A Primer for AEC Business Considerations

Authored by Jim Kissane RedVector Enterprise Fellow

Sustainable Design & Green Building


A RedVector Enterprise White Paper

Today’s design professional cannot ignore the wave that’s reshaping the world called sustainable design. Design professionals today (architects, urban designers, landscape architects, planners, hydrologists, economists, attorneys, and others) work with community decisionmakers and stakeholders around the world to help them develop a vision and framework for a sustainable future. The objective of this paper is to provide an initial frame of reference for “sustainable design” and introduce some of the evolving standards being utilized in the green building arena. This paper is not intended to provide comprehensive coverage of the topic of sustainable design, but rather to serve as an introduction to some of the basic principles and concepts currently under discussion

Inside this paper
Definitions of Sustainable Design . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Principals of Sustainable Design. . . . . . . . . . . . Sustainable Design Standards . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Benefits and Costs of Sustainable Design. . . . . . Strategy for Sustainable Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . Strategy for Sustainable Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 3 4 5 6 7

About RedVector Enterprise RedVector Enterprise sets the standard of excellence in online continuing education for licensed and certified professionals in the engineering, architectural, construction and long-term healthcare industries. With an online library exceeding 1,000 courses, authored by more than 100 subject matter experts and spanning all 50 states, RedVector Enterprise serves more than 600,000 design and construction professionals. The recipient of numerous community honors and industry awards, RedVector Enterprise was founded in 1999 and is headquartered in Tampa, Florida. For further information visit www.RedVector Enterprise.com.

About the Author
Jim Kissane is a respected consultant to design and construction firms, a RedVector Enterprise Fellow, and a well-known AEC industry author. His articles and columns appear regularly in numerous AEC industry journals, providing insights to AEC firm leaders seeking to refocus or improve operational performance. Mr. Kissane, who represents the third generation of a family of heavy commercial constructors with over 80 consecutive years in heavy construction, is a regular session leader at design/engineering/construction conferences across the U.S. He has served on several construction industry boards, is involved with several industry education committees, and has been educating AEC professionals and firms on construction best practices for more than 30 years. Mr. Kissane attended the University of Pittsburgh, and pursued advanced education in Mining and Mineral Engineering and Program Management. He is a former adjunct faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh and at Clarion University’s School of Communications.

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Definitions of Sustainable Design
Sustainable design is a philosophy of design and development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. An original definition for sustainable design was crafted in 1987: “A design and construction approach that fundamentally changes the way that structures are designed and built, creating spaces that are better places to live and work, and by which a structure’s resource use is minimized and lessening its impact on the environment.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines “sustainability” as “the ability to achieve continuing economic prosperity while protecting the natural systems of the planet and providing a high quality of life for its people.” Both of these definitions set a framework for being responsible stewards of the resources in the world we live in. A sustainable building, or green building, is an outcome of a design that focuses on increasing the efficiency of resource use — energy, water, and materials — while reducing building impacts on human health and the environment during the building’s lifecycle. Some of the ways this can be accomplished are through better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal. Green buildings are designed, in essence, to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment by efficiently using energy, water, and other resources; protecting occupant health; improving employee productivity; and reducing waste, pollution, and environmental degradation.


reen buildings are designed, in essence, to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment . . . .

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9 Principals of Sustainable Design
Rob Watson founded the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) in 1994, and was its founding chairman through 2005. He was known not only as “the father of LEED,” but was also CEO of EcoTech International, a green building consultancy. One of his predictions follows: “In the next 20 years, floor space equivalent to the world’s current building stock will be constructed, 70 percent of this in China and India. This boom will strain energy, water and material resources and cause costs to soar worldwide.” “Design is the first signal of human intention,” stated Bill McDonough, an author , architect, and early pioneer in the arena of the sustainable environment. McDonough, the author of The Hannover Principles of Sustainable Design, set out to address our interdependence with nature and how we can use design to better protect and improve our environment. The guidelines he established aren’t just meant for industrial designers, engineers, architects and others with a hand in creation or maintenance; they also include the responsibilities that we have, along with those of our organizations, suppliers, and customers, in preserving the earth and its resources. The nine principles McDonough espoused in The Hannover Principles represent the “cornerstone elements” of what today is known as the “green movement.”
1. 2. Insist on rights of humanity and nature to coexist in a healthy, supportive, diverse and sustainable condition. Recognize interdependence. The elements of human design interact with and depend upon the natural world, with broad and diverse implications at every scale. Expand design considerations to recognizing even distant effects. 3. Respect relationships between spirit and matter. Consider all aspects of human settlement including community, dwelling, industry and trade in terms of existing and evolving connections between spiritual and material consciousness. Accept responsibility for the consequences of design decisions upon human well-being, the viability of natural systems, and their right to coexist. Create safe objects of long-term value. Do not burden future generations with requirements for maintenance of vigilant administration of potential danger due to the careless creation of products, processes or standards. Eliminate the concept of waste. Evaluate and optimize the full life-cycle of products and processes, to approach the state of natural systems, in which there is no waste. Rely on natural energy flows. Human designs should, like the living world, derive their creative forces from perpetual solar income. Incorporate the energy efficiently and safely for responsible use. Understand the limitations of design. No human creation lasts forever and design does not solve all problems. Those who create and plan should practice humility in the face of nature. Treat nature as a model and mentor, not an inconvenience to be evaded or controlled. Seek constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge. Encourage direct and open communication between colleagues, patrons, manufacturers and users to link long- term sustainable considerations with ethical responsibility, and reestablish the integral relationship between natural processes and human activity. 4.






