New Canadian Study Looks At Liability Risk Associated With Green Building

New study finds green roofing adds risk of damage and loss.


This week, a new study has surfaced to take on the topic of green building risk. The study is commissioned by a Canadian contractors group, representing 2,000 contractors, and is titled A Study on the Risks and Liabilities of Green Building. The purpose of this study is to examine the risks of defect associated with building green. New concerns or what we already know?


By now, you might think of me as the green building “firestarter.” But, I can assure you that I am not. Just like the author of this study said:

“Our Association is very supportive of sustainability in the built environment. However, we recognize that any time our members are faced with the need to embrace new concepts it is essential to investigate the broader consequences to the industry. Liability is always a large factor to be considered.”


I could not agree more, and while I am one of the utmost supporters of green building I am extremely pleased that studies continue to peer into green building risk. There is an incredible value in knowledge of objectified risk. Remember, that there is a dividing line between what risks can eliminated with better safety and experienced employees and what risks simply exist as a matter of fact.


This study was commissioned by the British Columbia Construction Association, a significant group of contractors, who were interested in learning more about the impact of working with new construction design and materials. A complete copy of the study can be found by following this link (kudos to BCCA for actually providing access to the general public!).  I was very happy to see that this study is a response to existing green building litigation in the United States. By looking directly at the source of existing disputes over green building practices, design and materials, you can reduce the argument over speculation of the examined risk.


The authors of this study have elected to provide recommendations in the opening- and closing – of the study. As you read through the study, it is important to take note of the central theme – contract exposure to risk. In most occasions, a building contract can manage the risks discovered. I would implore all contractors, designers, owners and public agencies to take extra care to keep a copy of their building contract nearby while examining the case studies in this report.


It was quite interesting to find that I knew about almost each and every one of the disputes cited in the report. From Southern Builders, to Destiny USA, to Northland Pines, and even Gifford, BIAW and AHRI, the gamut of green building litigation in the US is actually quite pithy. I am always interested in learning whether researchers find more litigation that what has been greatly publicized. Here, the answer is “no” for the US. The study does however peer into some product liability cases from British Columbia. Product liability cases involving green building materials have largely been absent from the discussion in the US. So, the inclusion of these lawsuits was a great value.


My immediate response is that this is simply a collection of existing court findings. There is very little analysis put forth in the report, just a restatement of what we already know. But, if you are looking for a nicely rounded  collection of green building risk – this is a great place to start.


In short, the study provides yet another seemingly objective evaluation of green building risk. Like the UC Boulder safety risk study, this evaluation does show some objective risk that needs to be considered by all builders. At some point, your contract will not be able to cover your concerns. Proper business planning, insurance and training is still paramount in surviving all construction risk – not just that posed by green building.