Tuesday, December 9, 2014

So you want to be a sustainable business?


By April Brown, Projects Manager

You might be asking yourself - What does a sustainable business look like? Where do I start?
The path toward organizational sustainability will look a little different for everyone. Simply speaking, a good first step is to make a plan that includes sustainability goals and activities that will support the organization becoming more sustainable overtime: it’s a journey, not a destination.
“In my opinion, there are four primary areas that you should consider when developing a sustainability investment plan: management infrastructure, eco-efficiency programs, strategic initiatives, and marketing programs,” reflects Geoffrey Barneby of the FairRidge Group. “Clearly, there is a need to address these areas somewhat sequentially; you cannot successfully market sustainability before making strategic changes, and you cannot develop strategic initiatives without already having an appropriate management infrastructure in place. There is, however, room for overlap and most mature companies manage to do all four in parallel.”
Setting measurable goals and tracking your progress is important, so it is good to identify your goals and opportunities before starting to retrofit the bathroom sink faucets. In a recent article on GreenBiz.com, a sustainability consultant shared feedback he's received from a client that also illustrates the traction integrated sustainability is gaining. He said, 
"We've gone through a paradigm shift on sustainable development in the last year. It's no longer seen as an environmental thing. It's fully integrated into the way we think and plan around economic growth."
Sustainability efforts are, also, most successful when you elect and empower someone to spearhead your sustainability efforts and make sure your goals remain on track. This position is a 21st century invention that has created jobs in the leadership ranks of most large companies, including Fortune 500 companies and political and economic powerhouses. Depending on rank, authority and responsibility titles range from “Chief Sustainability Officer” to “Sustainability Director” to or “Sustainability Analyst.” Sustainability professionals, like any high paid professional, require a certain level of knowledge and training. While there are more and more undergraduate and graduate degrees with a focus on sustainability, there is a shortage of qualified professionals to lead and implement strategic sustainable business initiatives. To help professionals keep up with the changing demands of the sustainable future, the Institute for the Built Environment at Colorado State University has created online courses for professionals to learn and practice the skills and tools they need to lead their organization’s sustainability initiatives. The online learning platform, which is being offered by OnlinePlus at Colorado State University, is intended for busy professionals; therefore classes are designed to accommodate typical business schedules.
“By participating in this program, you will enter into this important movement toward healthy economies, cities, and work practices and learn and apply real skills from leading researchers and professionals,” said April Brown, LEED AP BD+C, GGP.
"People that work in sustainability often come at it from one angle. They may ask, 'How do we best engage occupants for sustainability?' or 'How do we retrofit our facility to get the biggest bang for our buck?',” said Jeni Cross, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology, Colorado State University and expert instructor for the Integrated Sustainability Management Certificate program. "While these are really important questions, this program focuses on the systems approach, which will teach you how to use the work in one quadrant to leverage bigger change in the other quadrants.” 
To build the holistic mindset, the program is set up into 4 quadrants: people, resources, facilities, and organization.

When you have created your plan and you’ve designated someone to implement it, the next question you might ask yourself is – How? Much of the how relies on people adopting more sustainable behaviors. Much about behavior change is to be learned from social sciences. Jeni Cross, leading sociology researcher at Colorado State University, tell us about three myths of behavior change during a popular Tedx talk.

Cross explains that we all think we know how to encourage people to adopt sustainable behaviors, however, most of our encouragement actually does nothing to change anyone’s behavior. There are proven techniques for engaging behaviors of occupants and employees that support the organizational sustainability goals that should not be overlooked.

Business leaders worldwide agree that sustainability is an opportunity for growth and innovation, according to a 2013 report of CEOs’ views on creating a sustainable economy. Organizational sustainability is one of the fastest developing sectors of business in our modern world. Business is developing a heightened awareness on the importance of global issues, including social justice, climate change, energy independence, and water scarcity. Moreover, businesses are finding competitive advantage through sustainability and corporate responsibility. As an organization or business, taking sustainable strides will sincerely help you keep up with the growing market and increasing demand for transparency and responsibility. In the process, you can make a better place for your employees and a better product for your customers. Start by making a sustainability plan, then designate a knowledgeable Sustainability Coordinator to spearhead the initiatives outlined in the plan, and use tools from social science to engage your employees and building occupants and create a sustainability-minded culture to meet your sustainability goals and create lasting impact in your business.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

UPCOMING EVENT: Urban Lab Open House

By: Colin Day
Urban Lab Coordinator

The UniverCity Urban Lab- an organization based in Fort Collins that advocates for high-quality urban design and a livable city through community involvement and collaboration- is seeking input and guidance from the public as they shape the guidelines for a design competition to be launched early in 2015.

