Special Report: Sustainable Solutions

November 2006 » Feature Articles
Sustainability is in demand from owners, and the design and construction profession has risen to meet the challenge.
CE News Staff

Sustainable practices have infused the mainstream. No longer is the concept of sustainable infrastructure or buildings viewed as an experiment or trend within the architect/engineering/construction community. Sustainability is in demand from owners, and the design and construction profession has risen to meet the challenge.

As more projects are conceived and built to be sustainable, honoring conservation of resources and efficiency of materials, the industry has more shining stars to hold up as examples, but the learning continues. New ideas and trends are constantly explored, while at the same time metrics have been defined and methods are being codified.
This third annual Sustainable Solutions supplement shines a spotlight on the practice of sustainable design within civil and structural engineering to help you understand how this movement has created a shift in what is expected from our built environment.

SustainLane.com releases 2006 U.S. sustainable cities ranking

SAN FRANCISCO—Are America's biggest, most vibrant cities preparing for the uncertainties of tomorrow? Not all of them. A definitive ranking released by SustainLane.com (the online community site for healthy and sustainable living) reveals which cities are increasingly self-sufficient, ready for the unexpected—and which are opting to mortgage their futures to satisfy immediate demands. The 2006 Sustainable Cities Ranking measures America's 50 largest cities in order from the most prepared to the least prepared. According to the results of this year's index, the top five sustainable cities are Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Chicago. For a complete listing, visit www.SustainLane.com.

What makes a city ready for tomorrow's challenges? Cities must have an ability to maintain healthy air, drinking water, parks and public transit access, combined with a strong, complementary economy, even when faced with sudden, unpredictable events like skyrocketing energy prices and natural disasters. A robust, sustainable local economy includes green building, downtown and neighborhoods that are easily walkable, farmers markets, renewable energy, and alternative fuels.

"If your city outsources everything from fuel to electricity and food, where are you left during a crisis?" asks SustainLane.com CEO James Elsen. "Cities shouldn't rely only on volatile outside resources, but rather need to take the initiative to develop more self-sufficient economies. Doing so will prevent their jobs and quality of life from being left high and dry if hard times arrive."

The 2006 SustainLane.com Sustainable Cities Ranking is a peer-reviewed benchmark study measuring each city's cumulative performance based on 15 economic and quality-of-life categories. Categories of data and information analysis used for ranking purposes include the following: air quality, city housing affordability, city innovation, city knowledgebase/communications, green economy, energy/climate change policy, green (USGBC LEED-rated) buildings, and more.

Green buildings are going mainstream

BOSTON—Green is rapidly becoming a necessity as companies as diverse as Bank of America, Genzyme, Goldman Sachs, IBM, and Toyota are now pushing green buildings fully into the mainstream, according to "Building the Green Way" by Charles Lockwood. This article, in the June 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review, makes the case for green and cites the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. The article examines the national energy crisis, and raises a looming threat to commercial real estate portfolios.

The green tipping point—Before 2000, companies generally regarded green buildings as interesting experiments, but unfeasible projects in the real business world. Since then, several factors have caused a major shift in corporate thinking and pushed green to the tipping point, including the creation of reliable building-rating and performance-measurement systems for new construction and renovations; the financial advantages of going green; significant workforce benefits in green buildings; and the fact that green buildings today cost no more to construct than standard buildings thanks to lower materials and technologies costs, much greater availability of green building products, and greater real estate industry experience in planning and constructing green buildings.

The green energy solution—With gasoline prices soaring past $3 a gallon in many locations, everyone is talking about creating more fuel-efficient cars, but no one is talking about our energy-guzzling buildings.

In the United States, buildings account for 39 percent of the nation's total annual energy consumption, whereas transportation (including cars) comprises only 27 percent of our total energy use, according to the Department of Energy and Department of Transportation.

A proven strategy for reducing domestic energy consumption is green buildings, which significantly lower energy consumption and costs compared to standard buildings. In its first year of operation, Genzyme's green, 12-story headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., used 42 percent less energy than standard buildings of comparable size.
Get ready for massive obsolescence—While the looming shift to green buildings brings many benefits to companies, it also brings massive obsolescence to hundreds of billions of dollars in existing commercial space in the United States and worldwide. "The owners of standard buildings must act now to protect their investments," says Lockwood. The impact of green going mainstream will be as profound on commercial real estate as the invention of central air conditioning in the 1950s and 1960s, or elevators in the 19th century.

