Our Position on SustainabilityHistoric preservation can – and should – be an important component of any effort to promote sustainable development. The conservation and improvement of our existing built resources, including re-use of historic and older buildings, greening the existing building stock, and reinvestment in older and historic communities, is crucial to combating climate change.
Preservation’s Essential Role in Addressing Climate ChangeThe construction, operation and demolition of buildings accounts for 48% the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions. But reusing and retrofitting our existing buildings can reduce these emissions dramatically. In fact, our existing buildings are one of our greatest renewable resources.
Through our Sustainability Initiative, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is focusing the nation's attention on the importance of reusing existing buildings and reinvesting in older and historic communities as critical elements in combating climate change. Americans already embrace as common sense the need to recycle aluminum cans, glass and newspapers. We advocate applying that same common sense to our built environment.
We don't discount the value of new, green construction – in fact many green technologies can and should be applied to existing buildings to improve performance. But new construction – no matter how green – still uses energy and other natural resources and generates construction waste that clogs landfills.
Through its research, the National Trust’s Sustainability Initiative is demonstrating that conservation and improvement of our existing built resources are environmentally logical and economically viable elements in combating climate change.
Sustainable Stewardship of our Buildings and CommunitiesGuiding Principles:
- Reuse existing buildings: Use what you have. The continued use of our existing buildings reduces the amount of demolition and construction waste deposited in landfills, lessens unnecessary demand for energy and other natural resources and conserves embodied energy (the amount of energy originally expended to create extant structures).
- Reinvest in our older and historic communities: Older and historic communities tend to be centrally located, dense, walkable, and are often mass-transit accessible – qualities celebrated and promoted by Smart Growth advocates. Reinvestment in existing communities also preserves the energy embedded in infrastructure, such as roads, water and sewer lines.
- Retrofit our existing building stock: Many historic and older buildings are remarkably energy efficient because of their site sensitivity, quality of construction, and use of passive heating and cooling, while other buildings require improvements to reduce their environmental footprint. Historic buildings can go green without compromising historic character.
Focus on Local, State and Federal Policy: The National Trust for Historic Preservation will work with several cities to develop model policies that encourage preservation as sustainable development. This work will include refining building, energy and zoning codes, as well as developing model language for comprehensive plans and climate change action plans. We will also work to expand the availability of historic tax credits at the state and federal level, encourage other financial incentives for building reuse and community revitalization and support energy policy that improves energy efficiency in older buildings.
Empower Preservation Practitioners: The National Trust will provide our network of practitioners with the tools they need to incorporate green building practices into their preservation work. This will include development and dissemination of best practices and other guidance for greening older and historic buildings.