From the “no good deed goes unpunished” department:  Over at Claims Magazine, they recently published an article called “The Hidden Risks of Green Buildings.”  “Green” (or “sustainable”) buildings involve processes that are supposedly environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle: from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and deconstruction.  So, for example, while standard buildings stress hydrocarbon-based materials, “green” buildings are supposed to stress carbohydrate-based materials.   The EPA has a portion of its website devoted to this subject.

But the authors of the Claims article (J. David Odom, Richard Scott and George H. Dubose) argue that “the very concepts intended to enhance a building’s performance over its entire lifetime are many of the same things that make a building highly susceptible to moisture and mold problems during its first few years of operation.”

For purposes of risk management, the two main points raised in the article are:

(1)               Green buildings are supposed to incorporate innovative, locally produced products.  Problem:  The potential failure of new products to meet promised performance levels (more likely with new materials than with proven materials found in traditional buildings).

(2)               Green building standards reward the introduction of more outside air, which can lead to indoor humidity problems and mold growth.

The authors contend that green buildings will result in increased litigation and insurance costs, as a result of the buildings’ failure to perform to expectations. Targets for lawsuits include designers and building owners. 

This situation reminds me of the numerous environmental problems associated with the Toyota Prius, the car of choice for the environmentally conscious. The Prius’s battery contains nickel, which is mined in Ontario, Canada. The plant that smelts this nickel is nicknamed “the Superstack” because of the amount of pollution it puts out; the area for miles around it is a wasteland because of acid rain and air pollution.

That smelted nickel then has to travel (via container ship) to Europe to be refined, then to China to be made into “nickel foam,” then to Japan for assembly, and finally to the United States. All this shipment for each tiny step in the production process costs a great deal, both in dollars and in pollution.  What was supposed to be an environmental dream begins to look more like an environmental nightmare.

In any event, if you’re thinking of “going green” in your business, it would be wise to develop a detailed green building risk management plan.  Such a plan needs input from green building specialists, moisture control specialists, construction attorneys, and your insurance broker. 

Remember:  Many problems involving mold will be excluded under standard insurance policy forms.  See, for example, the Environmental Risk Resources Association website.