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.

Winning the Sustainability Game

The rules of the "green game" vary. The 2030 Challenge is one initiative adopted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to advocate the incremental reduction of fossil fuel dependency and therefore become carbon-neutral by the year 2030. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is another initiative comprised of prerequisites, credits and varying degrees of certification.

To play a winning game, the players of a team must be linked in a common goal, generating synergy through a coordinated effort. Note that a group in itself does not necessarily constitute a team. In any sport, "team" implies a close synergy of communication and effort where the sum is greater than the parts. This can also be true of the team players of a sustainable building design project, which makes aligning goals and objectives imperative even before a project begins. Team players include owners, users, students, code officials, design professionals, construction managers, contractors and the like. Furthermore, the players must practice, by participating in eco-workshops and the integrated design approach, for example.

Ninety percent of what makes a project "green" happens in the first 10 percent of the process: the design. This applies to new buildings, additions and renovations. Focus initially on strategies that affect the design and keep layouts flexible—the players may need to adapt to the changing pace of the game. Take advantage of new and developing technology. For example, one play is to focus on providing abundant, glare-free daylighting to offset energy demands of artificial lighting (and the associated cooling costs), which is the single largest load on a building.

It's worth repeating that the health and performance of a body is not unlike that of a building. Both have design—an architecture, an aesthetic, some personality, all perceived as one. Both have internal systems that are required to operate—ventilation, plumbing, electrical/nervous and audio/visual systems. Green building has rules, players, a field, practice and a goal. Sustainable building design is a team sport.

Typical recreation centers use huge amounts of energy. So, if you are embarking on a building project or considering the operations and maintenance of your existing facility, consider sustainable design principles. And remember what sportswriter Grantland Rice said, "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game."


Troy Sherrard, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB, is a project design manager and associate principal at Moody-Nolan Inc., and
Sara R. Boyer, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB is a project architect at Moody-Nolan. Moody-Nolan is an architecture, interior design and civil engineering firm specializing in healthcare, higher education, sports and recreation, and public service facilities. Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, it is the largest African-American-owned and -operated architecture and engineering firm in the nation. For more information, visit

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