2013 PERSPECTIVES ON SUSTAINABILITY IN THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT [Environmental Design + Construction]
(Environmental Design + Construction Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) GREEN BUILDING PROFESSIONALS SHARE WHAT THEY LEARNED IN 2013 AND OFFER THEIR INDUSTRY EXPECTATIONS FOR THE FUTURE
If you were to picture the past year as a stage play, what would the plot be? Would it be a drama? A tragedy? A com- edy? A tragically dark comedy? Who would be the main characters? What would be the setting? Most importantly, would you give it a good review? These are the questions we set out to answer in EDO's annual Perspectives column where we ask a sampling of pros in the industry their thoughts on the past year. (Of course, we didn't ask questions using the metaphor of a play. We only just now thought of that. Besides, it might have actually made answering them interesting. Although our representa- tives this year are special, as they are every year, why would we give them a semi-enjoyable task when all the others who came before them have suffered through the vanilla nature of our queries? Not that we have anything against vanilla, either.)
The U.S. economy has been the focal point of years past. It was definitely a significant part of events this year, but was it as prominent a character in this year's story? "The repeated failure of the federal government to agree on how to operate within its fiscal means has been a significant driver of uncertainty for the AEC indus- try," says CEO and founder of Paladino and Company, Tom Paladino, PE, Associate AIA, LEED AP. "Construction comes to be as a result of optimism; it is the best indica- tor that communities and businesses are in expansion. Even if the business indicators for construction are green, many companies are in a 'wait-and-see' mode-watching our government lurch from fiscal cliff to sequester to budget stalemate to government shutdown and wondering where it is all going to end up. It just puts the brakes on everyone's go/no-go criteria, and it is a real drag."
Despite the drag on businesses created by the government's questionable decision making, Paladino adds that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. "While we haven't seen any major shifts in the economy, in the third quarter we saw a noticeable uptick in opportunities and proposal requests as compared to last year," he says. "Clients seemed more optimistic and seemed to be planning more projects for the coming year."
To keep some of the optimism up when it comes to governmen- tal topics (especially after this year), Jerry Yudelson, PE, LEED Fellow, and principal of Tucson, Ariz.-based Yudelson Associates, noticed that the local government mandates for building energy performance disclosure are now sweeping the country. He says, "With mandatory disclosure for all large nonresidential build- ings, it will become much easier to make the link between green building performance claims and actual performance. Finally, the wizard behind the curtain will be exposed!"
Nearly all of our respondents echoed those sentiments, especially Helen J. Kessler, FAIA, LEED Fellow, president of HJKessler Associates. "I'm excited about energy benchmarking and disclosure...When building owners know that the energy utilization index for their building(s) will be made public, they are likely to upgrade systems so their properties compare with others in a favorable way," she says. "It seems that more deals are getting done, architects are hiring again and we're moving in a positive direction-even if it's slow."
It's a sad fact of life, but sometimes tragedy can lead to oppor- tunity. The 2007 tornado that destroyed Greensburg, Kan., offered that community a heavy-hearted chance to rebuild sustainably. While the U.S. didn't see any major hurricanes or storms on par with what was experienced in 2012, the tragedies of last year and beyond have led to opportunities for 2013. Pope Architects' direc- tor of Interior Design, Erica Larson, CID, LEED AP BD+C, and Kessler agree the harsh weather is indicative of climate change and the built environment needs to adapt as awareness grows, spurring the AEC industry.
"Now more than ever, communities, governments and assis- tance programs are banding together to commit resources and time to reducing the environmental impact in the built environ- ment," says Larson. "As a result, many real estate companies and executives are being asked to address their company's preparedness for another event, resiliency and how they are responding to all climate change risks. Ulti- mately, the economic development puts a strain on our natural resources as we as an industry work to clean up our communities.
"Today, many programs are encouraging business owners and communities to rebuild using green techniques that save energy, conserve water and improve indoor air quality," Larson adds. "Ad- dressing sustainability and a company's environmental impact in the built environment is essential, and the AEC industry is able to provide leadership and guidance on many of these issues."
GO GANG GREEN
While some of our respondents might be fans of the NFL's New York Jets (we didn't ask that question), it was clear AEC firms and businesses that are fans of green mostly benefitted during these sluggish times.
"Clients, who endured the economic storm by cutting costs, are now more interested than ever in optimizing their facility solutions going forward," says Larson. "This means pushing down on programmed space requirements, building smaller buildings and incorporating features that reduce operating costs."
Skanska's senior vice president, Elizabeth J. Heider, AIA, LEED AP, notes that a general awareness of the benefits of sustainability was solidified this year, and it's making a difference for the indus- try. "In 2013, all the tumblers began to fall into place to make the connection between green building and human health, and to pro- vide tools to the industry to deliver greener, healthier buildings."
