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 a 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 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 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 primarily designed to 1) increase energy and water efficiency, 2) to encourage responsible site selection and development, 3) reduce impacts related to materials and 3) 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 they 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. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Personal Small Step to Sustainability

By: Anderson Lewis

When someone makes a conscious decision to live more sustainably, it is easy to get discouraged by the mindset of “I’m just one person. What difference can I really make?” But when it comes to being sustainable, the Axiom “ the little things make the biggest difference” can certainly hold true.  Don’t get me wrong; I still think much has to be done before humanity can reach a state of benign or regenerative interaction with our natural environment. However, it is dangerous for us to assume that our seemingly small actions do not have a meaningful, positive impact.  For example, it is easy to equate turning the lights off when you leave the room to saving a few cents. No big deal, right?  However, when you factor in the process energy used to harvest and transport the raw material used to create your energy, the transmission losses from power lines, and all the carbon emissions associated with this overall process, it makes turning off the light seem more important. 

Having the ability to measure the positive impacts of your sustainable actions and track your progress is a great motivator to continue being more sustainable.  Knowing where you started from (your initial energy usage, water usage, etc.) gives you a baseline to compare improvements against (aka benchmarking).  This allows you to see if your changes (actions, energy retrofits, etc.) are indeed positive and can help guide your decisions on where to focus future actions to make the largest impacts.  Lastly, associating your sustainable accomplishments (energy saving, water savings, etc.) with an easily comprehensible reference can make them more palpable and rewarding.  For example, it is hard to know if saving 1 kWh is good or not, but when you consider that 1 kWh could power a T8 fluorescent lamp for 31 hours and 15 minutes, it gives greater context to your accomplishments. 

At IBE, we have been diligent about tracking information from the projects we have worked on.  This historic data is helpful to us in multiple ways.   First, it allows us to compare and contrast different project types and their performance and to monitor how the sustainability of our projects has progressed over the years. This helps us know that we are on the right track to higher levels of sustainability. Second, this historic data acts as a marketing tool for the IBE, allowing for us to more easily convey the benefits of our services to clients and more accurately predict what type of performance and savings our clients should expect. Lastly, when this historical data is put in easily understandable terms or comparisons, it can really act as a motivator for IBE staff/project stakeholders and affirm the fact we are making a meaningful positive impact.  For example, in total, projects that the IBE has been involved on have diverted over 15,000 tons of waste material from the landfill (the equivalent weight of 60 statue of liberties).  These materials were recycled and reused in various ways and reduced the amount of raw materials that would have been harvested to meet the needs that this recycled material filled. In addition, the aggregate of IBE projects on average save approximately 95 million gallons of water a year (enough to fill 143 Olympic sized swimming pools (assuming a 2 m depth).

If these aforementioned accomplishments seem large, well, it’s because they are! And this is before considering the added energy/carbon savings that come from not having to harvest, transport raw materials to produce new materials or to treat and transport the water saved.  At IBE we are proud of our accomplishments but recognize that there is still so more to be done.  We will not rest on our laurels and encourage you to do the same. 

In the global scheme of things the changes we have helped instate might be small but they are far from insignificant. If everyone were to view their own actions in this way then all these small actions will add up to one big change.  







Tuesday, February 25, 2014

An Alternative to LEED: Green Globes

By: Allison Smith

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating systems have brought objective standards to the understanding of sustainable and regenerative design projects. But as the leading rating system in the US market, it’s easy to forget that LEED isn’t the only tool to create effective sustainable and regenerative designs, and “going for LEED” isn’t the only way to be “green”. Green Globes is increasingly in the news lately with support from the Government Services Association (GSA) and the change in Green Globes’ leadership: Jerry Yudelson.

Green Globes is an evolution of the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) the international leader in sustainable building certification and the standard for all new UK non-residential buildings. Green Globes was established in 2004 and is administered by the Green Building Initiative (GBI) in the U.S. and Building Owners & Managers Association (BOMA) in Canada.

Complaints of the LEED rating system range from cost to bureaucratic headaches to lack of flexibility to frustrations with LEED online, their online documentation and submittal submission format. Any LEED practitioner will admit the certification program is far from perfect, but still laud the system for promoting sustainable building and encouraging a whole systems approach to design. The US Federal Government, as well as many state and local governments, require sustainable building certification and since most people are only familiar with LEED they believe that is the only option. On the contrary, the GSA recommends either LEED or Green Globes for federal projects based on a recent research project studying the robustness of both rating systems. Many states and local governments allow other sustainable building certifications than LEED, however confirm the requirements of the presiding legislation.

Advantages to the Green Globes rating system are that there are no prerequisites, partial credit is allowed, there is flexibility for non-applicable criteria, it incorporates an ANSI-Accredited Standards Developing Organization (ANSI-GBI)Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA), and certification hinges on a third-party on-site assessment. A Green Globes project is assessed on a 1000-point scale, however, since some credits can be marked “non-applicable,” projects typically are assessed on fewer points. The program has four certification levels, similar to LEED, but is based on the percentage of points granted as opposed to points available. Furthermore, when evaluating a project’s energy performance, Green Globes uses regional performance data as the benchmark, rather than LEED’s use of a hypothetical building model.
           
Perhaps most exciting is the inclusion of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) process, an assessment that LEED lacks. LCA’s are a research-based evaluation of cradle-to-grave resource use and environmental impacts of materials, systems, and buildings.  Green Globes allows a prescriptive or performance path option for meeting this requirement. The prescriptive path is based on Environmental Product Declarations, third-party certifications, and upon ISO 14040 and 14044 Standards.  To meet the performance path, design teams use Athena Impact Estimator for Buildings software to compare alternate design scenarios. LCA’s are a foundation for sustainable building, yet this assessment remains excluded from LEED v4.

Criticism of Green Globes range from a perception of not being rigorous enough, a perception of Forest Certification bias, industry representation on the GBI board, and no required minimum performance. Furthermore, Green Globes certification criteria is not as transparent as LEED’s criteria.

A quick count of sustainable rating systems in the US returns a list of six alternates to LEED. When starting your next project, evaluate Green Globes and the other applicable sustainable buildings systems to select the one that best aligns with the projects’ goals and principles. LEED has its place in sustainable building certification systems, however keep in mind that it’s not the only option.


Now through April 15, GBI is offering “Green Globes Professional Training”, an online self-paced course for free. Completion of the course can count towards American Institute of Architects (AIA) Continuing Education Units (CEUs). Though Green Globes does not offer professional accreditation, this is an opportunity to learn more about Green Globes certification.


Bibliography and citations:

Kibert, C. J. Switching from LEED to Green Globes: A User’s Perspective (PDF).  Green Building Initiative. Retrieved February 7, 2014 from http://www.thegbi.org/assets/pdfs/Switching-from-LEED.pdf
Green Building Initiative. Retrieved February 7, 2014 from http://www.thegbi.org/
LEED User. Retrieved February 7, 2014 from http://www.leeduser.com/


Photo credit:
Life Cycle Assessment: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_Cycle_Assessment
Green Globes icon: http://www.thegbi.org/