Of all the trends affecting the rise in sustainable construction, none is having a greater impact than the drive for higher building performance. As owners, engineers and builders strive for greater efficiencies, they are turning to green building practices for solutions.

The price of going green has been an impediment to wider acceptance, but reductions in sustainable construction costs and improvements in monitoring systems are helping to increase the long-term value of green buildings.

To judge by the trade media, you would think everyone is building green. Such is not the case. Although sustainable design and construction has become more mainstream, it still represents only a fraction of the entire industry.

The U.S. Green Building Council states that 41 percent of all nonresidential building starts in 2012 were green (compared to 2 percent in 2005) and estimates that between 40 to 48 percent of new nonresidential construction will be green in 2015. In the residential sector, only about 10 percent of new single-family homes are built green.

Those figures may change drastically in the next three to five years. According to RnR Market Research's "Green Construction Outlook and Trends" for 2015, 88 percent of industry executives indicated they plan to adopt green construction in their projects between 2015 and 2017.

More than three-fourths (77 percent) said that building design and construction was a "highly preferable" or "preferable" area for green construction. Nearly half (48 percent) anticipate revenue increases of around 10 percent over the next 12 months due to the adoption of green construction projects.

Driving this change is an increased emphasis on building performance. A new white paper from UL, "Dawn of the Building Performance Era," states, "Building performance is the new frontier and finding ways to ensure major building systems in both modern and older structures can truly deliver enhanced energy management, water conservation and improved indoor air quality needs to happen in order to positively impact the bottom line of building owners, investors and tenants."

UL Chief Economist Erin Grossi, the paper's author, sees the industry shifting from design-oriented sustainability solutions, which have only marginally improved performance, to the actual performance of buildings on the operational side, including management and occupant behavior. In RnR's market research, 60 percent of industry executives said they were motivated primarily by gains in energy efficiency to adopt green construction in their future projects.

Contributing to this focus on performance is growing concern about the effects of climate change. A recent article in Building Design + Construction sees the need to reduce carbon footprint as the next trend in sustainability. It points out that government and public demand for corporate reporting on sustainability efforts has increased in the past few years.

The article also foresees in the not-too-distant future a time when "organizations will eventually be forced to become more sustainable and document their results — not just the process they used but how they achieved measurable change." Consequently, "owners and operators will be much more focused on monitoring real time data that will allow them to more specifically target performance improvements."

Demand for higher building performance and better monitoring will impact not only new construction but existing buildings as well. Overall, less than 1 percent of the current building stock is green, observes Grossi. Bringing buildings up to newer standards will require a substantial amount of retrofitting, particularly in the areas of energy and water conservation and indoor air quality.

"This trend will only accelerate as the mainstream market increasingly recognizes it is economically essential to put buildings to work to protect and enhance the lives of people, commerce, and the greater planet," Grossi concludes.

The costs of doing so are not insignificant, but the costs of not doing so are incalculable.