Green protocol
The latest in structural engineering sustainable specifications
By Paul R. Bertram, Jr., FCSI, CDT, LEED—AP

The U.S. Green Building Council has created a new fervor in the green building movement with its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system for buildings. This enthusiasm has the entire building team exploring the impact of sustainable design as related to each specialty discipline, including structural and civil engineers.

In addition to LEED, many other emerging green design initiatives and tools exist. These organizations—including the Green Building Initiative, the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council, California Title 24, and others—were all created to aid in achieving sustainable development of the built environment. Many of these initiatives incorporate structural engineering design considerations, but do not cover much of the infrastructure.

More specifically, structural design specification criteria now include assessments of the following:
• Appropriate green building materials such as engineered wood and composites, concrete, masonry, steel and other structural metals, plastics (polymers), and ceramics (structural glass);
• Broader concepts such as adaptive design, long-term durability, lower maintenance and design for deconstruction or design for disassembly strategies; and
• Emerging products and modular designs being introduced such as "smart bricks" and steel panel foundations.

To educate engineers on the latest in "green" specifications, this article summarizes some of the leading initiatives in the field.

PERSI by the infrastructure community - To better address infrastructure sustainable design engineering concepts, the American Society of Civil Engineers created PERSI—an acronym for Practice, Education and Research for Sustainable Infrastructure. PERSI's mission is to advance and incorporate concepts and knowledge of sustainability into the standards and practices used throughout the lifecycle of infrastructure systems. (PERSI will not itself produce standards and practices, but will help its member organizations address sustainability consistently in their practices and standards.)

PERSI will eventually aid in government mandates such as Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's initiative to build the new infrastructure of O'Hare airport to LEED rating guidelines, or California's Senate Bill 420, which will require the California Department of Transportation to use recycled aggregates in state paving projects unless it is economically unfeasible.

The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) supports the PERSI mission, and has signed the PERSI memorandum of understanding. CSI will explore the value of updating of its UniFormat and MasterFormat to include the lifecycle of the built environment in relationship to PERSI goals.

CSI green specifications - The process of evaluating and specifying sustainable building products in green building projects requires many complex considerations that go beyond the analysis of basic performance criteria typically found in specifications. MasterFormat's work results classifications and product lifecycle assessments are two separate but useful tools that can be used to organize and report information.

CSI's MasterFormat is the organizational standard for the written
instructions for construction work results for all structures in the United States and Canada. The expanded 2004 edition of MasterFormat, which grew from 16 to 50 divisions in large part to better accommodate the lifecycle of a project, is the result of a significant rewrite over the last few years. It now includes work results for all structures, not just "traditional" commercial buildings. MasterFormat works in conjunction with SectionFormat and PageFormat. Dennis Hall, FCSI, FAIA, who chaired the committee that took the lead on MasterFormat expansion, calls these three documents "CSI Format."

To understand how the three documents work together, consider the issue of lifecycle assessment (LCA). LCA requirements on a project would be written into Division 01 of MasterFormat04, while LCA requirements and sustainable reporting for products would be organized within SectionFormat and PageFormat in their respective divisions. Or consider deconstruction. MasterFormat04 has several designations. These include Structure Demolition (02 41 16), Selective Structure Demolition (02 41 19), Selective Historic Structure Demolition (02 41 91), Removal and Salvage of Construction Materials (02 42 00), and Structure Relocation (02 43 00).

CSI's next step in developing green specifications is a new tool called GreenFormat. Following completion of MasterFormat04, CSI created the Sustainable Facilities Task Team to explore all of the sustainable green building initiatives offered in the industry and to matrix common and unique attributes. From this research came a secondary task team that ultimately developed GreenFormat.

GreenFormat provides for self-reporting of sustainable product attributes for consideration in specification of sustainable product attributes. GreenFormat is being peer reviewed currently and will be presented this month at GreenBuild 2006 in Denver.

Continuous efforts - During early costing analysis of a project, systems and assemblies are analyzed for the purpose of preliminary budgeting and design/build projects. CSI's UniFormat classifies these systems and assemblies into a logical sequence that is used to estimate early costs and to organize product specifications in design/build. UniFormat can also be used as the basis for organizing data reporting for environmental LCA of products.

Effective green specifications—like all specifications—also depend on the storage and successful use of information throughout a structure's entire lifecycle. Even in the most sophisticated communication environment, data must be accessed using a meaningful taxonomy within a classification system that is navigable by every discipline involved. All disciplines included in creating and sustaining the built environment will eventually use CSI's OmniClass system to organize, store, and retrieve building information from conception though demolition. Figure 1 shows how the OmniClass will work together with UniFormat and MasterFormat.

