(36) Sustainability


 What is green building? (video)

What is a Green Building?


Facilities: How to Save Energy and Water, Improve Productivity and Reduce Waste

Buildings, their construction and operation, are usually a significant cost for any organization. They both displace habitat and affect transportation and land use patterns. They also consume a large percentage of our energy and produce much of our waste. Consider that US buildings, which represent about half of the nation’s wealth, consume 70 per cent of the nation’s electricity, generate 30 per cent of waste, and are responsible for more global warming than any other nation’s economy except China. In contrast, green buildings – with more natural light, better air quality and greater comfort – typically also contribute to improved occupant health, comfort and productivity. A more complete accounting of these costs and benefits demonstrates that green buildings are generally cost effective today, with average financial benefits exceeding additional costs by a factor of ten to one.’

According to the Climate Protection Manual for Cities, schools in the US spend over $6 billion on energy each year, more than they spend on computers and books combined! In the typical school, about a third of that energy is wasted. Thus facilities managers have a tremendous opportunity to make their organizations more sustainable while also saving money. Because buildings last for decades if not centuries, their choices have long-term consequences for the building owners and occupants and the community at large.


Facilities managers often find it hard to believe that they are not already doing all they can. However, sustainability often uncovers new opportunities. Facilities managers need to guard against the following common mistakes:

Being pound foolish. Often facilities will choose the cheapest first-cost option. But this can end up costing more in the long run. For example, vinyl flooring is typically cheaper than linoleum. However, linoleum usually lasts about four times as long. If materials represent about half the cost of a flooring job, the cost of the vinyl should be multiplied by eight to give a true comparison. Looking at the life cycle costs can make the more expensive product seem cheaper!

Wasting energy. When building designers apply a sustainability lens to the creation of a building, they invariably identify efficiencies not previously revealed. A green building is designed with an integrated team approach with a focus on optimizing trade-offs. For example, the building orientation, insulation and glazing may substantially reduce the size of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system required, saving both capital and operating costs. Similarly, laying the piping out first to minimize angles and maximize diameter can radically reduce the costs associated with pumping compressed air or water.

Making people sick. Indoor air quality is often six to seven times worse than outside, sometimes resulting in sick building syndrome. Carpets, vinyl flooring and plywood cabinets and work surfaces may ‘off-gas’ chemicals into the air. Toxic and fragranced cleaning products may also contribute to allergies and illness. Toxic mould, caused by inadequate ventilation, has forced the closure of many buildings.

Paying twice. Waste can be defined as something you paid for that you pay again to get rid of. Portland State University in Oregon discovered during a waste audit that they were disposing of 1400 paper cups a day. They bought them and then had to pay to dispose of them. Sometimes the waste is not as obvious: a refrigerator near an oven, a return air vent near a heating vent. The executives in one office building were so intolerant to fluctuations in temperature that they set the thermostat for such a narrow range that air conditioning and heating alternated on and off all day.


To help you identify opportunities for eliminating the waste in your building, we’ve organized this section around the functions a facilities manager typically performs:

• Constructing/remodeling a high-performance building;

• Operating the building;

• Managing waste;

• Providing green cleaning and landscaping services; and

• Managing transportation issues.

Construct/remodel a high-performance building

It still comes as a surprise to many that so-called ‘green building’ practices do not necessarily increase building costs. Furthermore, buildings so constructed typically save 30 per cent or more on energy and related operating expenses. For owner-occupied buildings, green building practices are now a no-brainer. In many markets, it also makes sense for developers to use green building practices even if they intend to lease or sell the structure – tenants and buyers are often willing to pay somewhat more for the improved amenities and there is good evidence that such properties lease faster than their equivalent conventional competitors.

Green building (or high-performance building) is an emerging field, driven largely by the success of the US Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) scoring system. This system has now been adopted by Australia, Canada, Brazil, India, Mexico and Taiwan. LEED provides a laundry list of things you can do, each with points assigned. A building or remodeling project can be certified at several levels (certified, silver, gold and platinum) based on the number of points the building is able to earn. The intention of the World Green Building Council and its affiliates is to keep pushing building practices toward sustainability as new methods and technologies become available.