The effects on a city-wide scale are tangible from Kessler's perspective. "In Chicago, where I live, it has almost become a requirement that downtown high-rise buildings be LEED certi- fied. If they weren't certified when they were originally built, they are now being certified under LEED EB: O&M. This is a trend that has been going on for a few years. Many of those that were certified upon initial construction are re-certifying under LEED EB: O&M. There is also a greater interest in energy efficiency and retro-commissioning, possibly due to local utility programs."
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Yudelson notes that the rise of more buildings aiming for some form of green certification shouldn't be surprising given the uptick in the economy. He says that as new developments gain traction, demand for green building certification is induced. "In addition, the rising confidence of building owners-that they will be able to attract paying tenants-has begun to exert a powerful pull on the market for building energy management, energy ef- ficiency upgrades and software to support those activities."
"There is definitely an uptick in impact reporting for publicly traded companies," agrees Paladino, "with a focus on energy, wa- ter and carbon. Companies long on real estate are sifting growing mountains of data to improve run costs."
So, if the number of green building certifications is on the rise at the same time as building owners looking to attract ten- ants are eyeing energy efficiency and, as mentioned earlier, healthier buildings, what tools were our respondents using to achieve their goals? Furthermore, what tools will be more relevant down the line?
One tool is making its annual appearance in this end-of-the-year recap, and if you've been looking for it à la "Where's Waldo?" (Or is that too dated a reference now? Meh, oh well.), here it is-BIM. Build- ing or energy modeling was mentioned by everyone in some way. But is that a surprise any- more? "There's no question that BIM technology has had-and is poised to have even more-influence on sustainable design and construction as it becomes more possible each year to predict energy impacts of various design approaches," says Yudelson. "One architect I interviewed told me that each design has an 'energy thermometer,' i.e., an energy target, and that each design measure or change in design is evaluated in terms of how it will affect the energy target."
The true power and integration of BIM in design and construc- tion is just starting to emerge, says Larson. "As the legal hurdles to model-sharing and document creation are overcome, and as software developers explore application possibilities, the power and integration of BIM in sustainable design and construction will increase."
Interestingly, while BIM has been discussed for a while now as the key sustainable design tool, Kessler points out that there is still a learning curve the industry needs to overcome. "Most proj- ect teams tend to use energy models too late and lose the benefit of being able to iterate creative and cost-effective solutions," she says. "Unfortunately, there still are not enough good energy mod- elers who can provide this service and do it well and creatively. I hate to say this, but a kid fresh out of school who knows how to use an energy model probably doesn't have enough real-world experience in how buildings work. In-depth experience with building systems and energy modeling make a great combination."
Heider says the BIM model is important for facility managers af- ter occupancy has occurred. This resource can serve as a platform to manage and improve building performance. She also adds that since maintaining an optimally performing facility is as important as the design, building owners, managers and occupants need to be given the tools to ensure planned performance meets the reality. "Wireless control technology, metering and building performance dashboards will provide the transparency necessary to drive building performance and inform occupant behavior," she says.
According to Paladino, there are three technologies that are the most impactful on the industry. The first being integrated project design; the second is occupant behavior; and the third is the growth of dashboards that can present useful information, he says. "I think that sensors, controls and dashboards are the leading edge. IT has made significant enhancements to consumer products, travel services and communications. It's not a ques- tion of whether the next generation of IT is coming to buildings, but when."
LEED RAISING THE BAR
When it comes to the world's most popular tool for design- ing a sustainable building, LEED's long-gestating reinvision (finally "born" last month at Greenbuild) was designed with new resources and tools that kept its users in mind. With the launch, LEED's veteran users can visualize how it will be used-and how effective it will be-to the AEG industry.
Those currently involved in the industry already understand the importance of sustainability in the built environment, but Larson says that her clients are becoming more aware of sustainability issues and are placing an increased demand on the integration of green design into their buildings. Because her firm was an early advocate and practitioner of LEED, the firm became known as a resource for sustainable design in the area and attracted clients in- terested in its green credential. Consequently, in the last few years the firm's basic services have been modified to include a LEED analysis that helps clients identify ways to implement sustainable design goals. "We help clients understand the costs associated with sustainable elements so they can make informed decisions."
The adoption of LEED v4 will have a significant effect on the AEG industry, assuming that building owners embrace it, espe- cially if kinks are worked out before properties are required to begin using it in 2015, says Kessler. "We saw a significant market transformation when LEED was first introduced, and I think that LEED v4 could have a similar impact."
Health Product Declarations (HPDs) and Environmental Prod- uct Declarations (EPDs ) are changing the game to drive transpar- ency further. The HPD Open Standard is systemizing reporting language to allow disclosure of what's in building products. LEED v4 includes new elective credits that encourage the building industry and the owners it serves to select materials that support human health and the environment, says Heider. "EPDs will change the information that manufacturers pro- vide, architects will think twice about using certain products, and this will cause manufacturers to re- formulate their products," says Kessler.