Conclusion - Currently there are no effective, industry-accepted tools to load in sustainable product attributes to generate an output unique to situational design criteria of a project. Until those tools are developed and implemented, the evaluation and specification of sustainable products attributes will largely depend on a building team's understanding of how to incorporate products into sustainable design criteria. CSI Formats provide industry-accepted guidelines for organizing and specifying sustainable requirements for the business at hand.

As structural engineers, manufacturers, and material suppliers respond to expanded demand for sustainable product attribute reporting, these concepts must be incorporated into project specifications.

Paul R. Bertram Jr., FCSI, CDT, LEED - AP, is a Fellow of the Construction Specifications Institute; a participating member of ASTM E 06.71 (on sustainability) and committee chair for ASTM E 2129; and a member of the International Code Council, the National Institute of Building Sciences, and the U.S. Green Building Council (where he serves as a member of the Materials and Resource Technical Advisory Board). Bertram is a member of the Construction Writers Association and is an allied member of the American Institute of Architects. He is president and CEO of PRB Connect in Orlando, Fla., and develops sustainable strategies for the building team. He can be reached via e-mail at paul@prbconnect.com.

Achieving sustainability in transit
Adapting to the economics and social needs of the time
By Susannah Kerr Adler, AIA

As transportation professionals, we have an obligation to practice responsibly with the long-term impacts of our actions in mind. Increasingly, it is widely accepted that a commitment to sustainability must be among the basic principles of our work in the planning, design, and construction of transit systems.

The term "sustainable development" has become part of our vocabulary, but what does it really mean? The most widely used definition was given in 1987 as part of the United Nations' Brundtland Report, which defined sustainability as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." In more tangible terms, sustainability refers to the following: not compromising future quality of life; remediating environmental damage done in the past; promoting full employment; recognizing that our economy, environment, and social well-being are interdependent; and doing the right thing.

Technology and innovation have progressed such that we now need to more formally "get back to basics" and reexamine what sustainability is and how it can and should relate to the planning, design, and construction of transit systems. Also, a project's sustainability is increasingly becoming a required element in defining how we must do business. Metrics have been developed to help predict and measure levels of sustainability. How can they be creatively and effectively brought into the work product, and most importantly, integrated into our thought process? How and where does one look for opportunities to do things better?

Transit has a tremendous impact on people, communities, and the environment; and the application of the principles of sustainability to transit will significantly affect those impacts. Sustainable development encourages the provisions of choice, promotion of access, protection and integration of nature, environmental justice, resource and energy conservation, context-sensitive design, and community involvement. All of these factors are part of transit-related projects. As transit professionals, we need to ensure that the work we do addresses sustainability early and consistently throughout all phases. It is necessary to marry this thought process with how best to meet a transit system's needs to positively impact ridership, operations, and cash flows.

An added challenge - Due to the linear nature of transit systems, applying sustainable principles can be challenging. To date, implementation of sustainable concepts has been primarily focused on the building industry through the work of the U.S. Green Building Council and its development of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines for green buildings. LEED certification works well for buildings and other self-contained facilities, but is not oriented towards transit systems.

Over the past several years, transit agencies large and small have grappled with how best to integrate sustainable principles into day-to-day business. Strategies vary greatly and are very much contingent upon state policies, local municipality needs and desires, stakeholder needs, and standards the agency and board wish to set. Two sets of approaches seem to have emerged. One is driven by policy that is disseminated and brought into all aspects of the agency in varying ways. The other tends to focus on developing a pilot program and growing it into a larger, system-wide approach.

Policies tend to be developed and supported from the top down. At agencies like Portland's Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet) and New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), policies were issued and sustainable guidelines and approaches developed to help provide a framework and guidance for applying sustainability into projects, as well as day-to-day operations. In New York, which has energy conservation requirements for state agencies, MTA possessed additional support to implement sustainable guidelines not only on many of its projects and programs, but also in requirements for contractors and vendors.

Other agencies have sought out operational and cost efficiencies through programs like the Federal Transit Administration's Environmental Management Systems (EMS) in pilot projects, or seek LEED certification for a specific project such as a maintenance facility or other building. Based upon successes and lessons learned, policies and sustainable guidelines are developed to further promote the adoption of sustainability into the bigger picture. The Utah Transit Authority is a great example of this as a participant in the FTA-sponsored EMS program.

