Guest Column - March 2009
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Design Corner

Sustainability Is a Team Sport

By Troy Sherrard and Sara R. Boyer


f your athletic team hit a plateau in its performance, wouldn't you change the training strategy? And, in an effort to achieve the team's overall goal of winning, this new training program would likely not spot-train just one muscle. The health and performance of a human body is not unlike that of a building. Sustainability, or environmental building design, is a whole-building approach that requires collaborative and innovative design. In light of today's economy, environmental building design is a must-have, now more than ever.

The typical American spends 23 hours every day inside. That's 95.8 percent of the time! Given this impressive statistic, it's essential to train our buildings like we train our bodies. The key to the process is abandoning the habit of "what worked last time." We need to rise above the plateau and focus on methods that seek improvement; after all, being less bad does not always equate to being good. Ultimately, we need to go beyond "neutral" and strive for regenerative design—with the underlying goal of "leave it better than you found it."

What Is the Playing Field?

How did we hit this plateau (which is actually a steep downward plummet)? Here are some numbers to consider:

  • In the United States, buildings are responsible for 48 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, compared to 27 percent from transportation and 25 percent from industry, according to the Energy Information Administration.
  • U.S. buildings consume 72 percent of electricity, 14 percent of potable water and 40 percent of produced energy, according to the Environmental Information Administration (EIA).
  • Energy is created using one of the following sources: petroleum (40 percent), coal (23 percent), natural gas (23 percent), nuclear (8 percent) and various renewable sources (7 percent), according to the EIA. Renewable energy sources are solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass and wind-generated power.
  • Conversely, sustainably designed buildings are capable of reducing energy (by 24 to 50 percent), carbon dioxide emissions (by 33 to 39 percent), water consumption (by 40 percent) and the amount of solid waste going to landfills (by 70 percent).
  • Building "green" has the perceived benefits of reducing operating costs (by 8 to 9 percent), and increasing building value (by 7.5 percent) and return-on-investment (by 6.6 percent), according to a McGraw-Hill Construction report.

Considering these staggering statistics and the benefits of sustainable or "green" building, we know this is not simply a trend. The game of "going green" is evolving, and the playing field includes budgets, project schedules, the marketplace, etc., in order to achieve a holistic, sustainable approach to project design and construction.