4 FM quick reads on interiors
1. Show Sustainability Is Affordable To Get Approval For Green Interiors Projects
If you want to get a green interiors project off the ground, proving that cost won't be an issue is a good way to get approval.
Although sustainability is important to younger employees, hard costs are likely to be the most significant obstacle to securing approval from more senior individuals to move forward with a green project. Showing how sustainability doesn't cost more can help facility managers gain that approval when it comes time for a green interiors project.
The majority of key facility decisions continue to be made by more senior individuals. Therefore, hard costs are likely to be the most significant obstacle to securing approval to move forward with a green project.
Although recent studies have demonstrated that green building projects don't cost any more than traditional projects, many people continue to believe that sustainability comes at a cost premium. And the global economic downturn has only complicated the process of securing approval for a green project. Budget constraints and the desire to minimize risk are prompting most organizations to scrutinize each sustainable decision
Demonstrating how a specific action saves money — either immediately or in the future — can be a compelling measure of its success. But even if cost is a primary concern, dollars and cents are not necessarily a green interiors project's most significant outcome. The other benefits of green interiors projects can help facility managers gain approval — just be prepared to show the dollars and cents as well.
Demonstrating the bottom-line positive results of a greening initiative is key to earning credibility and building the case for an expanded budget to fund future projects. Focus on no- or low-cost projects with immediate paybacks to show that sustainability doesn't cost more, then use those success stories to make your case for larger projects.
2. Open Office Plans Create Acoustical Challenges
The objective for facility managers in open plan offices is to leverage the benefits of open office designs while minimizing distractions. A range of acoustical goals come into play, says Jeffrey Fullerton, director of architectural acoustics with Acentech. These include controlling the noise in common areas, creating some level of privacy and sound absorption for workers at their desks, and enabling privacy in rooms where confidential discussions occur.
Specific needs and objectives vary from one type of building to another, Fullerton adds. Government offices, for instance, often require high levels of privacy. In most commercial buildings, the goal is to minimize distracting noises and provide enough sound absorption or background sound that employees can concentrate. In a few businesses — advertising comes to mind — managers actually may want a slightly higher noise level to project an environment of excitement and busyness.
Whatever the specific goals, it's easiest to achieve them when the building is designed with acoustics in mind from the start, says Raj Patel, principal with Arup, an engineering and consulting firm. In fact, in many countries, building codes require owners to consider the noise environment around the site, such as traffic or plane noise, when designing and building a facility. While this typically isn't required in the United States it still should be considered. That's particularly true if workers will be able to open the windows on the building, he says.
If the acoustical environment isn't considered until the design or construction processes already have begun, the costs to remedy any noise problems tend to spike, says Michael Schwob, principal and director of technology services with JBA Consulting Engineers. That's because the resolution often will require tearing into new construction and working after hours so that employees aren't disturbed. Moreover, the likelihood that you'll be able to satisfactorily resolve the problems drops, as the proper solution may simply have become cost-prohibitive.
3. BIFMA Works To Improve Furniture Sustainability Ratings
The next place to gain LEED points may be the next chair you buy.
The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) is working with the U.S. Green Building Council to allow LEED points for the purchase of sustainable furniture. Currently, Reardon says, buildings can get LEED points in their emissions or recycling categories for buying furniture certified in those areas. In the near future, though, certified furniture could be credited through Pilot Credit 52, available to all LEED projects; or through LEED v4, which is expected to be released next fall.
Along with everything else in the "sustainable and green" universe, furniture is evolving to be manufactured, shipped, and recycled with less environmental impact, and the changes may ultimately save money over the entire life cycle, as well as saving resources.
But as facility managers seek information about products, it's often difficult to find the right type of information. More manufacturers are beginning to offer life-cycle assessments and environmental product declarations (EPDs) — ways that facility managers can weigh environmental and product selection criteria. It is still difficult to compare apples to apples; however, with credits in the upcoming LEEDv4 rating system expected to reward use of EPDs and life-cycle assessments (LCA), that may change soon.
A standard LCA contains every detail about a product that current science recognizes, including the impacts on air, water, and soil, the recycled content, health and toxicity issues, chemical content, whether it can be recycled at the end of its useful life, and more. And instead of a few square inches on the back of a box, it's a document that can extend to more than 100 pages.
Although life-cycle assessments have been around for years, environmental product declarations (EPDs) have burst on the scene much more recently. An EPD is, in effect, an executive summary of the exhaustive LCA. A significant difficulty is that, right now, no universal standards exist for writing EPDs. In particular, the industry currently lacks a full set of product category rules (PCRs) — the checklist by which an EPD should be written.
4. Open Plenum Can Lead To Sound Challenges
Acoustical design is an element in an overall green design, and acoustic properties of tiles are an important piece in controlling noise in a building — one element of indoor environmental quality. But green interior designs can sometimes create additional problems for acoustical engineers as they try to control sound.
The problem comes when ceilings are eliminated in favor of an open-plenum approach. While that strategy does reduce the use of materials, it also introduces acoustical problems. In the ABC equation for improving acoustics — absorb sound, block sound, and cover sound — ceiling tiles play the largest role in absorbing sound, says Niklas Moeller, vice president of K.R. Moeller Associates.
Moeller notes that studies show that acoustics in open-plenum buildings "are not great," and that while people prefer a green design, they complain about the noise factor. Building owners and operators have "a misperception that they can rely on one or two [of the ABCs], but you need all three," Moeller says. "Sound masking does not help with absorption. It controls background sound to help cover up noises in spaces that otherwise have library-like ambient conditions." Absorption, on the other hand, reduces volume level.
Green design isn't the only reason that office spaces are more acoustically challenging than in the past. Design strategies like lower partitions between workers, less space between workers and open work areas with conference tables, in addition to the elimination of the ceiling, all create a more noisy work environment.
Ceiling companies have developed products to help absorb sound in open-plenum offices. These products, which are available in a variety of shapes, may be suspended ceiling products designed to be installed over parts of a space or may be mounted directly on the deck.
A ceiling also plays a role in hiding speakers and wires. If there is no ceiling, the appearance of sound masking speakers and electronic components becomes a consideration.