The California Department of Finance commissioned a study by the Capital E group and Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory to determine whether green building practices paid off.

After studying 100 buildings across the country and other studies, they concluded that the financial benefits of green design are between $50 and $70 per square foot in a LEED building, over ten times the additional cost associated with building green.

Deconstruction and recycling

Building is wasteful, especially if you’re remodeling or redeveloping existing structures. Construction waste represents a significant portion of municipal landfills. Now there are services that deconstruct rather than demolish buildings. This might not satisfy the same destructive urges, but it makes a lot of sense. As does recycling and reusing many materials. In a major renovation, the contractors at the Natural Capital Center in Portland, Oregon reportedly recycled and reused 97 per cent of the materials. In a recent study financed by the Environmental Protection Agency, four house deconstruction projects by RE Store, a non-profit retailer of used building supplies in Seattle, Washington, achieved recycle or reuse rates of 70 to 97 per cent


For some examples of green building and an understanding of why it is important, see McDonough, William and Michael Braungart (2001) ‘The Next Industrial Revolution’ (video), Stevenson, MD: Earthome Productions, https://vimeo.com/20372160

Here are several green building standards and tools:

LEED: World Green Building Council, www.worldgbc.org , www.usgbc.org

BREEAM: BRE Environmental Assessment Method, www.breeam.org

BEES: Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability is a software tool for selecting environmentally preferable building materials, www.bfrl.nist.gov.

Day lighting

In principle, day lighting simply involves letting natural light into a building. In practice, it is more complicated, for you want visibility, not glare, and in most commercial buildings, you want light but not heat. Day lighting’s most obvious benefit is energy savings – you don’t need to turn on the lights. But that is often the least of its benefits. In an organizational setting, the highest cost associated with a building is not the building itself but the people in it. With that in mind, minor increases in capital costs to incorporate certain green features can at times provide a healthy return on investment. ‘The biggest benefit of day lighting is the impact it has on the people in the space. If it weren’t for people, we wouldn’t be designing interior environments. Your highest overhead walks into the office on two legs every day.

The cost of loss of productivity is incredible to a corporation,’ says Stefan Graf, principal at Illuminart, based in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Assume the cost to employ a worker is roughly $75,000 per year. If that employee works in approximately 150 square feet of space that originally cost around $15,000 to build, a 20 per cent productivity uptick on a $75,000-per-year worker pays back the entire cost of building construction in the first year ($15,000). ‘These productivity benefits are just huge,’ emphasizes Loveland, ‘and we know that they’re most directly correlated to daylight.’

A 20 per cent increase is not unrealistic. Based on the best research available from Carnegie Mellon University and others, day lighting appears to improve productivity and reduce absenteeism by up to that level. There are benefits beyond the workplace as well. Day lighting improves learning in schools, increases sales in retail environments and helps the elderly in retirement homes sleep better and live longer. In hospitals, people recover faster when they have access to daylight.

Of course, you will still need some lighting systems, but you can choose the most efficient fixtures and use daylight and motion sensors to limit their use. Lighting retrofits can often pay for themselves in just a couple years. Make sure lights can be turned on in sections of the building so that, for example, the entire building doesn’t have to be lit when the janitors are in one area.

Site selection

Where you place the building and what direction you point it can be important factors as well. In most cases, you want to choose a site that can easily be accessed by a variety of transportation modes – public transport, bike and car. This makes alternative transportation a viable option. Portland State University intentionally situated its parking farther away than the transit stop so that people who take the light rail or bus only have to walk one-third as far to reach their destination as drivers do. Industrial ecology involves co-locating properties that make use of one another’s waste products. The most widely cited example is Kalundborg, Denmark where waste heat, biomass, water and other resources are exchanged among synergistic operations. This kind of relationship is easier to achieve when planning new sites, but at least consider who your neighbors are and investigate whether they might be dumping something you need. The orientation of your building can have energy and lighting impacts as well. Combining a sun-facing orientation with an engineered overhang enables you to take best advantage of sunlight and heat. Exterior glazing helps you efficiently manage light and heat. It is also wise to have at least part of your roof facing sunward so that you are positioned to make use of photovoltaic technology when it becomes feasible or so that you can easily add solar thermal systems to preheat water for boilers or hot water heaters.