Come out and help us develop our Mason Street competition. Centered on the Mason Street transportation corridor, the competition will invite professional designers, students and others from around the world to propose improvements to the Mason Street Downtown Corridor, excluding the railroad right-of-way, which will enhance vehicle safety and the pedestrian environment. The goal of the competition is to inspire design possibilities that create a unique and memorable experience for those who visit the area.

The Urban Lab wishes to solicit feedback from the public on the proposed format of the competition as well as the specific requirements that competitors should prioritize. Possible topics include pedestrian and vehicular safety, sidewalk enhancement and public art.

Please provide feedback at our second annual open house event scheduled for Friday, December 5th at the former John Atencio Jewelry space at 1 Old Town Square in Fort Collins, from 5pm until 9pm, during the First Friday Art Walk. A feedback message board will also be available online at urbanlab.colostate.edu.  All interested community members are encouraged to attend and become involved in this important initiative.

About Urban Lab

The UniverCity Urban Lab is a catalyst organization dedicated to transforming the urban environment by convening private, public and academic partnerships to cultivate innovative change. Based in Fort Collins, the Urban Lab is a cooperative venture between Colorado State University, City of Fort Collins, Fort Collins Downtown Development Authority, professional designers, real estate developers, businesses and private citizens that was established in the summer of 2013.

Other current Urban Lab initiatives include the installation of the first ‘living wall’ in Fort Collins, scheduled for the spring of 2015, and the development of design and implementation guidelines for the Nature in the City Program, both in cooperation with the City of Fort Collins. The Urban Lab also contributes to the research agenda of Colorado State University, with a variety of funding streams from within the University to conduct research on a wide range of topics regarding the urban built environment.

Contact

To learn more about the Urban Lab and the Mason Street competition, contact:
Colin Day, Urban Lab Coordinator
Institute for the Built Environment
Colorado State University
970.491.5041
colin.day@colostate.edu

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Social Networks and Innovation

By Reanna Putnam
Sustainable Behavior Associate

Social networks can tell us a lot about how organizational structure promotes innovation. And don’t worry, this post is not about optimizing Facebook and Twitter to boost creativity. The term social network can be used to describe the relationships between any collection of two or more people, groups or organizations with common goals or interests(1).

Figure 1: Structural Holes(6)
There are different theories as to what produces innovation in social networks. One common explanation is that the presence of structural holes, defined as places of disconnection in the network, promote creativity in the individuals nearest to the structural hole(2, 3,4). Individuals who are near structural holes are more likely to have access to diverse, often contradictory, information and interpretations because they are able to draw on information from outside of their immediate connections(2). Encouraging indirect ties that bridge structural holes is a cost effective way for organizations to access diverse knowledge and contribute to innovation without adding to project expenses(5).


Another, perhaps conflicting, way to increase innovation in a network, is through strengthening relationships among members of a design team and creating a more densely connected network. This is important because it can increase performance(7,8,9), reduce conflict among team members(10), and increase in the duration of group membership(11).
Figure 2: Core Periphery Structure (12)
So how do we bridge these two contradictory concepts? One way is through promoting a core-periphery structure. A strong project team will consist of a densely connected core of key decision makers who are loosely connected to a peripheral network form which they draw ideas and information into the network. These loose connections to the periphery network allows for the network to be larger, bringing in new and diverse ideas. Because not all members of the core are connected to the periphery, innovation producing structural holes are formed.
Integrative design teams often take on this core-periphery structure. They do so by having a densely connected decision making core who are loosely connected to a diverse periphery of building users, facilities and operation staff, design specialists and construction professionals. The core-periphery structure allow for integrative design teams to come up with innovative design solutions that produce efficient buildings and increase occupant satisfaction.