Key elements of sustainable transit - During a recent discussion with leaders in the transit industry, several key points emerged:
• Sustainability is a multi-stakeholder process. It must be ongoing, with continuous efforts and integrated approaches that are planned and communicated. Bringing in partners and local experts greatly improves the chances of success.
• Sustainability must be focused on the areas that are vital to an individual transit system and community's long-term success. Key elements of economic, societal, and environmental impacts need to be chosen and focused on. Without focus on specific goals, the magnitude of applying sustainability can be overwhelming.
• With sustainability, the sum of the parts is often greater than individual efforts. It was agreed that "little things can make a difference." For example, using nitrogen to fill tires results in longer life for the tires, thus reducing the environmental impact of tire manufacture.
• There are many low-cost or no-cost things that can be done to address sustainability. For instance, supporting free rides on Ozone Action days.
• Lifecycle cost analysis/supply curves can be useful and effective. Many systems focus upon immediate costs, but if one carefully considers the long-term costs, the perceived short-term costs may be negligible.
• Creative marketing and pricing opportunities should also be considered. For example, bring together bus shelters, neighborhood-based public art, and LEED principles as is done in Grand Rapids, Mich., through the local transit agency, The Rapid (Interurban Transit Partnership).
• Agencies must evaluate their operations through a "sustainability lens" rather than simply focusing on obtaining LEED certification.

For sustainability to work, organizations must develop a culture that promotes its use. Top-down directives make it easier to develop a sustainable mindset, but bottom up works as well. A sustainable policy set and adapted by the general manager and board is something that all can look to as an overarching guide for what needs to be achieved. When sustainability starts with a project, it is often a longer process to "sell it up the line" and get the support of all.

No one is going to argue that being sustainable is a bad thing. However, to meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future is a lofty challenge. How do we meet it? I would argue that getting back to basics—being mindful that transit achieves important social and economic goals in addition to transportation—is paramount in achieving sustainability, and will enable us as transit professionals to take pride in what we do.

The founder of Parsons Brinckerhoff, William Barclay Parsons, stated it quite succinctly almost 100 years ago: "Engineering requires two abilities: first, the technical skill, and second, the mind and the knowledge to conceive that which is useful and will be for the convenience of mankind in the long run…It is not the design that governs [a project], but its adaptability to the economics and social needs of the time." That's really what sustainability is all about.

Susannah Kerr Adler, AIA, is manager of the Technical Resource Center for Architecture & Building at Parsons Brinckerhoff, Herndon, Va. She can be reached at kerradler@pbworld.com.


Sustainability in action
Daylighting in New York City

MTA New York City Transit has a broad sustainability plan, "Design for the Environment." The agency's goals are being realized with the No. 7 Line Extension, which entails lengthening the existing line by 1.5 miles from its current termination in Times Square to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on the far west side of Manhattan.

The latest standards and advancements in sustainable design for a transit environment are being employed. Daylighting—use of natural light—and solar power are two such innovations. The station entrance incorporates daylighting. The design of the 34th Street Station features an open escalator with a glass canopy, next to a future park. The entrance design helps create a park-like atmosphere in a dense, urban setting.

Also in New York City, the World Trade Center Transit Hub, which will serve subway and PATH trains, is being designed and built by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to LEED-silver standards. An important feature is the retractable ceiling that will open on sunny days as well as on each September 11th.

Denver's checklist

For the $4.7 billion FasTracks Program of transit improvements, Denver's Regional Transportation District (RTD) is using a Parsons Brinckerhoff-developed checklist for transit development similar to the LEED standards for green buildings. This generic transit facility/services sustainability checklist has 204 criteria covering operations and planning phases, as well as design and construction management. An early application of the checklist has been used in evaluating technologies for the FasTracks program, for example, whether commuter rail corridors should be electrified or use diesel-powered locomotives.

Oasis in the desert of Arizona

Many agencies are concentrating on sustainability in stations or transit hubs. One is the Vista Transit Center in Sierra Vista, Ariz., which is now under construction.
As part of the public involvement process, a design charrette was held for the community. The selected alternative featured eight bus bays around a rectangular "island," providing passengers with shelter from the elements, as well as various amenities. Evaporative cooling with fans and water fountains provides relief from the heat while a decorative wall and landscaping separates the facility from nearby residences.

The transit center allows patrons to transfer between routes without having to cross bus or auto paths. It provides generous, paved waiting areas and benches and has native water-saving and desert-adapted plants and large trees for shade. Stormwater-retention basins conserve water and allow recharge into the desert aquifer. Designed to achieve LEED certification, the Vista Transit Center won the 2005 Outstanding Transit Innovation Award from the Arizona Transit Association.






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