You’ve likely heard one of the most recognized sustainable design definitions from “Our Common Future,” a report from the World Commission on Environment and Development: Sustainable design is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”
This statement expresses urgency for making progress toward economic development that can be sustained without significantly impacting or depleting natural resources and the environment. Put in qualitative terms, sustainability seeks to provide the best of all possible worlds for people and the environment both now and into the indefinite future. Also referred to as the “triple bottom line,” the focus is on setting goals to include not only economic value but also social and environmental value, and impact. The more the needs of each value are met, the more sustainable the project will be.
As design and construction professionals, a tremendous opportunity exists to take a leadership role in solving many of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including climate change, energy, water and land use, air pollution, waste management, and deforestation. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that material debris from building renovation and demolition comprises 25 percent to 30 percent of all waste produced in the United States each year. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, buildings in the United States also consume 48 percent of the nation’s energy and 76 percent of its electricity.
To refocus these challenges into substantial business opportunities, a firm must first lay significant ground work:
Educate the team — rating systems, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), have been active for 15 years and are universally accepted or required. LEED—which continues to revise its features—isn’t the only system, and building performance certifications will only continue to increase.
Consider reducing carbon emissions — Multiple online sources can help a firm calculate its carbon emissions. By doing so, a firm reinforces its message of commitment to sustainable practice.
Consider adopting the Architecture 2030 Challenge — A global initiative aimed at reducing fossil fuel use through sustainable strategies in building design. Dewberry joined in 2008 and strives to design buildings that meet the current 50-percent reduction target.
Embrace building information modeling (BIM) — 3D modeling helps designers troubleshoot issues and fine tune building systems to reduce energy consumption as well as run interference detection reports to address conflicts between building systems.
Close the materials loop — Get to know your trash! Designing for deconstruction is an emerging concept that involves the act of recovering building materials once a facility has ended its lifecycle. LEED also awards points for diverting construction waste from landfills.
Promote and publicize information to your team — Bring it full circle. Use the firm’s intranet, set up regular brown-bags or webinars, and develop discussion groups for sharing lessons learned. Dewberry has developed an incentive program to promote employees to achieve LEED accredited professional status.
Develop an environmental business strategy — The environmental problems facing the world are not new. Solutions to these problems involve practically every service line in the design and construction industry. Consider the top three issues — climate change, energy, and water — for potential growth areas. Redesign processes and factor environmental considerations into the firm’s design and engineering or construction methods.
In Dewberry’s architecture and building engineering service area, one focus has been building energy efficiency. By designing high-performance buildings that use significantly less energy than normal facilities, the client saves money and often improves worker productivity. Whether a firm is large or small, it should focus on its area of expertise and analyze its service line for its environmental impact. The firm should do what it does best; just greener and more sustainable.
Whole Building Design Guide
Energy Star > Buildings & Plants
BRE — Building Research Establishment
U.S. Green Building Council
Green Building Initiative
Determine your carbon footprint
American Institutes of Architects
Architecture 2030 and the 2030 Challenge
Tim Kraft, AIA, LEED AP, is a principal and the sustainable design practice leader at PSA-Dewberry, Dewberry’s architectural design affiliate. Kraft is currently promoting an integrated design approach to achieve high-performance buildings that consume significantly less energy than typically designed buildings. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.