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Sustainable Buildings Go Beyond Just Environmental Benefits

Dec 7, 2022 | Public | 0 comments

Sustainable Building

North American headquarters of Sappi utilizes biophilic design and daylighting as part of their sustainable initiatives. Darrin Hunter, courtesy Dyer Brown

The Sustainability goals need to factor in human health and resiliency.

In order to truly be sustainable, facilities need to be environmentally conscious not only in the way that they are built and designed, but also in how they operate. Building owners have been encouraged to pursue sustainability goals for their properties by using flexible designs that allow for future reconfiguration, reuse or salvage of building materials. In addition, upgrading building systems allows for an opportunity to arise with renovations for new tenants.

“To be truly sustainable, buildings must embrace regenerative design from every angle,” says Kathleen Hetrick, associate – sustainability, Buro Happold.

According to Hetrick, some initiatives building owners and facility executives can undertake include:

  • Passive design to reduce operational carbon and adapt to increasing temperatures;
  • Embracing non-toxic, local materials to achieve embodied carbon targets;
  • Increasing biodiversity and green space;
  • Leveraging architectural expertise around biophilic design and daylighting;
  • All electric HVAC systems;
  • Tracking supply chain emissions and cleaning up the construction process;
  • Commercial kitchens and energy efficient systems that also adhere to the best air quality practices; and
  • Choosing adaptive reuse as the first option to utilize incredible existing assets with cultural ties to place.

“The best buildings do all of these, but every building can do at least one of them,” Hetrick says.

Sustainability is all about innovation. More companies are beginning to utilize their real estate and capital asset budget to provide quantifiable progress on their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and/or corporate sustainability reporting. Buildings are substantial investments from a financial, social and ecological perspective and building owners and facility managers should acknowledge and leverage how their facility can recruit potential tenants. Failing to do so leaves them at risk of sitting vacant.

“Show, don’t tell. Invest in data gathering capabilities to show your assets embodied carbon story or net zero certification,” says Hetrick. “It is not enough to get by with disjointed sustainability claims or well-placed marketing campaign. Sustainability is about inspiring storytelling; it is about positive human and environment impact – but we need the quantifiable and qualitative data to back up what was actually implemented.”

Transparency at every angle

The need for product transparency among designers and procurement teams is pressuring building product manufacturers to invest more heavily in third-party disclosures and assessments of their supply chains. Greater access to product sustainability data makes it easier for designers and facility personnel to prioritize products that have disclosed or optimized their contents over those that have yet to do so.

“Tenants and building occupants are becoming more educated about the impact that buildings have not only on the planet but on human health and wellness,” says Laurel Christensen, project manager, sustainable design leader, Dyer Brown & Associates. “Those who can choose are more likely to lease sustainable spaces – as evidenced by the higher premiums achieved by LEED-certified office and multifamily assets in recent years.”

Despite the progress that has been made in sustainable design, there is still a disconnection when it comes to how the building environment can impact human health. Hetrick says that there is a large opportunity to improve communities through projects, but public health has to be a priority from the earliest stages.

“Designing a building to protect human health, whether from risks associated with COVID-19, Legionnaire’s Disease, heat waves, air pollution from wildfires or Sick Building Syndrome, should not impact energy usage if the building is designed with sustainability in mind,” says Hetrick. “Passive design measures like mixed mode ventilation, heat pumps with Merv 13 and carbon filters, thermal mass and low carbon insulation material to adapt to increasing temperatures can all reduce energy demand and keep people safe.”

Technology can be used to address sustainability design, but without adoption from facilities teams, the results are less than ideal. Building material supply chains allow for opportunities for companies to improve public health by specifying materials made by transparent manufacturers that are committed to zero carbon goals and are working to decarbonize their products while also improving employee health.

“Early reactionary responses to the COVID-19 pandemic included excessive applications of antimicrobial coatings and treatments, many of which were soon proven to be ineffective, and in some cases posed health risks to occupants,” says Christensen. “On the other hand, approaches that emphasize upgrades of mechanical and air filtration systems are having longstanding positive impacts – reduced energy consumption and carbon output, for example, and better health outcomes for occupants – as opposed to others like temporary physical barriers, which were also heavily utilized in response to the pandemic. Many of those barriers ultimately ended up being sent to landfill.”

Mackenna Moralez is the associate editor with the facilities group. 


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