Why are there so few energy efficient buildings being built?

Today, a quick idea to throw out there and see if I can get differing opinions from friends and colleagues. So here’s my take on why:

Level playing field: If we all know that building more energy efficient buildings is the right thing to do, why should we be punished financially for doing it? There is no such thing as a ‘free market’. The ‘market place’ is controlled by laws and policy that we write (as a country/state). This is a good example of where the market place (for buildings) is not doing what is good for our long term benefit of any economy and world environment. This is why laws that benefit energy efficient design should be improved.

Short vs. Long term ROI:  As others have stated, it still costs more to build an energy efficient building, but frequently, the long term (whole cycle of the building life), most passive systems are a very good value. The time period for how quickly that extra 10% pays off is getting shorter and shorter, for solar and insulation it can be as short as 5 years. However, try telling that to a developer that’s trying to sell the newly developed property in the next couple years. One solution that needs to evolve more quickly is have solar upgrades and passiv/netzero costs ‘run with the land’. In other words, loans for particular netzero costs would be linked to the property not the owner and would amortize differently so that there’s no financial penalty for being more responsible.

From my experience, there is no dearth of professionals that know what to do in architecture, it’s mostly financial and law. I have hope though, the ROI is getting better since technology is improving.

For the United States, we lag behind European countries in the building of energy efficient structures, but I’m proud to say that California is a leader in the stats. We’ve got a great presence in both commercial and residential efforts with LEED, BuildItGreen, NetZero and PassivHaus movements.

Would you say there is another factor that is more influential?

[ Image by Brant Fetter, of the North Infinity Tower in San Francisco. This expanded post is based on a response to a posting on reddit.com/r/architecture.]