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Green Building Report
Old assumptions could be barriers to better facilities
Looking for a new model for your next building, one that represents truly out-of-the-box thinking about the way to minimize the environmental footprint of the structure? It’s hard to get much further removed from conventional bricks-and-mortar considerations than to imagine a building that behaves like a plant. But it’s just that sort of innovative thinking, some environmentalists say, that has the potential to reshape build-ings for the better.
These experts understand that incremental improvements using the best of available technology are valuable. Consider energy use, by all accounts the biggest environmental problem associated with buildings. Most scientists believe that carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels is linked to changes in the earth’s climate. In years to come, those changes could produce problems ranging from more extreme weather conditions — droughts, floods and hurricanes — to the spread of such infectious diseases as malaria.
What’s more, the generation of electricity has other, less-publicized consequences, says David Roodman, a research fellow at the Center for Global Development. Coal-burning power plants release large amounts of heavy metals, such as mercury. Even some alternative power sources have negative environmental effects. Dams, for example, transform rivers and endanger wildlife.
“The first thing to look at is the relative efficiency of buildings,” says John Coequyt, a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group. “Building owners can make huge gains by reducing electricity consumption.”
And it’s not just energy-efficiency gains that are possible today. Water conservation, recycling, reduction of VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions are among the areas in which facility executives can have a significant environmental impact.
But for some observers, measures like those are just the starting point. They advocate rethinking basic assumptions about buildings.
One such assumption is a building’s location.
Although power plants are major sources of pollution, the transportation sector’s contribution to the problem is also substantial. Some environmentalists suggest that office buildings should be located near residential areas.
“Transportation is an index of the dysfunctionality of urban design,” says Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation. “Integrating offices with living and recreational facilities could dramatically reduce the need for transportation.”
Not only would harmful emissions be significantly reduced, but integrated communities, and even multipurpose buildings that house both offices and living areas, would also reduce congestion and shorten travel time.
Another assumption is the idea that buildings should keep the outdoors out.
“In the United States, buildings are constructed to create a barrier to the physical environment,” says Alan Hedge, a professor in the department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University. He says buildings shouldn’t fight the environment but work with it.
For example, Hedge suggests that instead of relying exclusively on air conditioning to keep occupants comfortable, buildings should be designed with operable windows. At the same time, organizations should consider moving to casual dress so the building does not have to be cooled to such a low temperature.
When it comes to green buildings, the past may hold some clues. Hedge says much older buildings make better use of nature. Those buildings often have more access to daylight, operable windows and thicker walls that help buildings stay cool.
Buildings could even have a positive impact on the environment.
“I think the way we are moving is to increasingly try to mimic nature,” says Hayes. “Our buildings are going to look more and more like plants.”
In the future, he predicts the processes within a building will slowly begin to look like natural processes. For example, after using water in building systems, the goal should be to return water to rivers or other sources cleaner than when it came out.
Buildings need to work with nature rather than fight nature. Mirrors could be used on the sides of buildings not exposed to the sun to reflect sunlight for heating and lighting into the building. This would provide the opportunity to work with solar energy even if the building site isn’t appropriate.
Turning ideas like these into reality might require the industry to jettison the traditional practice of designing buildings on a sort of assembly line, with architects, engineers and contractors performing standardized tasks largely in isolation from one another. It will be important to have people with many different backgrounds, from architects to employees, work and plan together, says David Blockstein, a senior scientist with the National Council for Science and the Environment: “I think the most successful cases in redesigning buildings are where these partnerships are taking place.”
— Laura Bayard, editorial intern
Study shows green buildings worth it
Even though green buildings cost more than conventional buildings, the financial benefits are worth it, says a new study.
In a report to State of California’s Sustainability Task Force, Gregory Katz, lead author of the study and principal at Capital E, says that green buildings do cost a premium — on average 2 percent more or $3 to $5 per square foot — to build. However, a range of financial and environmental benefits over the life the building — such as reduced energy, water and landfill costs, and improved health and productivity benefits — pay back this cost 10 times during the 20-year life of a building.
The study, “The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Buildings,” looked at the cost data for 33 California buildings — 25 office buildings and eight schools — and benefit data for more than 100 buildings nationwide.
Throughout the process, Katz says he and fellow researchers were careful to be as objective as possible in the study. California, for instance, proved to be a good state to use as a base case because energy costs are not as high as some states but higher than others.
“We were consistently conservative throughout the process when faced with a range,” Katz says. “We deliberately did not take the most optimistic numbers.” Conservative enough to get the California’s fiscal experts in the Department of Finance to sign off on every number.
