By providing the budget and setting the priorities on a project, owners exert significant influence on whether and how green a building project can be. Dodge Data & Analytics’ latest green study, published in the World Green Building Trends 2018 SmartMarket Report, provides a rare glimpse of what influences U.S. owners to build green and how their responses differ from owners in other countries and from engineers in the U.S. Understanding owners’ green priorities can allow engineers to better work with owners and other design team members to improve the sustainable performance of their projects.

The biggest differentiating factor between U.S. owners and the other owners who participated in the study is their attention to the cost of building green. This is revealed at several points throughout the study, but particularly in their estimation of the top barriers facing the growth of green building. Almost three quarters (73 percent) of U.S. owners consider higher (perceived or actual) first costs to be one of the top three barriers. While attention to cost may seem like a natural response from project owners, in fact, the U.S. owners stand out in this regard, since less than half (46 percent) of owners outside the U.S. consider this a top barrier.

The second highest percentage of U.S. owners (40 percent) select affordability (the perception that green building is for high-end projects only) as one of their top barriers to building green. However, only 29 percent of owners outside of the U.S. share that perspective. Instead, owners outside the U.S. are more likely to select the lack of political support or incentives (34 percent) as one of the biggest barriers, a concern shared by only 25 percent of U.S. owners.

All of this demonstrates the importance of allaying concerns about high cost with U.S. owners to increase investment in high-performing, sustainable building projects. One strategy that is often employed to overcome trepidation about the cost of building green is to show the benefits during the operational phases. The Green Building Trends study has consistently shown that owners expect savings during the operational phases that range from 7 percent to 8 percent in one year to 9 percent to 11 percent in five years. Unfortunately, though, a relatively high percentage of U.S. owners (35 percent, compared with 29 percent outside the U.S.) also regard inability to prove the business case for green due to the split between capital and operating expenses to be one of the top barriers. This undercuts the aforementioned strategy as a means of helping allay owners’ cost concerns, and it shows that project teams need to actively consider how to work with owners to invest in sustainable buildings in other ways by paying attention to the triggers that drive their investment in green.

To that end, one key finding in the study is that U.S. owners and engineers have very different perceptions about the top triggers that will increase involvement in green building. Nearly half (42 percent) of owners consider lower operating costs a top barrier, but only 28 percent of engineers agree, the same percentage as global owners. Owners also prioritize healthier buildings as a key trigger far more frequently than do engineers, with 37 percent of owners selecting it as a top trigger compared with 23 percent of engineers. Engineers are also less likely to perceive green building the right thing to do as a trigger than owners, with the 18 percent of engineers selecting this factor nine points below the 27 percent of owners that do.

Engineers seeking to engage owners more effectively in green projects need to recognize the importance, not just of lower operating costs, but also of demonstrating potential positive impacts on the health of building occupants and on the sense of social and corporate responsibility that will encourage U.S. owners to invest more in green.

Donna Laquidara-Carr, Ph.D., LEED AP, is Industry Insights research director, Dodge Data & Analytics ( Dodge Data & Analytics is North America’s leading provider of analytics and software-based workflow integration solutions for the construction industry. Building product manufacturers, architects, engineers, contractors, and service providers leverage Dodge to identify and pursue unseen growth opportunities and execute on those opportunities for enhanced business performance.