Kessler says her firm only works on "sustainable," mostly LEED, projects. She puts sustainable in quotes because she doesn't think most of her LEED projects would meet the commonly- held definitions of sustainability. "For projects to be sustainable, we will need new ways of bringing design teams together-and possibly new definitions of 'design team.' We will need to ad- dress how the project affects the larger environment and community, and how the larger environment and community affects [the project]...And we will need to think beyond the checklist."
As the industry moves forward, albeit slowly, which sectors are leading the way? For her firm, Larson says, "Those sectors driven by demographics rather than economics were the first to have a resurgence in the need for design services. This was led by senior housing and healthcare, and followed by market- rate housing, retail and corporate work." Designing healthy healing environments, healthy homes and healthy workplaces are equally important, she says.
Will the new generation of sustainability natives that the Center for Green Schools is currently educating be the ones to accel- erate market transformation? Something like that. "The concern for resiliency, hu- man health and performance will drive in- novation and transform the supply chain," says Heider, who foresees partnership and collaboration between sectors as contem- porary industry leaders. "Sustainability is bigger than any one silo."
"I'm seeing fewer municipal and non- profit projects and more higher education projects going for LEED certification," says Kessler. "Some of my clients are asking for higher levels of LEED certifica- tion (Gold rather than Silver )-generally these are the higher education clients. And some are asking for lower levels ( Certified rather than Silver). Of course, no one complains if Gold is achieved on a Certified budget."
Yudelson says, "Logically, it should be secondary education, given all the empha- sis the past two years on green schools, but I would be willing to bet more on owner-occupied buildings, which encom- passes corporate and industrial buildings, higher education, hotels, healthcare and public facili- ties. Why? Because owner-occupied buildings can take all the benefits of green building and put them in their own pocket."
He also believes, "The econ- omy has recovered enough from the Great Recession so that com- mercial development has gained new traction, which in turn induces demand for green building certifications. In addition, the rising confidence of building owners (that they will be able to attract paying tenants ) has begun to exert a powerful pull on the market for building energy management, energy efficiency upgrades and software to support those activities."
TO SUSTAINABILITY AND BEYOND!
It's important to continue to demonstrate why and how green is necessary for the future. When Paladino looks ahead at the green AEC industry, he says there will be a significant focus on features that enhance productivity and satisfaction with real-time feedback on utility spent. "These features potentially improve run rates, which translate to higher valuations and perhaps suggest that the industry define a sustainability quotient (SQ) for real estate assets"
Larson expects to see continued inte- gration of sustainable materials, practices and systems into all areas of the built environment, and is heading toward the same direction as Paladino in that she believes visible symbols are less impor- tant than the operational benefits over time. "Sustainable design integration will be emphasized whenever there is a direct economic benefit, or even a less tangible (but still important ) business benefit like positive brand messaging."
Net-zero energy and water design is also starting to gain traction, and hope- fully that continues. Kessler hopes that the green AEC industry embraces some of the challenges including: "Envisioning projects in a ho- listic way by embracing their larger context and community; engaging all team members during pre-design with integra- tive design methodologies; increased research before formal design decisions are made; mak- ing good use of EPDs and LCAs; and embracing energy models as a design tool early in the planning and design of proj- ects." But overall, she says we need to get to a point where super energy efficiency is affordable for all.
What deters many people from mak- ing energy-efficient choices that will be beneficial in the long run for a project is the expectation of dollar signs upon dol- lar signs at the beginning stages. When it comes to making the most energy-efficient choices for a project, Heider expects to see a renewed focus on existing buildings and residential construction. "New financ- ing models will unlock future energy sav- ings to pay for retrofits today," she says.
Yudleson expects a resurgence of interest in green building certification, "including a rise in federal certifications now that GSA has sorted out which rating systems to use and has approved both LEED and Green Globes." In terms of the non-governmental side of things, he says he thinks there will continue to be a push for EPDs as part of a surging interest in healthy building products, technologies and systems.
So what's going to happen next for the future of the green building? It could be anything. What have you noticed in the green AEC industry during 2013? Share your thoughts with us on EDCmag.com, on Twitter (@ edcmagazine ) or on Face- book (www.facebook. com/greenmags). See you in 2014. edc
"IN ADDITION, THE RISING CONFIDENCE OF BUILDING OWNERS THAT THEY WILL BE ABLE TO ATTRACT PAYING TENANTS HAS BEGUN TO EXERT A POWERFUL PULL ON THE MARKET FOR BUILDING ENERGY MANAGEMENT, ENERGY EFFICIENCY UPGRADES AND SOFTWARE TO SUPPORT THOSE ACTIVITIES."
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