How Technology, Accountability and Certifications Influence High Performance Green Building and Environments

Sustainable design and construction for new and renovated projects is becoming industry best practice, in part as a reaction to the housing bubble burst and jump in energy prices at the end of the last decade. Before then, the build it cheap and fast philosophy ruled the industry resulting in poorly designed communities, neighborhoods and building stocks (of every type) that lacked durability and sustainability. The last decade’s economic downturn forced owners, developers, design and construction professionals to differentiate themselves with sustainable, green building practices as one way to do so. Now durable, high performance green buildings exist across America in the form of K-12 schools, universities, hospitals, corporate headquarters and major retail locations such as Starbucks. Looking towards the next decade, building technologies, accountability and sustainability certifications will give further traction to the high performance green building market.

 

The adoption of the ‘triple bottom line’ at leading global companies, governments, and non-profits is one factor behind the rise of high performance green building. John Elkington first coined this concept in 1994, which describes an accounting framework incorporating social, environmental and financial components as equals. Most experienced high performance project owners now know that new technologies such as ultra-efficient mechanical systems or design elements such as daylight harvesting are cost neutral or demonstrate a payback within only a few years. Operational savings from intelligent, make-sense, sustainable design markedly improves a project’s overall pro forma.

TECHNOLOGIES SUPPORTING SUSTAINABLE DESIGN

There are two important technologies that support and provide analytics to professionals enabling them to design sustainable high performance buildings:

  1. Building Information Modeling (BIM) software allows project teams to design and construct a project in a robust multi-dimensional, multi-discipline graphical simulation model. The model allows design, construction and operations teams to perform analytics to maximize sustainability, system efficiencies, scheduling, and return on investment. BIM is a critical tool for teams working to implement sustainability enhancements to buildings, neighborhoods, sites and infrastructure.
  2. Energy Modeling provides project teams with an analytic simulation of how a building is expected to consume energy. It provides the project team with feedback to understand the interplay of the performance of building systems and their cost – benefit (lifecycle analysis). This tool allows designers to cost effectively maximize energy optimization through energy efficiency measures such as building orientation, HVAC system and control selection, on-site renewable energy, lighting and controls selection, building automation and envelope design.

The combining of technologies supporting sustainable design such as BIM coupled with an energy model allows design teams and owners to effectively collaborate with a  very high-level of understanding of what makes the most sense for economics and sustainability. Does it make more sense to increase glazing for daylight harvesting and views to the outdoors or investing in a higher efficiency HVAC system, or can both be achieved with anticipated first costs and lifecycle costs?

Sustainability certifications will also continue to push the high performance green building movement. They guide, define and quantify sound, measures such as efficient use of energy and resources, air quality, and waste reduction. A key component to certifications is the third-party verification process ensuring claims of sustainability are true and correct. LEED is the leading performance green building certification. Ohio now boasts 1,544 LEED certified buildings. There are now other sustainability certifications that help owners and designers to raise the bar, including:

  • WELL Building: Focuses on human health and well-being through verified measurable performance of indoor environmental quality, systems design, and policies.well building
  • Living Building Challenge: Focuses on advocacy and advanced sustainability measures that go beyond net-zero x3 (energy, water, waste) to create regenerative buildings.
  • INVEST: Addresses the design and construction of sustainable roadways and bridge infrastructure.
  • SITES: Focuses on sustainable landscape.
  • ParkSmart: Addresses parking structure management, programming, design and technology.
  • Net Zero (NZEB): A rating system focused on verifying net-zero building energy performance and one of the three paths under the Living Building Challenge.

Project team members accountability for implementation of sustainable practices ensure that owners and project teams have the support they need to deliver green buildings. For project teams, the two key players are the certification consultant and the commissioning agent. Sustainable certification consultants provide a critical voice for the owner throughout a project’s process (from site selection to operations) that maintains accountability among the project team to deliver a project that meets the owner’s goals. Commissioning Agents are contracted to provide the independent third-party review of building systems. Working for the owner, commissioning agents identify potential efficiencies during design and provide onsite inspections to ensure systems have been delivered, installed, and operate as intended. When gaps are discovered, as they often are, owners are spared from significant additional costs.

Smart owners and developers are using the tools described above to build and enhance their portfolios with durable, high performing, and more valuable assets. The certifications we have achieved for our clients all over America – from higher education to historic multifamily renovations and heavy industrial facilities – are evidence that the best practices described above are proven to be the most successful in reaching and exceeding expectations for sustainability.

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