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The Environmental Benefits of Sustainable Design Buildings consume a significant amount of our natural resources and have a wide range of environmental impacts. These environmental concerns are a key driver behind the sustainable design movement. Various estimates indicate that buildings use 30% of the raw materials consumed in the United States (EPA 2001). Considering what buildings are made of – steel, concrete, glass, and other energy-intensive materials – buildings have a high level of "embodied" energy. Based on lifecycle assessments, the structural and envelope material of a typical North American office building has 2 to 4 gigajoules per square meter (175 to 350 kBtu/ft2) of embodied energy (Building Green Inc. 2003). Producing these materials depletes nonrenewable resources and has environmental effects, and these impacts intensify the more frequently buildings are demolished and replaced. Building operations also contribute significantly to environmental pollutant levels in th...