(1) Anklam, P. (2007). Net work: a practical guide to creating and sustaining networks at work and in the world. Routledge.

(2) Burt, R. S. (2004). Structural holes and good ideas1. American journal of sociology, 110(2), 349-399.

(3) Walker, G., Kogut, B., & Shan, W. (1997). Social capital, structural holes and the formation of an industry network. Organization science, 8(2), 109-125.

(4) Powell, W. W., Koput, K. W., & Smith-Doerr, L. (1996). Interorganizational collaboration and the locus of innovation: Networks of learning in biotechnology. Administrative science quarterly, 116-145.

(5) Ahuja, G. (2000). Collaboration networks, structural holes, and innovation: A longitudinal study. Administrative science quarterly, 45(3), 425-455.

(6) Farral, Kenneth. (2004) Web Graph Analysis in Perspective: Description and Evaluation in terms of Krippendorff’s Conceptual Framework for Content Analysis (version 1.0). Retrieved from: http://farrall.org/papers/webgraph_as_content.html.

(7) de Montjoye, Y. A., Stopczynski, A., Shmueli, E., Pentland, A., & Lehmann, S. (2014). The strength of the strongest ties in collaborative problem solving. Scientific reports, 4.

(8) Balkundi, P., & Harrison, D. A. (2006). Ties, leaders, and time in teams: Strong inference about network structure’s effects on team viability and performance. Academy of Management Journal, 49(1), 49-68Lazega 2002

(9) Nelson, R. E. (1989). The strength of strong ties: Social networks and intergroup conflict in organizations. Academy of Management Journal, 32(2), 377-401.

(10) McPherson, J. M., Popielarz, P. A., & Drobnic, S. (1992). Social networks and organizational dynamics. American Sociological Review, 153-170.

(11) Borgatti, S. P., & Everett, M. G. (2000). Models of core/periphery structures.Social networks, 21(4), 375-395.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Research Associate Job Opening

The Institute for the Build Environment is now looking to hire a new member to our team. Please read the following job description:

Title: Research Associate I and II (depending on experience)
Employment Type: Administrative Professional
College: Health and Human Sciences
Department: The Institute for the Built Environment
Salary: Salary is commensurate with level of training and research or teaching experience.

Requirements: The Institute for the Built Environment seeks applications throughout the year from individuals who are interested in obtaining a temporary (i.e., time-limited) Research Associate position within the unit. Research Associate I Applicants applying for such a position must hold at a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree plus one year experience in an appropriate discipline, such as construction management, landscape architecture, civil engineering or another design and construction related field. Research Associate II Applicants should hold a minimum of a Master’s degree plus two years related experience in stated disciplines above. Applicants should have prior experience in the day-to-day organization of design projects, including coordination of project teams, coordination of data and research collection, and project management. Excellent oral and written communication skills and good computer skills are important requirements. Reflecting departmental and institutional values, candidates are expected to have the ability to advance the Department's commitment to diversity and inclusion. Salary is commensurate with level of training and experience.

Application Deadline: 06/30/2015

To Apply: Interested applicants should electronically submit a cover letter stating their interest  in employment, a current resume/curriculum vita, a statement of experience, and the  names and contact information for three references to the Institute for the Built Environment: joan.trussell@colostate.edu

Pool is valid through June 30, 2015, at which time applicants wishing to remain in the pool must reapply. 

Equal Opportunity Statement 
Colorado State University is committed to providing an environment that is free from discrimination and harassment based on race, age, creed, color, religion, national origin or ancestry, sex, gender, disability, veteran status, genetic information, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or pregnancy. Colorado State University is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action employer fully committed to achieving a diverse workforce and complies with all Federal and Colorado State laws, regulations, and executive orders regarding non-discrimination and affirmative action. The Office of Equal Opportunity is located in 101 Student Services. 