Material selection

Obviously, buildings use a tremendous amount of the world’s resources. So it is critical to minimize the impact of construction or remodels for the benefit of both the natural world and the building’s users. You can buy low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint,

recycled and recyclable carpet and certified sustainable timber, often at prices competitive with traditional products. You can further avoid unnecessary materials by, for example, leaving rafters or piping exposed or by coloring a concrete floor instead of covering it with underlay and carpet.

In the building shell, give preference to materials with lower embodied energy (the amount of energy necessary to make them) where possible. For example, wood (which you would want to source from certified or well-managed forests) has a relatively frugal embodied energy of 639 kWh/ton. Brick has 4 times as much, concrete 5 times, glass 14 times and steel 24 times.

Consider also how best to use the materials. Deschutes Brewery, a microbrewery in central Oregon, for example, put the insulation on the outside of their concrete building. This put the thermal mass inside the building. At night, they flush in the cool night air, which is then absorbed into the concrete walls and slowly released during the day. Because of their climate, they only need to use refrigeration to keep their cases of beer cold for two months a year.


‘Creating a High Performance Workspace G/Rated Tenant Improvement Guide’ by the City of Portland Office of Sustainable Development. There is a chapter on finishes and furnishings.

LEED Green Building Rating System for New Construction and Major Renovations. Architecture 2030 is a challenge for architects to make buildings climate neutral by 2050. Yudelson, Jerry (2008) The Green Building Revolution. Washington, DC: Island Press. OpenEco is a new global on-line community that provides free, easy-to-use tools to help participants assess, track, and compare energy performance, share proven best practices to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and encourage sustainable innovation, www.openeco.org.

The RETScreen International Clean Energy Decision Support Centre offers software decision-making tools that reduce the cost of pre-feasibility studies. English homepage: www.retscreen.net/ang/home.php.

Mechanical systems

With good design, you may be able to radically reduce or eliminate your HVAC system. The Eastgate office complex in Harare, Zimbabwe requires no air conditioning and almost no heating, despite the fact that the weather oscillates between 35 and 104°F. The architects took a lesson from termites to maintain a comfortable climate inside the building. Termites in Africa build tall, complex structures that must be kept at a narrow temperature range to grow food. They use underground tunnels to draw in cool air from the earth and open and close their ‘windows’ to create air flow and manage the temperature. Similarly, the Eastgate complex is actually two buildings linked by bridges across a shady, glass-roofed atrium open to the air. Fans suck fresh air in from the atrium; blow it upstairs through hollow spaces under the floors and from there into each office through skinting board (baseboard) vents. As the air rises and warms, it is drawn out through ceiling vents. Finally, it exits through 48 round brick chimneys.

To save energy, plan any system that requires piping carefully. The amount of energy needed to move something through a pipe increases geometrically as the pipe diameter shrinks. Bends in the piping also increase energy requirements. Lay out water pipes, compressed air pipes and the like in as straight a line as possible with the largest pipe size feasible. Then consider variable speed drives that can adjust the fan or pumping speed as needed. At the Collins Company mill in Klamath Falls, Oregon, they installed a backpressure steam turbine generator to utilize wasted energy in their compressed air system, providing almost half the power needed to run the plant. They figure the annual savings to be around $250,000.

Construction waste

Construction waste is clogging our landfills. But carpet, concrete, studs, steel, plasterboard and other building materials can often be reused or recycled. Setting up the Natural Capital Center in Portland, Oregon involved turning an old warehouse into office space. They were able to reuse or recycle 97 per cent of their construction debris. So before you begin any construction or remodeling project, set stretch goals for the diversion of waste.


Morton, Steven (2002) ‘Business Case for Green Design: Sustainable Design is More than Good Intentions; It’s a Way of Reaching Business Goals’, www.facilitiesnet.com

Yale produces its Journal of Industrial Ecology, which is published by the MIT Press, www.mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=4&tid=32

Graedel, T. E. and B. R. Allenby (1995) Industrial Ecology. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Allenby, B. R. (1999) Industrial Ecology – Policy Framework and Implementation. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.  www.healthybuilding.net  provides information on health impacts.

The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance has a useful website, www.BetterBricks.com

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