Both the public and private sector are showing increased interest in and willingness to commit to observing social and economic sustainable design standards, and therein lies the chance for more sustainable development. The ultimate goal of sustainable design is to create communities that work as efficiently and elegantly as biological systems, so that we can achieve and maintain, with minimal capital, a high quality of life well into the future. The results of this effort will be not just safer drinking water, cleaner air, and healthier habitats,

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Sustainable Design Standards
but also a stronger economic base and – most importantly – a more empowered and engaged citizenry. To accomplish this lofty goal (and out of necessity), several sustainable design standards have been created, among them:
• Green Globes − An environmental assessment, education and rating system that is promoted in the United States by the Green Building Initiative, a Portland, Oregon-based non-profit. Canada’s federal government has been using the Green Globes suite of tools for several years under the Green Globes name, and it has been the basis for the Building Owners and Managers Association of Canada’s Go Green Plus program. The system, which is an online interactive software tool, competes with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system from the U.S. Green Building Council. BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) − A voluntary measurement rating for green buildings that was established in the UK by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), a private organization funded by the building industry that carries out research, consultancy and testing for the construction and built environment sectors in the United Kingdom. China’s “Three Star System” of the Ministry of Construction’s Green Building Evaluation Standard − China’s first attempt to create a local green building standard. As the introduction of the rating system notes, the purpose is to create a voluntary rating system that will encourage green development. China is now in the phase of rapid economic development, ranking world No. 1 in terms of annual building volume, with significantly growing consumption of resources year by year. China acknowledges that scientific development philosophy must be steadily created and seriously implemented, and the concept of sustainable development must be • adhered to so that they may strongly pursue the development of green buildings. Another purpose of the new standard is to regulate evaluation of green buildings. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) − The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) created LEED to become a national and international standard providing reliable information, a rigorous rating system, and a checklist for going green. In the United States alone, buildings account for 39% of total energy use and 72% of electricity consumption, 38% of greenhouse gas emissions, 30% of raw materials use, 30% of waste output (136 million tons annually), and 14% of potable water consumption. As such, buildings are one of the heaviest consumers of natural resources, and thus, a logical area for sustainable design to have a significant impact.

The dominant standard being followed today in the U.S. is LEED. There are several reasons for LEED’s momentum: It has proven successful for institutional and commercial buildings, it is becoming more capital cost-effective with each successive release, and the benefits of adhering to LEED guidelines are being realized in reduced lifecycle costs. Additionally, the industry sees value in having the enhanced credibility of an independent third party and an “outsourced” verification process.