Colorado State University is committed to providing a safe and productive learning and living community. To achieve that goal, we conduct background investigations for all final candidates being considered for employment. Background checks may include, but are not limited to, criminal history, national sex offender search and motor vehicle history.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Food Waste Decomposition Systems

By: Cassandra Kliewer 

Sustainable Associate

Josie Plaut 

Associate Dirtector


Food Waste

In 2010, America wasted an estimated 34 million tons of food and only about 3% of that waste was diverted from landfills. Food
digesters, which turn food waste into compost and gray water, are especially well-suited for large commercial kitchens like those found in hospitals and university campuses. Instead of putting food waste into landfills, food digesters turn waste food, into new soil and reduce the burden on municipal waste water treatment facilities.  Two waste audit studies, conducted by The Institute for The Built Environment for Rocky Mountain National Park, show that between 16-30% of the park’s waste, by weight, is food waste.

Food Digesters

Food digesters can either work with or without water. Both systems use an additive to accelerate the process of decomposition. Normally, the decomposing process would take a month, but instead the additive processes the food in 24 hours. The water-based process produces compost and gray water, which is water that is similar to the waste water from sinks and showers.  In a building that is connected to a municipal waste water treatment facility, gray water is easily treatable by the municipal waste water systems.  Gray water can also be treated on site and used for things like landscape irrigation.  Conversely, the dry system is evaporation-based and food waste is mixed with a decomposing additive. Both systems provide easy and sustainable solutions to landfill waste.
Food digesting systems produce nutrient rich material that can be used as compost to fertilize soil for landscapes. Since the dry system can digest food within 24 hours, a rapid source of compost for landscaping is readily available. If the building does not need compost, the facility can reach out to the community and provide compost for landscaping purposes elsewhere. Another benefit of having a food
digester is that it reduces the amount (and cost) of waste that would normally go to a landfill. Since food waste is composted on site with a food digester, there is also a benefit to reduced transportation cost and emissions.  In addition to saving dollars and emissions, and perhaps most importantly, wasted food is kept in the nutrient cycle to rebuild soil and is kept out of landfills where it contributes to methane gas production.

The Future of Food Waste

Various government officials have noticed the impact of food waste and are taken measures against food waste.  Massachusetts has taken measures to ban food waste from big food wasters (schools, hospitals, grocery stores, etc.) in favor of more sustainable options such as composting and using waste food as animal feed.  The ban aims to reduce landfill waste and improve soil health by prohibiting businesses from throwing-away leftovers into landfills.  Vermont and Connecticut have similar legislation in place.  The future where we universally turn leftovers into soil amendment, may be just around the corner!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Power of Perception

By: Evan Hughes
Sustainable Building Associate

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s something we’re taught at an early age that reminds us to keep an open mind and try new things. It may be a trite phrase, but it’s still a valuable piece of advice.

Having said that, it can be difficult to avoid forming judgments based on a quick first impression. It’s why you refuse to try the weird appetizer your friend recommended (it’s actually delicious).  Or why you might assume that the guy in the coffee shop wearing a scarf in July is insufferable and pretentious (he’s actually really down to earth). Or why you might assume that the pretty girl in your marketing class is out of your league (she totally is, I’m sorry.) Research conducted in the United States and Africa has shown that similar negative assumptions can influence the materials people choose when building a new home. One such material is rammed earth, an earth-building technique that involves compressing a mixture of soil, lime, and other additives between large wooden molds to form monolithic walls. A survey distributed to construction professionals in Kansas found that, while the appearance and environmentally friendly nature of rammed earth was perceived positively, its adoption had been limited by the assumption that it was antiquated and structurally unsafe.

Courtesy of greenupgrader.com

In Africa, similar surveys have revealed an association between earthen homes, low social standing, and poverty. The same surveys also show that people associate modern materials like concrete and steel with wealth and high performance. These associations create a vicious cycle where only the poor build with earth. Many of these people have no training in earth building and no background in engineering, so their homes may be more susceptible to erosion or structural failure. When these problems inevitably arise, it simply fuels the preexisting bias against earth, and the cycle continues.

