Sustainable design consultant Holley Henderson has been on the green bandwagon for nearly six years. A former EPA employee, Henderson now works as a sustainable design consultant with the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program. In 2004, she launched her own Atlanta firm, H2 Ecodesign. In addition to raising awareness about green building through public talks to groups such as NeoCon, Environdesign and Greenprints, Henderson works with developers to help them maximize their projects. H2 Ecodesign is currently facilitating several LEED projects, including two abroad. In June, NREI spoke to Henderson about why more developers are going green and whether these buildings can meet inflated expectations.

NREI: We understand green building to mean “environmentally friendly.” Is there a more precise definition of green buildings in today's marketplace?

Henderson: They are high-performance powerhouses. Anyone who thinks green buildings are only about the environment is greatly behind the times. There is a bigger picture. They define best practices in architecture and design, engineering and construction, and deliver immediate and measurable results in terms of operational performance, financial performance, and the health and productivity of their occupants.

NREI: Is there a risk that the substance of green buildings isn't living up to the hype?

Henderson: There's a big risk, maybe even now more than ever, because environmental responsibility has become a strong part of the marketing of companies, large and small. Of course any green building practice is better than none, but it's the aggregation of practices in the five key areas addressed by LEED — energy, water, indoor-air quality, materials, and site — that delivers true high-performance buildings. LEED certification ensures that a building was constructed as designed and will perform as expected.

NREI: What's driving this trend now?

Henderson: Energy costs and global climate change. Buildings use about 30% of the energy we consume in the U.S. — and we all know how costly that has become. But for every unit of energy used, we also contribute an equivalent unit of greenhouse gases. If we reduce one, we reduce the other.

NREI: What are the biggest misconceptions about green buildings on the part of owners and investors?

Henderson: The biggest misconception is that it is going to cost more. You can build a LEED-certified building at the same cost as a conventional building. Owners and investors need to understand that fact. Another misconception is if it's green, then it's not going to necessarily be a good design. I use the term “stealth green” because some green buildings fit right in with conventional buildings.

NREI: Are green buildings easier to market to sellers? Do they fetch a higher price?

Henderson: It's probably too early to tell, LEED is only 6 years old. The thought is that green buildings will be on the market for less time, and sell at a premium. The Solaire (a high-rise residential apartment complex) in New York City sold its condos at a premium price, and the building sold out before construction was complete. The Solaire marketed the building on the LEED certification. National Geographic recently certified its headquarters in Washington, D.C., and its return on investment has been documented in an increased market value of the property — $4 for every $1 invested.