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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : May/June 2003 : Special Section

Special Section

Wanted: Better Buildings

More than 76 million residential buildings and nearly five million commercial buildings exist in the United States today, says the U.S. Department of Energy. By 2010, another 38 million buildings are expected to be constructed. We spend, on average, 90 percent of our time in those very structures. So what in the world are they doing to us? And what are they doing to the world around us?

If you ever needed hard evidence to support the growing green building movement, you need only look as far as the following facts:

* Buildings consume 37 percent of all energy used in the United States; 68 percent of all electricity; 12 percent of fresh water supplies; 88 percent of potable water supplies; and 40 percent of raw materials.

* These same buildings generate more than one-third of municipal solid waste streams; 35 percent of total emissions of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the primary greenhouse gas associated with global climate change; 49 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions (SO2)—a precursor to acidic deposition—through the consumption of fossil-fuel-fired electricity; 25 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions (NOx); and 10 percent of fine particulate emissions, all of which cause air quality problems such as smog and acid rain or present direct risks to human health.

Not convinced yet? Try these stats on for size:

* A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study in 2000 found that building characteristics and indoor environments significantly influence the occurrence of communicable respiratory illness, allergy and asthma symptoms, sick building symptoms and worker performance. For example, indoor air can contain a number of potentially harmful chemicals and biological agents, including carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), molds, various allergens and infectious agents. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies indoor air quality as one of the top five environmental health risks today. Growing evidence indicates that poor indoor air quality affects the health and performance of the people who work, live and study in buildings. Why? Because air pollution concentrations indoors can be two to five times higher than the air we breathe outside, with some measurements 100 times greater.

The bottom line: we need better buildings. If only 10 percent of homes in the United States used solar-water heating systems, we could avoid 8.4 million metric tons of carbon emissions each year. And, according to the Lawrence Berkeley study, the potential national savings from health and productivity gains after indoor environmental quality improvements would fall between $23 and $56 billion.

Recognizing Contributions To The Interior Built Environment
The 2003 Sustainable Design Leadership Awards have been created to honor sustainable design contributions as recognized by a jury of prominent designers and business leaders, as well as in the national media. The International Interior Design Association (IIDA), the AIA/Interiors Committee and CoreNet Global have joined together to honor leaders who have integrated design excellence, sustainable design and best business practices for the interior built and workplace environment.

For more information and to receive an entry form, call 888-548-5800, or e-mail: Details are also available on the Web: visit or or

Making the Business Case
To educate congressional members and their staff on green building trends, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works convened a Green Building Roundtable in April 2002 in conjunction with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Present on the roundtable were representatives from the private and public sectors and academia who participated in a dialogue about the economic and health benefits of green building, the barriers facing its progress, and the opportunities available to federal agencies to further promote sustainable spaces.

During the course of the roundtable discussion, Hines Development and the U.S. Green Building Council were charged with the task of describing the economic arguments for green buildings. The resulting pamphlet, Making the Business Case for High-Performance Green Buildings, produced in partnership with the Urban Land Institute and The Real Estate Roundtable, details 10 top reasons:

1. In the event that up-front costs are higher, they can be recovered through lower operating costs.
2. Integrating design features lowers ongoing operating costs.
3. Better buildings equate to better employee productivity.
4. New technologies enhance health and well-being.
5. Healthier buildings can reduce liability.
6. Tenant costs can be reduced significantly.
7. Property value will increase.
8. Many financial incentive programs are available for
green buildings.
9. Communities will notice your efforts.
10. Using best practices yields more predictable results.

The Green Development Services of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) also offers a list of benefits associated with green building, some similar to the ones above, as well as some different advantages. It acknowledges that green development is not an altruistic pursuit carried out by developers willing to forego profit to protect the environment. Rather, it is a way to achieve multiple benefits—for the developer, investors, occupants and the environment—yielding better market, financial, human and environmental performance. RMI’s top 10 benefits include:

1. Reduced capital costs.
2. Reduced operating costs.
3. Marketing benefits: free press and product differentiation.
4. Valuation premiums and enhanced absorption rates.
5. Possibility of streamlined approvals.
6. Reduced liability risk.
7. Health and productivity gains.
8. Staying ahead of regulations.
9. New business opportunities.
10. Satisfaction from doing the right thing.