Overcoming these negative assumptions takes time. It also requires that people, particularly contractors and material suppliers, work to understand the advantages and disadvantages of non-conventional materials. Knowing when, where, and how to implement environmentally friendly materials and methods can help increase the public’s awareness of their economic and environmental benefits, particularly in the residential construction market. Effective marketing is also critical to increasing awareness and market penetration of non-conventional materials. Tell a client that they should build with a certain material because it’s “the right thing to do,” and you may end up in a debate and possibly a fist fight, depending on where you are. Tell a client that they should build with the same material because it will save them money, lower their energy bills, and will make their home a more pleasant place to live, work, or raise children, and their response will probably be less combative and more inquisitive. It’s easy to label another person’s opinion as stupid or inconsequential. It’s more difficult to argue with the financial and material savings that sustainable materials have to offer.
Courtesy of bee-inc.com
No one material is perfect for all climates and agreeable to all tastes. But by increasing awareness of alternatives to concrete, timber, fired brick, and steel, contractors can go a long way toward reducing the environmental and ecological impact of the construction industry. By doing research of their own, the public can better understand the advantages and disadvantages of non-conventional materials and make informed decisions based on hard data, rather than assumptions and first impressions.


References
Kraus, C. (2012). On perceptions of rammed earth. Rammed Earth Conservation, 157-162

Zami, M. S., & Lee, A. (2011). Inhibitors of Adopting Stabilised Earth Construction to Address Urban Low Cost Housing Crisis: An understanding by construction professionals. Journal of Building Appraisal, 6(3), 227-240.

Gooding, D. E., & Thomas, T. H. (1995). The potential of cement-stabilised building blocks as an urban building material in developing countries. ODA report, School of Engineering. UK: University of Warwick.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Using Biomimicry in Sustainable Design


By: Cassandra Kliewer
Sustainable Associate

Nature is the best learning tool. After generations and generations of improvement, nature has perfected itself to work best with its environment. Taking a closer look at an organism and the way it operates can inspire design. Janine Benyus, a biologist in the biomimicry world spoke about the innovative technologies inspired by nature: “learning about the natural world is one thing, learning from the natural world, that’s the switch.”

Biomimicry is designing technologies based upon natures’ sustainable strategies. When biomimicry is applied to design, efficiencies in energy, materials, and space are conserved. The people inventing these efficient designs range from professionals in the field, to students aiming to improve technology. In an effort to engage youth in the biomimicry community, Biomimicry 3.8 has created a competition for the best design inspired by nature.

Youth around the world have entered the challenge to design efficient technologies. The concepts in the challenge were inspired by their region-specific issues and applied natures’ efficiencies to create new technologies. Students from McGill University of Montreal, Canada addressed the problems related to cargo ships transporting organisms by inventing an air ballast system. Since cargo ships transport a lot of weight ballasting water was created to help a cargo boat stay afloat. Water is added when there is no cargo, and when there is cargo the water is released. The transfer of water to different bodies of water introduces non-region specific species. If the species is introduced to a region where it would thrive, it would become invasive and thus disrupt the ecosystem. The team from McGill proposed to replace the water with air. Filling the ballast tanks with air when the ship has cargo, and emptying the tanks when the ship is empty will replace the need for water. This design was inspired by the cuttlefishes’ ability to control buoyancy. Another team in Yucatan, Mexico designed a stable form of transportation. The alternative before this design was working tricycles which were unstable and inefficient. After study snakes movements, the team designed a quadricycle that operates via hand steering movements. At the Institute for the Built Environment (IBE) we strive to create efficiencies in construction to preserve the beauty of this planet. By using the U.S. Green Building Council rating system, IBE applies biomimicry technologies to construction projects. With construction comes options for implementation of new technologies. Everywhere you look in nature you can see efficiencies that have been improved over generations and generations. Some of the greatest inventions have been inspired by nature.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Green Globes: To Use or Not To Use?

By: April Brown & Helene Gotthelf
Project Managers

Ever since the General Services Administration announced their support of Green Globes in 2013, we’ve been eager to learn more about the rating system and test it out. We began brushing up on the Green Globes certification, watched a handful of webinars that became available, and even became Green Globes Professionals. From a high level view, Green Globes seemed to take everything that is cumbersome about LEED and toss it out the window.