The range of green building cost premiums varied from zero to 9 percent. But even at a 9 percent premium, the cost of building green has declined in the last five years. Katz says that there’s a general perception based on the earliest attempts to build green buildings that they are expensive. As the experience of design teams grows and the market responds to greater demand, costs have been dropping. This is evident with design teams that have been involved in second and third buildings.
“Five years ago green buildings were more expensive and costs could be as high as 15 percent more than a conventional building, but they were new designs,” he says. “Now design processes are becoming standardized, material costs have dropped and there are more people that know how to design green buildings.”
Katz says this study should be a catalyst for growth in green buildings. Preliminary results from this study were influential in getting the University of California Board of Regents to decide that from now on all new buildings built within the university system would be green buildings, including the new Merced campus.
He says that while the study focused on the benefits to owners who hold their buildings for 20 years, owners need not wait that long. Katz expects many owners could pay off the green cost premium in three years.
Honing an earth-friendly image.... Environmental responsibility ranks high among the world’s CEOs, according to a recent report.
In a survey conducted by the Judge Institute of Management at Cambridge University, CEOs of the Global Fortune 500 companies were asked to rate seven elements of that make up a positive corporate reputation. Environmental credibility was rated as being nearly as important as financial credibility.
Leadership, quality and knowledge lead the list, but following closely behind are social and environmental credibility. European CEOs rated environmental and social credibility consistently higher than North American CEOs.
The seven elements rated were leadership and vision, quality, knowledge and skills, social credibility, financial credibility, environmental credibility and emotional connections.
...And respecting local environmental regulations When corporate leaders of the Global Fortune 500 are assessing reasons to move to a new location, one thing that is less a concern than other factors is the local environmental regulations.
According to KPMG’s “Competitive Alternative Study,” availability of skilled labor, highway accessibility and energy costs all outweigh concerns about environmental regulations.
Of the list of 14 site considerations in the survey, environmental regulations rank 12th, just above low union profile and cost of the land. While 92 percent of the corporate CEOs cite skilled labor as a concern, 78 percent cite environmental regulations.
Also not among the top five concerns are high occupancy or construction costs, cited by 82 percent.
National park greens its services Facility services at Yosemite National Park now follow the GreenPath toward more sustainable management of the park’s buildings and grounds.
GreenPath is a management process that meets ISO 14001 and requires facility staff to consider environmental impacts in all business decisions.
As a result of the GreenPath program, the park has reduced water use, waste and garbage, improved energy efficiency and reduced hazardous wastes. For instance, 8,000 incandescent bulbs were replaced with compact fluorescents, 840 tons of waste has been diverted from landfills and waterless urinals are used throughout the park.
LEDs poised to advance lighting technology If research and development goes as planned, solid-state lighting, including light emitting diodes (LEDs) and organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs), could cut global lighting energy use by 50 percent. And recent developments in LEDs and OLEDs put solid-state lighting well on its way to meeting that projection.
Demonstrating solid-state lighting’s future, a team of researchers and industry experts unveiled the new generation of LEDs and OLEDs in Washington, D.C. recently. Steve Johnson, group leader for lighting at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a presenter at the event, says LEDs are more efficient than incandescents and are approaching the efficiency of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).
LEDs emit 25 lumens per watt, higher efficiency than incandescents, and could soon be at 45 lumens per watt or about the efficiency of CFLs. And LEDs would last much longer.
LEDs, however, are a focused light source appropriate for task lighting and not ambient light.
And while the price is still prohibitively expensive, Johnson expects that to change as demand, presently strong, continues to increase.
Colleges get a sustainability boost A live satellite telecast last month that brought together 7,500 college and university sustainability enthusiasts from more than 160 schools may be the shot in the arm the movement needs.
The Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) organized the event, which featured experts discussing the successes and challenges facing schools’ sustainability efforts.
“The number of green efforts have seemed to level off,” says Julian Keniry, director of youth and campus programs at the National Wildlife Federation, author of Ecodemia and a panelist. The event helped raise awareness of green efforts. “We hope the excitement we heard turns into long-term commitment,” she says.
Council looking for pilot project Commercial developers who were interested in constructing a LEED-rated building but were stymied by the little control they had over how a tenant fitted out space can now take heart in LEED Core and Shell (LEED-CS).
