Best Practice

Green Building and Sustainable Design

What You Need to Know

When considering “going green,” it is important to have a clear understanding of what green actually means and the long-term benefits implementing green provides. Green building (also known as green construction or sustainable building) refers to both a structure and process that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s lifecycle — from planning to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and demolition. Successful green building requires close cooperation between the contractor, architects, engineers and the client through all stages of the project.

The common objective of green buildings is to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment by efficiently using energy, water and other resources; protecting occupant health and improving employee productivity; and reducing waste, pollution and environmental degradation.

My job is to help clients identify the sustainability goals that correspond to their business, project or regional needs, and successfully implement programs that deliver on-time and on-budget results. Many people equate green building with energy efficiency since there is a known financial return. We focus on making informed decisions that result in overall resource efficiency, materials efficiency and durability, water conservation, occupant health (indoor air quality), siting and structure design efficiency, waste reduction, operations and maintenance optimization, and a structure’s harmonious relationship with the natural features and resources surrounding it.

A Cost-Benefit Analysis

Many businesses go green because they are compelled to do so as a result of local building codes or government regulatory requirements. Alternatively, an increasing number of financial partners are requiring green building certification as they strive to deliver value to shareholders. There is always the option of going green because making informed decisions and becoming a culture that is increasingly aware of the importance of sustainability just seems like the right thing to do.

Regardless of the reason, the first question you should ask is how my green building or sustainability goals fit into my business. When I approach a project, I always consider the business/economic aspects of the green equation. Clients often equate going green to expensive technology and state-of-the-art design elements, but this is not necessarily the case. There are many inexpensive ways to be sustainable, but the challenge is that the low-cost green building options are just not sexy. An energy efficient air conditioner, in many cases, looks like the same metal box as an inefficient air conditioner. Use less first, design well, be efficient, and then add whatever sexy green the project can afford. 

Everyone wants to save money, so you have to consider project budgets.  Understanding the driving force, the “why” of the project, also helps guide how we approach green building. Once I hear the “why,” we can more constructively discuss the green/sustainability features, capital cost and operational savings. There have been many innovations in sustainable design. Incorporating features such as sloped roofs, green roofs, recycled tile, permeable concrete, rain gardens, energy efficient windows, exterior light shelves, and solar panels (passive or active) can make a big difference, but they can also be cost prohibitive.

These costs, however, are eventually offset by the payoffs. The time frame for payback depends on the green products selected.  Paybacks can vary from under a year to more than 20 years. The direct savings in money comes from efficiency resulting in lower water and energy bills. Numerous studies have also shown the measurable benefit of green building initiatives on worker (and student) productivity. Consider such factors as improved lighting, reduction of pollutants, advanced ventilation systems and the use of non-toxic building materials.

Once a client has considered this cost-benefit analysis and agrees on a budget, we work closely with architects, contractors and engineers to make sure everything works together within the client’s budget. The ultimate goal is to decrease project capital costs while resulting in a project that consumes fewer resources and provides each client with the functionality he or she needs. Having this balance means everything is working the way it should.

Jennifer Languell, Ph.D., is the founder and president of Trifecta Construction Solutions in Ft. Myers and past president and vice president of the Florida Green Building Coalition, which is headquartered in Orlando. For the past two decades, she has championed the integration of green building principles and sustainable design within the construction industry.  She can be reached at jennifer@trifectaconstruction.com.

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