Amidst the hype and excitement about an alternative to LEED though, we couldn’t ignore some of the critique that we had learned about Green Globes and the Green Building Initiative (GBI). This made us wonder – should the opportunity present itself, would we use and promote Green Globes?


In order to make a more objective decision, we researched the pros, cons, and costs of certifying a hypothetical building using Green Globes for New Construction - a 20,000 square foot addition to an existing art museum on a university campus.


Advantages
Undoubtedly, there are several benefits of using Green Globes:  
  • The web-based tool includes an initial project evaluation which calculates your projected Green Globes score and provides instant feedback on your building. The online portal also tracks the status of the assessment process.
  • Green Globes includes a third-party site visit, which means that Green Globes Assessors can visually inspect the building and cut down on the amount of documentation you have to provide, which can save a lot of time for the project team. Additionally, the assessor is also available to answer questions about the assessment process, criteria, and documentation. 
  • Partial credit is allowed, recognizing varying levels of achievement.
  • Teams can choose credits that are “not applicable” to allow for project-specific and regionally-based conditions.
  • Green Globes incorporates ANSI-based Life Cycle Assessment
  • There are no precluding rules about certifying additions, as compared to one of the LEED Minimum Program Requirements that defines most additions as ineligible or requires very specific conditions for the addition to be eligible for certification. 
  • Hands-on and accessible customer service - according to correspondence with GBI staff, projects are assigned a project manager that will help answer any questions that may arise about the certification process from the moment that you begin.
Disadvantages
There are also several disadvantages that play an integral role in the decision-making process:
  • There is no building performance data available to verify the correlation between Green Globes and a high performance structure.
  • There is a negative perception of GBI due to the type of corporations represented on their board of directors, mainly the timber and chemical industries. Many of the same organizations that support GBI have a long track record of fighting against environmental regulations.
  • Green Globes does not have any prerequisites. While this allows for flexibility in which criteria project teams choose to pursue, this may also allow project teams to exclude certain strategies that are imperative for high performance buildings, such as commissioning.
  •  BuildingGreen, an independent publishing company, has found that Green Globes is less technically rigorous than LEED. As a result, we question whether Green Globes will encourage the green building movement to continue to push the building and construction industry toward higher standards. 
  •  There is less marketing and public relations potential. While Green Globes has received an increase in publicity over the past couple years, LEED is still the dominant green building rating system in the U.S.. With significantly less buildings pursuing Green Globes, we are unsure whether the certification will carry the same weight in the public eye as LEED.
Costs
According to GBI’s New Construction pricing list, the registration and certification fees will range from $10,500-$17,200. This does not include the price of certificates or plaques. The fine print for the Complexity Fee states that it is applicable for non-Energy Star building types and other multi-use/complex buildings that depart substantially from a standard office building. If applicable, GBI will notify customer of fee amount and whether the fee is optional or mandatory in advance of scheduling/performing services. GBI determines applicability in its sole discretion.
Due to a streamlined certification process, one would assume a cost and time savings for those gathering and submitting documentation. However, without having gone through the process ourselves, it will be hard to confirm whether this is true. Even if the consultant fees are reduced, the registration and certification fees are still much higher than LEED; therefore, the cost of certifying this hypothetical project (when compared to a LEED project of the same size and type) may end up as a wash for the owner.


Conclusion
After considering the advantages and disadvantages, we’ve decided that we cannot draw an objective conclusion about whether or not to use and promote Green Globes without gaining first-hand knowledge of administering the rating system ourselves. That said, we are intrigued enough to pursue a Green Globes project in order to make a well-informed conclusion on the credibility, rigor, and usability of this rating system. Until then, the question remains: to use or not to use Green Globes? What would you do?

References
Green Building Initiative (2014). Retrieved July 10, 2014, from http://www.thegbi.org/
BuildingGreen. 2014. Green Globes vs. LEED Analysis [Webinar]. Retrieved from http://www2.buildinggreen.com/article/buildinggreen-present-green-globes-vs-leed-analysis
Green Building Initiative. (2014). Green Globes Professional Training Manual.
General Services Administration (2014). Green Building Certification System Review. Retrieved July 9, 2014, from www.gsa.gov/gbcertificationreview





Wednesday, July 16, 2014

No Difference in Occupant Satisfaction and LEED? Not so fast!

