August 12, 2003

By Staff
Appeared in Real Estate Journal

Green building design is an idea whose time has come. Federal, state, and many local initiatives are promoting sustainable design and construction as a means to preserve natural resources and enhance building performance. Commercial building owners are finding that green buildings can be cost-effective to develop and maintain, and can be a magnet for corporate tenants, an important consideration in today’s real estate marketplace.

Sustainable building design offers benefits that positively impact the bottom line while providing environmental and societal advantages as well -- reduced life-cycle and operating costs; increased energy and water efficiency, reduced pollution, and reduced landfill waste; and decreased impact on the environment in the local and surrounding communities; increased comfort, and quality of life for building users.

The successful development of a sustainable facility requires an integrated design approach. This initially brings the right stakeholders together at the project’s conceptual design stage: owner, architect, engineers, constructors, building users, and facility operators. Its enables clear goals to be set for the building program, budget, schedule, aesthetics, environmental impact and O&M at the conceptual design phase.

An integrated design approach provides greater opportunities for constructability reviews and “true” value engineering to make an impact on the budget and schedule. It also affords members of the project team earlier opportunities to identify and seek financial incentives that may reduce the owner’s capital costs and/or operating expenses.

Designing a sustainable building is a more rigorous, time-intensive process than one typically finds in the design of a conventional building in today’s market. Optimal integration of all of the building systems to yield a truly sustainable building requires more analysis time in the design phases of the project, yet, over the life of the building, this investment will generate higher performance at reduced O&M costs. A rigorous commissioning/quality control process is another key element of an integrated design approach to ensure that what has been designed, constructed and turned over to the owner meets both owner’s and A/E’s performance criteria.

A Systematic Process
Creating a sustainable building requires far more of architects and engineers than putting solar panels on the roof and calling it green. Sustainable design follows a systematic process:

Minimize demands: First the project team considers how we can reduce the energy, water and material required by the facility in order to function. This analysis includes siting of the building in the landscape, relationship of building volume to surface area, design and components of the building envelope, energy efficient lighting strategies, use of recycled water systems, and the effects of each strategy on energy and water requirements and interactions among building systems.

Use passive systems: Next the design team examines how to incorporate other passive technologies as a means of conditioning a building, including day lighting, natural ventilation, mechanical ventilation without refrigeration, evaporative cooling, and passive solar heating.

Optimize active systems: Because passive systems will not provide all of the energy a building needs to function all of the time, the design team looks at strategies to optimize the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, including a high-efficiency mechanical system and controls; high-efficiency lighting fixtures, lamps and controls; and water-concerving plumbing fixtures.
Consider environmentally benign power alternatives: Consider on-site renewable energy sources such as photovoltaic panels, fuel cells and micro-turbines, but only after the previous issues have been addressed. On-site renewable power can then make a more substantial contribution with a smaller size.

Mitigate waste: There are additional ways to mitigate waste, including use of local, salvaged and recycled materials, and the consideration of environmentally benign and non-toxic materials that will ultimately end up in a landfill.

With the costs of going green diminishing, it behooves a building owner to explore sustainable design opportunities. Today’s green buildings can offer a host of competitive benefits -- reduced life-cycle and operating costs, increased energy and water efficiency, reduced pollution and waste, decreased impact on the environment, and perhaps most important of all increased comfort, and quality of life for building users, all of which address building owner’s and user’s bottom line.