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Benefits and Costs of Sustainable Design
Unfortunately, there are still issues with the embracing of sustainable design and LEED. It begins with the fundamental understanding that sustainable design is, in fact, a journey, not a destination. There is an incomplete consensus about the issue of sustainability. Translating social and ecological demands into practice while taking into account the legal and institutional frameworks on the one hand and the profit orientation of business and industry on the other represents a major challenge to the sustainable design movement. Appropriate forums and forms of participation in the sustainability movement must be found; and credibility built and transparency promoted. The varied stakeholders in the global community are all challenged to “retool” their knowledge and skills to adapt to the future that awaits them. Not every participant will see the sustainable design movement as a blessing because it will require most players, regardless of their current roles, to change. And despite the increased societal awareness happening around the world, there are still several challenges that are likely to affect how quickly sustainable design / LEED is embraced:
• Some owners may be reluctant to buy in. If the owner’s desire is to decrease operational costs, then the designer should first assure the owner that its green design will achieve operational savings that exceed the potential increased costs of the green construction components. Unless the designer has presented these costs and benefits to its client and literally received the owner’s “buy in,” the designer’s design philosophy may be at odds with the owner’s stated need for low operational costs. Owners may not have correct expectations. Building owners may demand a certain LEED level be met, in the hopes that it will result in good marketing, tax credits, higher rents, and lower operating costs. If those standards are not achieved, some owners may seek recompense from the designer. Building staff cooperation may be an issue. Building staff, including subcontractors, must be aware of how to operate the green facility effectively and in accord with the designers’ / manufacturers’ expectations. • Vendor management. It is important to ensure that vendors and suppliers are on the same wavelength (regarding waste management, cleaning services, etc.). Being green implies pollution prevention, waste minimization, recycling, and avoiding harm to the natural system. It goes far beyond using green cleaning products or materials. Tenant compliance. Despite the compliance of the design and structure, it is essential that tenants are encouraged to adopt and maintain sound, comprehensive environmental management practices. Energy Perspective. As mentioned earlier, buildings are responsible for approximately 72% of electrical consumption in the U.S., and about half that power is generated from coal. This situation puts those of us in the building design and construction industry right in the middle of climate issues. In case you were thinking there was an easy way out by simply building green with the LEED standard, think again. While LEED is a good place to start, basic LEED Certification for buildings does not automatically guarantee superior energy efficiency (and associated carbon-emission reductions). LEED represents a composite green building “score” summing several criteria, including energy, materials, indoor building environment, water conservation, etc.− all of which are desirable. But less than half the score of a typical LEED building specifically assesses its energy performance. Only at the higher reaches of the LEED rating system, e.g., Gold and Platinum, can one reliably expect substantial energy efficiency and renewable energy measures. Impact of a changing economy. Green buildings command higher rents and sales prices, are more efficient and less costly to operate, provide healthier work environments, and appeal to growing numbers of tenants demanding green space and willing to pay a premium for it. To property owners singing the blues because they are struggling to pay for operations and debt service, the thought of spending for green programs may seem farfetched. But owners with the vision to plant green seeds today may be able to reap rewards relatively quickly without undue financial strain.

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Strategy for Sustainable Design
• “Players” lack of familiarity with LEED. If we are somewhat unfamiliar with the performance of a new material, then we are probably even less familiar with that material’s interaction with adjacent components. This lack of familiarity should not be disregarded simply because the manufacturer assures us the material is appropriate for LEED-certified buildings. The additional risk inherent in using innovative products demands a higher degree of rigor on the part of development teams in evaluating those products. Lack of clear understanding/belief in “harder to quantify” owner/end-user benefits. While it is well accepted that benefits of green buildings range from energy and water savings to increased worker productivity, overall environmental sustainability and conscientious use of local resources, there are other, more difficult to quantify benefits (for example, in an educational setting, better teacher retention, reduced absenteeism and improved test scores). Cost and time associated to gain approval. Building codes frequently present barriers to the approval of green building alternatives. Those barriers are both technical and non-technical in nature. Both groups of respondents overwhelmingly indicated that supporting information for alternatives accompanying plans was the most significant factor in gaining code approval. Perceived higher first costs. Over a building’s lifetime, the benefits of green building outweigh slightly higher average initial (first) costs. Failure to perform lifecycle cost analysis can result in owners / designers discarding green building strategies because of resultant “first costs,” which if performed could result in a savings on maintenance and operating costs over the long run.


t begins with the fundamental understanding that sustainable design is, in fact, a journey, not a destination.

