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Cost Studies

Costing Green: A Comprehensive Cost Database and Budgeting Methodology July 2004

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Lisa Fay Matthiessen
Peter Morris
Davis Langdon


The first question often asked about sustainable design is: what does 'green' cost, typically meaning does it cost more? This raises the question: more than what? More than comparable buildings, more than the available funds, or more than the building would have cost without the sustainable design features? The answers to these questions have been thus far elusive, because of the lack of hard data.

This paper uses extensive data on building costs to compare the cost of green buildings with buildings housing comparable programs, which do not have sustainable goals. The foundations are also laid to analyze incremental costs over starting budgets, and to compare the costs for different specific measures and technologies. Additionally, we present a budgeting methodology that provides guidelines for developing appropriate budgets to meet the building program goals, including sustainability goals.

This report looks only at construction costs. It is true that the costs and benefits of sustainable design can and should be analyzed holistically, including operations and maintenance implications, user productivity and health, design and documentation fees, among other financial measurements. However, it is our experience that it is the construction cost implications that drive decisions about sustainable design. By assisting teams to understand the actual construction costs on real projects of achieving green, and by providing a methodology that will allow teams to manage construction costs, we hope to enable teams to get past the question of whether to green, and go straight to working on how.

From this analysis we conclude that many projects achieve sustainable design within their initial budget, or with very small supplemental funding. This suggests that owners are finding ways to incorporate project goals and values, regardless of budget, by making choices. However, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Each building project is unique and should be considered as such when addressing the cost and feasibility of LEED. Benchmarking with other comparable projects can be valuable and informative, but not predictive. Any assessment of the cost of sustainable design for a particular building must be made with reference to that building, its specific circumstances and goals.

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