A draft document is now complete and the U.S. Green Building Council is looking for pilot projects to test the document. The pilot program will be run for about one year, after which the Council will make any changes necessary to LEED-CS and then ballot the draft to members.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a set of performance standards and a rating system designed by the Council. LEED-CS addresses the particular needs of developers and is designed to complement another new draft system, LEED for Commercial Interiors.
LEED-CS addresses building site selection, efficient energy and water use in base building systems, materials use and resource guidelines for the construction of the building, and planning to ensure tenant fit outs can make the optimal use of daylight and prevent indoor air contaminants.
With a LEED-CS certification, the developer will be empowered to market high-performance sustainable design with a higher level of credibility, says Jerry Lea, senior vice president of conceptual design for Hines.
One among few: Hospital designs new facility to meet LEED
Pittsburgh — To judge by the scarcity of LEED-certified health care facilities, it might almost seem that “green hospitals” is a contradiction of terms. But even though there are only 19 hospitals among the more than 850 projects certified under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, hospitals are interested in sustainable design. The dearth of LEED-certified hospitals is largely a reflection of the unusual challenges facing health care facilities.
But those difficulties aren’t enough to prevent the new Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh from aiming for LEED certification when its new facility is complete. The 14-story, 762,000-square-foot, $420 million facility, scheduled for completion in January 2007, will be part of a larger campus that includes a research facility, faculty office and administrative offices. The hospital is also hoping to receive LEED certification for the research center.
Although translating LEED’s standards for office buildings to hospitals can be a challenge, the design team for Children’s Hospital considered the main categories of credits it must earn and applied them to the design.
One major concern when building a hospital is the facility’s intensive energy use. Plans call for energy recovery on exhaust systems, high-efficiency glazing and insulation. The HVAC system will have heat wheels, efficient fans and variable frequency drives on fans, pumps and motors.
The roof will also be a major source of energy conservation. Proposed plans call for reflective surfaces in some areas and a green roof with plantings in other areas.
The new hospital is also hoping to earn LEED’s design excellence innovation credit for a building information network that will integrate the many low-voltage and network-driven systems in the hospital.
“It should vastly improve the reliability and efficiency of all systems in the building and take fewer resources to maintain,” says Brian Leet, a design architect for Astorino.
To ensure that the hospital would be comfortable and homelike, a terrace and healing garden were added to the design. The objective is to give patients who normally could not go outside a chance to experience fresh air, bright colors and a view of nature.
“One goal was to get away from an institutional look,” Leet says. “People feel better and get healthier quicker if they are looking at plants and flowers instead of flat surfaces.”
The hospital is trying to have as little impact on the environment as possible. It plans to maximize the amount of recycled content in construction materials, use materials that come from local sources and have more than 50 percent of wood be certified or come from environmentally managed forests.
The Children’s Hospital sees LEED certification as a challenge to improve the quality of care given to patients, as well as to minimize the hospital’s impact on the surrounding environment.
Leet says, “We’re looking at what we can do to make this not only LEED-recognized, but also a great hospital.”
—Laura Bayard, editorial intern
LEED guidelines for hospitals aid in greening facilities
To help more hospitals earn certification under the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system, the U.S. Green Building Council is creating an application guide tailored to hospital environments, with specific requirements for hospitals to become green, says LEED engineer Brendan Owens. This guide is planned for release next year.
“LEED was written as a system for commercial office buildings and the issues for hospitals are different,” Owens says. “A number of the credits are simply not attainable in their current form. We want to recognize hospitals for doing the right thing.”
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is partnering with the American Society of Hospital Engineers (ASHE) to create the new application guide. ASHE is creating a companion to the guide, “Green Guidelines for Healthcare.” A preliminary copy will be released at the U.S. Green Building Council’s conference in Pittsburgh, Nov. 12 to 14. ASHE is hoping to have a final version available next spring.
According to Gail Vittori, co-director of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems and co-chair of the committee writing the guidelines, a range of issues that are irrelevant for office buildings needs to be considered when greening a hospital. For example, a hospital is in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so certain energy and mechanical concerns must be considered. What’s more, Vittori says, because a hospital is working with a population that is more susceptible to infection, ventilation systems must be a high priority and the use of materials that give off harmful chemical emissions must be minimized.
—Laura Bayard, editorial intern
U.S. Green Building Council
James E. Hartzfeld
City of San Jose, Calif.
Kath Williams, EdD
Montana State University
Environmental Building News
Paul von Paumgartten
Johnson Controls, Inc.
Immediate Past Chair
Steven Winter Associates
David A. Gottfried
WorldBuild Technology Inc.
Michael L. Italiano
Sustainable Products Corp.
S. Richard Fedrizzi