The good news is that both the private and public sectors have taken note. National and local programs encouraging green building have increased dramatically over the past few years, with hundreds of demonstration projects and private buildings that provide tangible examples of what green buildings can accomplish. And, clearly, the tremendous growth of the USGBC’s LEED™ Green Building Rating System, a national, voluntary standard for green building, underscores the trend: in the last three years, the number of square feet registered to certify as green by USGBC has doubled to over 100 million square feet.

According to the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council, the better buildings we need are really high-performance buildings, yet the term “performance” takes place on many stages. The idea, it says, is to look at the building as an integrated whole, and to consider its performance—and the improved productivity of its occupants—over time. Only then, says the SBIC, do you begin to get a true sense of what the “sustainable workplace” can mean to a company’s bottom line, regardless of whether it’s measured in economic or human terms. More and more, people are realizing that one needn’t be sacrificed at the expense of the other and, in fact, physical and economic well-being are inextricably linked.

A Sustainable Workplace

The U.S. federal government is actually one of the lead players in the sustainable building movement. The General Services Administration’s (GSA) Public Buildings Service (PBS) is a leader in building green not only because of its place in the U.S. real estate market—owning, leasing and managing over 334 million square feet—but because of its level of commitment to incorporating principles of sustainable design and energy efficiency into all of its building projects. It advocates what Bill McDonough, FAIA, espoused in his “Design, Ecology and the Making of Things: A Centennial Sermon,” delivered at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, NY, more than 10 years ago. “If we think of providing sustainable workplaces as a service, rather than as a commodity, we will build what is most economical for us to maintain and operate, and easiest for occupants to comfortably and productively use,” McDonough said.

The GSA also champions a “sustainable” workplace, which is the result of a comprehensive, multidisciplinary process that results in more productive and responsive facilities. Sustainable products and methods are an essential part of creating better work environments. As discussed in The Integrated Workplace: A Comprehensive Approach to Developing Workspace, published by the GSA Office of Governmentwide Policy, Office of Real Property, productivity and health-related problems are greatly influenced by the workplace. This strategic approach unifies the workplace with an organization’s strategic plan and provides space that best supports the work practices of those using it. Both work best when they are considered sustainably. How the workplace is developed greatly influences the well-being and performance of employees and the organization. The GSA notes that a sustainable approach considers many workplace aspects:

w How we work: including “paperless” offices, using remanufactured, recycled and energy-efficient products.

w Where we work: including conventional or alternative office settings, like teleworking from home, at a telecommuting center or customer’s office or from anywhere.

w How we get to work: including the use of mass transit and transit subsidies, alternative-fuel vehicles, bicycles and even walking from nearby housing.

w How we build, lease, furnish and, ultimately, dispose of our buildings: funding projects on the basis of lowest life cycle rather than first cost, adapting and re-using historic structures, re-populating urban centers, using recycled-content construction materials, minimizing construction waste, and installing energy management control systems with energy-efficient equipment.

w How we operate and maintain our buildings: including use of reformulated chemical products, native landscaping materials, regular maintenance and “tune-up” of systems, minimizing operation hours and using smaller building zones that facilitate controlled use of equipment and lighting.

“The Guidelines for Creating High-performance Green Buildings,” produced by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, explains it this way: “The sustainable workplace is an excellent tool for promoting an organization to its customers. Most importantly, it can attract and retain talented workers, instilling dedication and pride-of-ownership when employees can relate to working in a place, and for an organization, that is committed to protecting the earth and demonstrates that commitment through its actions. Finally, when a workplace is designed and built for sustainability, less money needs to be spent on replacements and retrofits as work practices and organizations change, and less productivity is lost in the process of making changes.”

