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Sustaining a Green Future

Whether the topic is global warming, pollution of water supplies, loss of fish and animal species, or depletion of natural resources, the facts are alarming. On July 9, 2002 an article entitled Wake-Up Call for the Planet Earth stated, “Since 1970, populations of the world’s forest species declined by 15 percent, marine species populations by 35 percent, and freshwater species populations by 54 percent.” The article further predicted that “…standards of living and human development will start to plummet throughout the world by 2030”. The severity of the situation varies depending on the resource referenced, but it is clear that without change, we are likely to see a continual decline in our ecosystem.

As contractors, engineers, architects, developers, and building owners, we have an opportunity to change this trend through sustainable design strategies. In general terms, sustainable design is a design that minimizes impact on the world around us. In more specific terms, Kristen Childs states in her article Economics of Green Design that sustainable designs 1) are healthier for people and enhance productivity 2) can be built at market rate and cost much less to operate 3) use less fossil fuels, thus conserving energy and generating less global pollution 4) use less water 5) manage waste, reducing impacts on both developed and undeveloped land, and 7) minimize use of materials and use materials with the lowest environmental impacts. Further, studies show that 60 percent of emissions worldwide result from building construction and the operation of existing buildings, indicating that sustainable design strategies have the potential to make a big difference in our environment.

How do we begin to incorporate sustainable design strategies into our buildings? The most successful projects involve early planning of sustainable design strategies with all parties – the owner, architect, engineers, site planners, contractors, financial consultants, and marketing consultants. Including all team members as part of the early decision making process provides the opportunity to determine the impact of one system decision on other systems. For instance, a decision to use additional wall insulation or high energy performance windows will impact HVAC system operating costs and equipment sizes.

“In general terms, sustainable design is a design that minimizes impact on the world around us.”

The other benefit of early decision making by all team members is minimizing the tendency for sustainable designs to have higher first costs than current design practices. For example, a simple decision such as building orientation might not have an impact on construction costs but can result in annual energy savings of up to 20 percent. Other important decisions include selections of the building envelope, mechanical system, storm water system, and lighting systems. Each system selection has an impact on the selection of the other systems. The impact of one system decision on other systems can easily be measured using energy modeling software. This software is a very important tool in the successful implementation of sustainable design strategies and will be further addressed in a future volume of The ReeSource.

Building codes and organizations such as the American Institute of Architects (AIA) have already begun to address sustainability. In fact, the AIA has committed to a 60 percent reduction in energy usage of buildings by 2010, with additional reduction goals in 2015, 2020, 2025, and 2030.

– John D. Reese, PE, LEED AP

John is a Licensed Electrical Engineer, Lighting Designer, LEED Accredited Professional, and Managing Principal of Reese Engineering. Please feel free to contact John for further details regarding the above information.