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.

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.
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.
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.

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?

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.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

STARS: CSU Tops National Sustainability Rating System

By: Brian Dunbar

Colorado State University has obtained a Gold rating and the highest score ever achieved in STARS, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System.  STARS, considered the most comprehensive and respected assessment system for colleges and universities, is administered by AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education).

To date, more than 300 higher education institutions worldwide have participated in STARS.  STARS measures a wide range of campus practices, measures, and actions including facilities and grounds, scholarly research, education programs, and operating policies.  CSU has participated in STARS since the pilot phase and was also the No. 1 university in 2011, when the original version 1.0 submission was reported.  The CSU STARS reporting process is organized by the President’s Sustainability Committee and is jointly compiled by a team of researchers.

CSU scores high in research (over 75% of departments are involved in sustainability-related research), alternative transportation (over 50% of students use a bike as their primary means to campus), waste diversion, sustainability education programs, water conservation, LEED certified new and existing buildings, and energy efficiency.  Every college and many special programs has notable accomplishments and activities that contribute to the STARS reporting.

The Institute for the Built Environment has significantly contributed to CSU’s STARS ranking through years of engaging students, faculty, and staff in sustainable design education, research, and service-learning projects that benefit our campus, Colorado communities, and the design and construction industries.

For further information on STARS and the CSU report, visit www.green.colostate.edu

Friday, March 28, 2014

Integrated Sustainability Management: Frequently Asked Questions

You've been asking for it and now it’s here for you. We are excited to announce that our new certificate program, the Integrated Sustainability Management Badge and Certificate program is open for registration. This program was developed based on insight, direction, and feedback from industry professionals about what it takes to be a sustainability professional today. Sustainability and corporate responsibility requires an integrated approach; therefore this program takes leading research and practice from the disciplines of sociology, business, building science, psychology, organizational leadership, and engineering to prepare students to implement change across an organization. This program is founded in the philosophy that in order to integrate positive change within an organization, four key sectors must be aligned – people, resources, facilities, and organization.  The People badge will teach students about messaging, getting good data and knowing how to use it, and designing effective behavior change campaigns. The Resources badge will walk you through supply chain management and processes, getting started with resource use analysis, tracking, and bench marking, and prioritizing conservation campaigns from start to finish. The facilities badge will teach about green building concepts and strategies that can be applied to your office buildings and/or real estate portfolio, help you to identify low- to no-cost improvements immediately, and understand potential financing options for capital investment projects. Finally, the Organization badge teaches students about how to interact with leadership and engage employees, and students will understand how to develop reports and be effective storytellers.

Whether you are an aspiring sustainability professional or currently employed to analyze, manage and/or direct your organizations’ sustainability initiatives, this certificate program will equip you with the knowledge and skills necessary to implement integrated, positive change.  Successful completion of all four badges earns the Integrated Sustainability Management Certificate.  This summer we will offer live, in-class sessions for each badge in Fort Collins, Colorado:

101: Foundations & Principles of Integrated Sustainability Management | Online Webinar
204: Optimizing the Built Environment | Thursday, May 29 & June 19
201: Organizational Strategy & Alignment | Friday, May 30 & June 20
202: People & Behavior Change | Thursday July 24 & August 14
  • Jeni Cross, Associate Professor of Sociology, CSU
203: Natural Resource Management | Friday July 25 & August 15
Each badge is taught by leading content experts and will include classroom lecture, interactive activities, independent take-home exercises, and application of concepts.

Additionally, the Foundations & Principles of Integrated Sustainability Management course is FREE!

Still have questions?  Hopefully they are answered for you below. And if not, feel free to contact the Program Manager, April Brown.

Frequently Asked Questions
      1. What are badges?
Badges are awarded to students taking courses within a badged curriculum. They are issued based on performance in courses, and represent practical competencies and a level of mastery in a subject. Curricular badges are elements of a larger program, such as the Integrated Sustainability Management Certificate program. Students are able to tailor badge programs to their needs, taking individual badges, bundling badges, or completing an entire program comprised of several badges.
2.  How do I pay for the badges and/or certificate program?
Once you register for the badges, you will be provided with the online payment link that directs you to a secure credit card processing site.  Alternatively, in the registration form, you may choose to pay by check in which case you would disregard the link to the online payment page. To pay by check, please print your registration form before submitting it online and include your registration form with your check. Make the check payable to Institute for the Built Environment and send to:
April Brown
Institute for the Built Environment
Colorado State University
1501 Campus Delivery
Fort Collins, CO  80523-1501

3. How much does it cost?
Each badge is $750 and includes 15 hours of contact time. You will receive a $200 discount if all four badges are purchased at once, bringing the cost of the certificate down to $2,800 ($50 discount per badge).
4. What is the deadline to register for the spring and summer badges?
There is no deadline to register.
5. Can I earn continuing education credits through a professional organization that I am affiliated?
At this time the Integrated Sustainability Management badge and certificate program is not approved as a Continuing Education Provider through any member/professional organizations.  That said, you may be able to self-report the hours as self-study/research.
6. Are these classes offered online or will they be recorded?
For the courses offered in the spring and summer of 2014, the classes will be in-person at the Energy Institute. Future offerings of these courses will be offered online. Please email April Brown if you would like to be added to the email list for announcements of online offerings.
7.  How long do I have to complete all of the badges to earn the certificate?
You will have 2 years to complete each of the Integrated Sustainability Management badges to earn the certificate.
8. Is registration only through the Institute for the Built Environment? Or can I register through CSU Continuing Education Online Plus? Or CSU Registrar’s Office?
Registration for the Integrated Sustainability Management Certificate program is through the Institute for the Built Environment only.  There is a 2-step registration and online payment process.  First, you must complete our online registration form, and then you will be provided with a link to the online payment page. 
9. Can I earn academic credit through Colorado State University?
Currently, academic credit is not available for the Integrated Sustainability Management Certificate; however, we are working with the College of Business to make these courses available as electives in the MBA program in the future.
10.  Is there a CSU employee discount?  Can a CSU employee utilize their “study privilege” for these courses?
No, there is not a CSU employee discount available at this time.  Unfortunately, the study privilege for CSU employees is not available for these courses.