How Colorado is Using Game Mechanics to Inspire Green Building

By Lauren Do, 2019 Marketing Intern at WeSpire

Even though I live in Boston, I still have a very close relationship with Colorado–my home state. Hailing from Boulder, Colorado, sustainable living is ingrained in our everyday lives. Boulderites are active, healthy, and love the outdoors. Naturally, we care about the health of our environment. Although Earth Month wrapped up in April, global warming remains a relentless menace. However, it’s never too late to take action and institute lasting change.

With that said, I wanted to share how my hometown has been combating climate change by reforming a major industry: construction. The negative environmental impact of construction isn’t unique to Colorado; nearly every inhabited locale is consumed by the rise in new infrastructures. In order to accommodate the growing population and rising living standards, the rate of construction has substantially increased over the past 100 years. Our desire to grow creates a serious moral hazard. If we don’t take immediate collective action to combat global warming, climate change will undoubtedly lead to our mutual destruction by 2040.

The majority of our natural resources is used for construction. The growing number of homes, buildings, public facilities, roads, etc. all require a vast amount of resources to build and maintain. Land is being extracted at a rapid rate; waste is overflowing the landfills; heavy machinery is loading the air with debris, and building procedures are eating immense amounts of energy. Additionally, the procurement of materials cause their own array of air, water, and land pollution. Globally, construction projects are responsible for over 45% of energy usage, 50% of water usage, and 60% of materials. It contributes to 23% of the world’s air pollution, 40% of water pollution, and 50% of landfill waste. The facts speak for themselves. If the issue isn’t addressed, our planet will be destroyed in a flurry of tarnished air, contaminated water, and diminished energy supplies. Despite these staggering statistics, it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s possible to repair and sustain our environment while catering to the rapid growth of construction.

When it comes to environmental sustainability, Boulder, Colorado leads by example. For the past 12 years, my hometown has been combating the negative side effects of construction through a public policy called the Green Building Green Points System. Sanctioned by the local government in November of 2007, the Green Points Program (GPP) develops eco-friendly infrastructures and construction procedures. The scope of the program is to maximize savings, conserve natural resources and limit construction impacts on the natural environment by promoting sustainable practices through the efficient use of sustainable remodeling, building methods and technologies.

GGP is a system for homebuilders to gain points based on the environmental sustainability of their home. Each “green” feature will earn the builder points. Some features are worth more points than others based on its environmental impact. For example, the builder could earn three points for preserving the existing trees surrounding the new structure, and/or earn 20 points for adding solar panels. The incentives for participating are the long term cost savings and priority approval rates for building permits. A more eco-friendly home will result in less energy usage, less water usage, and less waste. All of which will be reflected in drastically smaller utility and water bills. Additionally, builders who agree to be a part of GPP will receive approvals to their new construction projects more quickly. Depending on the scale of the project, the program can increase the approval rate by weeks or even months. GPP is very similar to the LEED Green Building Program. However, GPP is locally run, obligatory and free to join.  

The program proved to be tremendously successful, so Boulder adopted it into the City of Boulder Energy Conservation Code in 2017. Given what WeSpire does, the high participation rate and success of GPP is no surprise. Similar to the WeSpire platform, Boulder uses game mechanics to increase the impact of their sustainability initiatives. GPP sets clear goals and incentives that makes the program worthwhile to the participants. Residents and renovators become more engaged in the construction process which educates them on environmental topics while reinforcing sustainable habits/practices. Additionally, GPP is open to all Boulder homebuilders, renovators and companies. This creates a collective sense of purpose, which in turn creates a more socially unified community.

Coloradans are known for being hikers, climbers, runners, bikers, skiers, and swimmers. We’re nature nature people by heart––this is reflected by our pride in being a top ‘green’ state and our constant demonstrated efforts toward environmental sustainability. Programs like the Green Building Green Points Program combats climate change while building a more environmentally conscious community.