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Strategy for Sustainable Design
Firms and individuals that want to become part of the sustainable environment movement can enter in either an active or passive role. But no matter what posture they choose to take, there will be significant learning that will need to occur.
• Become aware of the changes involved. As the call for more sustainable design, in particular in the field of architecture, becomes louder, more and more diverse experts are added to the design teams for building projects. The resulting “integrated design teams” are comprised of diverse professionals who must collaborate to meet an entirely new set of standards with novel criteria for success and progress. Setting the right expectations for green building is essential. There is great value in using the LEED scorecard in setting expectations and assessing expectation risk with owners, contractors, and other stakeholders. Focus on benefits of green building. Several good resources exist to educate stakeholders on the benefits of green building. Green buildings provide financial benefits that conventional buildings do not. These benefits include energy and water savings, reduced waste, improved indoor environmental quality, greater employee comfort/productivity, reduced employee health costs, and lower operations and maintenance costs. Stakeholders of all types need to become better educated on the significant long-term benefits. Citing findings from a 2008 report from Turner Construction , 84% of executives said that energy costs were lower in green buildings, and 68% said overall operating costs were lower. Green buildings create an attractive cost/benefit ratio according to most executives, and are considered to be less expensive than non-green buildings for several key cost measures. Fully 52% note a higher return on investment, 49% higher occupancy rates, 46% increased worker productivity, and 41% improved learning in schools. Think long-term investment. Green building ensures owners − who may be concerned about their investment − long-term affordability in the form of lower utility bills, fewer maintenance costs, and a healthier environment. • Look at lifecycle costing instead of first cost. Recognize that offsetting a higher first cost (of 1-4% at present) are things like increased durability. Costs are often recouped in less than 3 years in terms of lower utility costs and lower maintenance costs. Other factors that are sometimes overlooked include the impact of reduced absenteeism and increased productivity; increased building valuation; health, comfort and well-being of occupants; building safety and security; decreased insurance rates; lower air emissions; reduced solid waste generation; and decreased use of natural resources. Adapting to changes in scheduling of subs, supplies, materials, etc. is a necessity as new green methods and materials may affect choice of contractors and the sequence of construction / installation. Involve all stakeholders. Design firms (as well as owners/GCs/subs) need to explain and above all, educate. A green building strategy may not make sense unless you have support from wellinformed senior design firm decision-makers. If firm ownership agrees that a program such as LEED is to be undertaken, LEED should be started during conceptual design. The project chosen for the initial green project should be significant and should include within its scope systems and finishes. Be prepared for documentation. While one can recognize the significant benefits encouraging owners to construct green buildings, the biggest obstacle to reaching these benefits that was cited in a recent industry report was the cost of LEED documentation − with 54% of executives noting it is an “extremely” or “very significant” obstacle. Keep up to date on how LEED continues to evolve. LEED will now be revised every 2 years, with more significant changes expected in 2011. Among these expectations is that the 2011 LEED version will change much of the credit content. Additionally, it is anticipated that these credits will be weighed against social and cultural indicators that are just being developed.

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Whether or not you are completely convinced that human activity is causing global warming, sustainable design is here to stay. There is no reason for designers to shy away from such valuable projects as long there is a good understanding of the basics. Sustainable, or green, design and construction seems to have now reached a critical mass. Governments have signed on, especially for public and commercial buildings. Tax credits are available in many states, and even financiers are getting into the mix. According to USBanker magazine, “Banks like PNC Financial Services and Bank of America are at the forefront of the green-building craze.” In Europe, the European Union has issued a directive to require new homes to have energy performance certificates. The U.S., with widely recognized greenbuilding standards such as LEED V3 (2009) being utilized, is moving ahead as well. The direction is being set, not just by a set of avantgarde thinkers who wish to make a statement about saving the planet, but by a much larger contingent of people globally that have determined that our future quality of life depends upon it. And it’s not just designers involved. There are, as I have tried to point out in this brief summary, both significant risks and benefits for owners, architects, engineers, contractors, and manufacturers as the pioneers create a path through this new frontier. Like the pioneers that discovered the New World, there will be mistakes made and casualties incurred. We can expect that emerging technologies and methods will be created, and some will fail to perform as expected. Likewise, we should also expect that greenwash marketing (that is, marketing that exaggerates the impact of green building) will occur ahead of performance testing, and nonbelievers will attempt to dissuade others from going down this path by pointing to these false claims. Those firms and individuals that lack the knowledge and ability to address green building correctly may discover that the feedback system for their missteps will involve lawsuits and expensive financial claims. But despite these concerns, the sustainable design engine will continue to refine itself, with the promise of transforming our world into a much different place. LEED 2009, which we will discuss in our next paper, is seen as a significant movement for the USGBC because it offers a much-needed transitional step between the former LEED system and the one that is expected to emerge in 2011. It is an important step that will enable our industry to move closer to the sustainable environment goal. However, with LEED 2009 and the future enhancements to follow, the emphasis will be placed on change, and LEED professionals will have a significant and evolving requirement to upgrade their knowledge and skills to keep pace with the moving target the industry has set before them. There is much new happening in the design and construction industry. Clearly, the future will belong to those designers and builders that catch the sustainable design wave and invest in acquiring the knowledge and skills to insert themselves into this exciting new era of design and construction. The question is, “Are you positioned to take advantage of the next era?”

i Brundtland Commisssion, (1987), WORLD COMMISSION ON ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT ii Braungart, Michael; & McDonough, William (2002). Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. North Point Press. ISBN 0-86547-587-3. iii Braungart, Michael; & McDonough, William (2003). The Hannover Principles. William McDonough & Partner. ISBN 1-55963-63501 . iv Wiliams, Daniel, FAIA (2005)“A Sustainable Approach to Neighborhood and Regional Development.” Livability 101, AIA, v Edmonson, Amy PhD, Professor, Harvard Business School and Barrett, Frank J, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Harvard Business School, Workshop on sustainable design vi Kats, Gregory, H, (2003) Green Building Costs and Financial Benefits vii Turner Construction Company’s 2008 Green Building Market Barometer viii ibid

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