Associate Director

The Center for the Built Environment (CBE) at UC Berkley recently released a study in May 2014 suggesting that there is no difference in occupant satisfaction for LEED and non-LEED buildings.  Unfortunately, results like these can be easily taken at face value and are often misinterpreted by general audiences. 
Upon further investigation and consideration of the study, there are a couple of important questions that should be raised about the construct, and ultimately the results, of the study. 
Of the 15 IEQ parameters that the study assessed, only three are substantively addressed in the 2009 LEED for New Construction and Commercial Interiors credits: amount of light, air quality, and temperature.  The additional parameters center on cleanliness, maintenance, spatial design, and aesthetic, among others.
Light, air quality, and temperature are primarily addressed as credits in LEED, and not as prerequisites.  The CBE study does not indicate if the credits related to these attributes were achieved in the buildings evaluated in the study.  The study also included some buildings certified under the Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance rating system, which would include some additional parameters (e.g. building maintenance, workspace cleanliness), but even these attributes are a bit of a stretch. 
Of the three areas that could arguably be addressed by LEED, responses were somewhat unfavorable related to amount of light in LEED buildings (likely related to energy conservation efforts), favorable for air quality (potentially due to ventilation and healthy materials credits that are included in LEED), and mostly neutral on temperature (which makes sense because thermal comfort is a key focus for any mechanical engineer who wants to cover his/her back on callbacks from unhappy owners). 

So the first question is, “Is LEED even designed to affect occupant satisfaction?” I would argue that it is not.  LEED is primarily designed to 1) increase energy and water efficiency, 2) to encourage responsible site selection and development, 3) reduce impacts related to materials and 4) to create healthier buildings for occupants.  Healthier is not the same as satisfied, as the two often include different factors, design solutions, and metrics for success. 
A second point about methodology is that the researchers were primarily comparing Class A offices and institutional buildings to other Class A offices and institutional buildings.  One would argue that Class A design, is, well, Class A design.  That means that the starting point is already a pretty nice building, with decent designers and good mechanical systems.  Our experience on over 50 LEED projects would suggest that the pursuit of LEED generally doesn’t have much effect on decisions around furnishings, finishes, office layouts, etc. These types of design decisions are often dictated by programming and budget, and to a much lesser extent by LEED. 
At the end of the day, I’m more concerned that the headlines and blog posts on this study will give people the wrong idea.  LEED really isn’t designed to affect the 15 IEQ factors that were measured in the CBE study.  LEED is, however, a great tool for adding focus and accountability for project teams to track and meet a whole host of relevant green building strategies.  Good design should not start with LEED; but through good design, prestigious certifications – and more importantly highly effective buildings - naturally follow.

A complete copy of the article published in Building and Environment can be found here

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Urban Lab and a Living Wall

By: Colin Day
Sustainable Building Associate

In 2014, the City of Fort Collins launched and initiative called “Nature in the City” with the goal of ensuring every citizen has access to nature close to where they live and work. The focus of the project is to determine how the built environment contributes to how nature is perceived within the City. One of the deliverables of the project is a set of design guidelines that will support the successful implementation of various techniques that enhance access to nature in urban environments. While most of these approaches are well understood and tested, some have not been attempted in the arid West. One such approach is a living wall.

The Nature in the City initiative has contracted the Urban Lab to coordinate the design and installation of the first living wall in the Rocky Mountain region. The project will be a high profile case study on the feasibility and creation of green walls in arid climates. The wall will be designed to demonstrate what plants work best in a vertical setting and how habitat can be enhanced on site through use of green wall systems. Beyond these immediate project goals, the potential to better understand the variety of benefits that green walls are known to deliver will be the subject of ongoing research and observation.

Green walls are well documented for providing a w
ide variety of benefits: they improve both indoor and outdoor air quality, they provide buildings with insulation from heat and cold while protecting the building envelope from water and sunlight. They help to lower summer temperatures in cities by reducing the urban heat island effect. The vegetation green walls add to the urban environment provides habitat for urban species. Social psychologists have shown that by viewing and interacting with vegetation, stress and mental fatigue decrease as feelings of neighborhood security and overall health increases.

