survey estimates 12 percent of the 400 billion gallons of water used every day in the US goes towards the operation of buildings and their surrounding landscaping.

    Once a year, the Council hosts a Water Conservation Showcase, where industry innovators show off their latest sustainable water use practices and products. Some of the exhibitors offer new means of recycling graywater, the water consumed when bathing, showering, washing dishes, or doing laundry. Graywater is not potable, but once soap, detergent and other contaminants are filtered out, it can be used to irrigate land, water plants, and flush toilets. More advanced recycling projects reclaim blackwater, water containing human waste.

    Small Steps, Big Gains

    Many of the water conservation strategies and features that count towards a building’s LEED rating are much less ambitious, and easily implemented by homeowners. For instance, the installation of low-flow bathroom faucets reduces water use by 20 percent, qualifying the building for one LEED point. Adding low-flow sink faucets reduces water consumption even more. Replacing salt-based water filtration systems with water-conserving non-salt alternatives significantly reduces water consumption.

    When landscaping, the USBCG aims to eliminate the use of potable water for irrigation. This can be achieved by landscaping with local plants naturally adapted for regional rainfall, choosing non-local but drought resistant vegetation, and minimizing areas of water-greedy lawn. While not as ambitious as graywater recycling, rain barrels also remain an effective means of gathering nonpotable water for landscaping use.

    Heating, Cooling, and Water

    While USGBC focuses on irrigation, wastewater recycling, and water conservation, many of its other areas also increase a building’s water sustainability potential. More effective water-based heating and cooling systems save water both within the building itself and by placing less pressure on hydroelectric systems. The development of new sustainable building materials, such as bamboo flooring, puts less pressure on water during the growth and production of such supplies, as does the reclaiming and reusing of building materials which would otherwise wind up in landfills.

    Water is our most valuable resource. The USGBC is helping conserve that resource for the future.