Clearly, the message is being accepted. Recently the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), the professional association for facility managers, turned its attention to the green actions of its 18,000 members worldwide, whose combined purchasing power in North American alone is $64 billion annually. A survey conducted by IFMA shows that 95 percent of facility professionals envision sustainability will become an important issue for their profession, and most are already taking proactive steps to ensure a greener workplace.

One of the top reasons cited for greening facilities was improved employee health and productivity (76 percent). Additional reasons included: cost savings (72 percent); environmental responsibility (65 percent); and product life cycle analysis (41 percent).

The survey also addressed actions facilities managers have implemented or plan to implement in the next two years in the area of product specification and purchasing. For example, in the area of recycling, 88 percent of respondents said they are already recycling solid waste; 49 percent are re-using materials; 36 percent said they are reducing the production of solid waste and 12 percent are recycling water. Another 67 percent said they are purchasing recycled office products.

In addition, 78 percent said that they use natural daylight in the facilities they manage, and 67 percent said they have lighting fixture retrofits in place. More than half have instituted an employee education program.

What’s Involved?

Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, Inc. (HOK), a leading architecture, engineering, interiors and planning firm, has adopted these key elements of sustainable design:

* strategic facility planning and programming
—Determining whether to renovate or build new, sell existing facilities or lease, consolidate or decentralize, is critical to ensuring long-term viability, resource conservation and life cycle cost benefits.

* site work and planning
—Environmentally sensitive planning looks beyond the project site. It evaluates linkages to transportation, infrastructure and ecosystems, and considers solar and wind orientation, local microclimate, drainage patterns, utilities and existing site features to develop optimal building siting with appropriate low maintenance landscaping.

* energy—
Building orientation and massing, natural ventilation, daylighting and other passive strategies, can all lower a building’s energy demand while increasing the quality of the interior environment and comfort of the occupants. The efficiency of required systems is maximized through use of advanced computer modeling and life cycle cost analysis.

* building materials—
Environmentally preferable building materials are (appropriately) durable and low maintenance. Careful selection and specification can limit impacts on the environment and occupant health, while remaining within the parameters of performance, cost, aesthetics and availability.

* indoor air quality—
Indoor air quality (IAQ) is most effectively controlled through close coordination of architecture, interior design and mechanical, electrical and plumbing design strategies that limit sources of contamination before they enter the building. Construction procedures for IAQ and post-occupancy user guides also contribute to good long-term IAQ.

* water—
Site design strategies that keep rainwater on the site and, where feasible, consider on-site treatment and reuse of building gray water and wastewater. Low flow plumbing fixtures, appropriate landscaping and HVAC and plumbing system design also conserve water.

* recycling and waste management—
Waste and inefficiency can be limited during construction by recycling demolition and construction waste, reuse of on-site materials, and monitoring of material use and packaging. Accommodating recycling into building design reduces waste while generating revenues.

* building commissioning, operations and management—
Effective building commissioning is essential to ensure proper and efficient functioning of systems. Facilities operations benefit from indoor air quality and energy monitoring, and from policies for water saving, waste reduction and environmentally sensitive maintenance.

* strategic environmental management—
By integrating long-range environmental considerations into their proactive planning process, manufacturing-based companies can eliminate emitted or discharged pollutants. Strategic environmental management helps corporations understand and assess environmental risks and opportunities, so they can make informed decisions about their facilities and processes.

For More Information
The USGBC recently released the results of the Green Building Roundtable in a publication entitled, Building Momentum: National Trends and Prospects for High-Performance Green Buildings. The report highlights components of green building in four categories: environmental, economic, health and productivity. It can be accessed on-line at

Other organizations that can provide information, or which were cited above, include:

* Rocky Mountain Institute:
* U.S. Department of Energy: builindgs/gbprinc.shtml
* U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:
* U.S. General Services Administration:
* Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum:
* Sustainable Building Industry Council:
* International Facility Management Association (IFMA):
* Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory:

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