The confirmed site for the Nature in the City and Urban Lab’s living wall is at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery. Students from the Colorado State University Dept. of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture have worked with the City of Fort Collins and The Institute for the Built Environment to produce compositional and planting designs for panels that will established in the CSU greenhouses. The Urban Lab has connected the CSU USGBC student chapter with the project. This student group will install the panels on site, thereby furthering the project’s educational impact. The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery was selected as the ideal site to locate the project for a variety of reasons. Because of the existing public-private partnership between the City and the Museum, maintenance issues will be streamlined through the City Parks Dept., the project proximity to the Mason Corridor aligns with the Urban Lab’s mission to enhance smart development between the University and Downtown Fort Collins on this mixed-use corridor, and the well established reputation of the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery as a venue for educational displays that are equally accessible to children and adults. The living wall will serve as an exhibit at the Museum, and will be sited adjacent to the new endowment garden, to be designed by local firm Earthborn Landscape Design. The location will have high visibility and public access, while the plant selection will include species that support pollinators, have a variety of seasonal interest and are tactile and aromatic.

If successful, the first living wall in the region will contribute to a better understanding of the feasibility of using these types of systems in our urban environments. The benefits that are connected with living walls are well worth exploring as a part of a suite of techniques that increase biodiversity, resource savings and overall well-being in cities. With any luck, you might see more vertical greenery in your city in the coming years.


Monday, June 30, 2014

The Benefits of Building Small


By: Evan  Hughes
Sustainable Building Associate

Americans like big stuff.  We have the biggest companies, the biggest cars, and, it turns out, the biggest houses.  According to a study of 18 countries conducted by Shrink That Footprint, an independent carbon-footprint research group, the United States was second only to Australia in average new home size and average floor space per person.  Home ownership, however, has become increasingly difficult in the post-recession economy.  This is especially true for recent college graduates, who may be saddled with debt or can’t afford a down payment.  For a prospective homeowner, or for anyone who wants to build their own home, small houses (under 1,000 square feet) present a number of advantages.

Small houses are cheaper

Images Courtesy of smallhousebliss.com
Small houses require less material and time to build, and allow more money for higher quality interior finishes.  Small houses also require less energy to heat and cool, making them cheaper to own and occupy.  In extreme cases, money can also be saved when applying for a building permit.  For instance, in Chatham County, North Carolina, if the walls of a structure are no longer than 12’ on any side, a building permit isn't required at all. 

Images Courtesy of smallhousebliss.com

Small houses are better for the environment

Many of these cost savings directly benefit the environment.  Building a small house uses less lumber and energy-intensive materials like concrete and brick.  Building small often means that more money can be spent on energy-efficient doors, windows, and HVAC equipment.  These features, combined with a smaller footprint, mean that small houses consume substantially less electricity than conventional homes, thereby reducing their contribution to the air and water pollution created by the coal-fired power plants.  Small houses also serve as a good platform for solar photo-voltaic systems, and can often use solar power and solar-hot-water systems for most, if not all, of their power requirements.

Small houses are easier to build

A first-time owner-builder or general contractor can get easily overwhelmed by the complexity of a residential construction project.  While building a house is rarely an easy, painless process, a small house is a much easier project to tackle than a conventional 2,000-4,000 ft.² suburban home.  Small houses don’t typically feature complicated mechanical systems, plumbing arrangements, or electrical wiring, and small house construction does not typically call for large structural beams and columns that require heavy equipment to put in place. 
Images Courtesy of smallhousebliss.com

Houses are a lot like cars.  Both serve basic needs.  Both are often seen as extensions of their owners.  Whether buying a car or a house, many consumers believe bigger is better.  However, just as a smaller car can be an equally fulfilling and eminently more practical choice for most car buyers, a small house (under 1000 ft.²) uses less energy, requires less material to build, and, if a bit of creativity is exercised during the design phase, can be just as practical and beautiful as a house twice its size.  In short, by reducing the size of their house, an owner-builder reduces the complexity, the expense, and the environmental impact of their project.