Did you know? Buildings can make us happier and more productive

Did you know that we spend nearly three quarters of our life indoors?  For most of us, nearly half of that time is spent at work.  This is astounding considering the current conditions of the workplace.  An office with poor ventilation, no daylight, bad HVAC and terrible lighting… Sound familiar?  A recent study by the World Green Building Council (WGBC) shows that over time, these conditions start to take a serious toll on both our mental and physical health.

So what do we do about it?  What are the solutions?

Healthy Buildings Are A Basic Necessity

For years we have looked at buildings as a functional necessity to house “components”, when in actuality they are critical environments which can either improve or decline our health.  I am going to dissect for you some areas where we can improve the built environment in terms of wellness and hope that you will consider incorporating some of these into your office or real estate project.  We will also explore emerging design trends for high performing buildings and look at how they can drastically improve our workplace.

Per the WGBC report, here are some areas to focus within your building to maximize worker productivity:

Indoor air quality: A comprehensive body of research suggests that better indoor air quality (low concentrations of CO2 and pollutants and high ventilation rates) can lead to productivity improvements of 8-11%.

Thermal comfort (Does your space feel hot or cold?): Research demonstrates that thermal comfort has a significant impact on workplace satisfaction and modest degrees of personal control over thermal comfort can return single digit improvements in productivity.

Lighting and views of nature: Several studies have estimated productivity gains as a result of proximity to windows, with experts now thinking that views from windows are probably the more significant factor, particularly where the view offers a connection to nature.

Noise and acoustics: Research suggests that being productive in the modern knowledge-based office is practically impossible when noise provides an unwanted distraction. This can be a major cause of dissatisfaction amongst occupants.

Interior layout: The way the interior of an office is configured (including workstation density and configuration of work space, breakout space and social space) has been found to have an impact on concentration, collaboration, confidentiality and creativity.

Active design and exercise: Health can be improved through exercise, and so active design within a building, and access to services and amenities such as gyms, bicycle storage and green space can help to encourage healthier lifestyles of building occupants. An example of active design can be standing desks, collaborative work spaces, a urban/campus environment (encouraging walkability between buildings) or even strategically locating stairs to encourage their use instead of elevators.  More info on Active Design can be found here – http://centerforactivedesign.org/guidelines/

Given these numbers, the total sum of the opportunity for improved productivity is in the 10-20% range which could prove to have large impacts to your company’s bottom line.  This is in addition to ability to gain or retain more talented employees.

Why Green Buildings are the solution:

Green buildings are designed and constructed to limit the amount of energy and natural resources used while at the same time creating the healthiest living environment possible for the occupant.  The term “green” is used because the buildings are better for the environment.  Statistics also show that in addition to these benefits, the buildings can save owners/operators of the buildings a lot of money over the duration of the facility.

Green Buildings Can Reduce

Green Buildings allow for balance within your building.  You can evaluate all of the critical impact areas of your facility:  Site, Energy, Water, Materials and Comfort – And choose what works best for you.  Green Building rating systems such as LEED® can provide you with a road map to create an ideal work environment for you and your business. To learn more about LEED® and the green building rating system, please visit www.usgbc.org.

Emerging design trends are increasingly focused on occupant wellness and healthier environments.  The Living Building Challenge and the WELL Building Institute are definitely worth looking into if you are planning a new project.   Their philosophies push the limits past conventional design and force us to be creative in our approach to our buildings and how we interact with them.  Philosophies such as Biophilia (that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems) are now being used to design spaces and Green Buildings are being built to regenerate instead of degenerate our resources.  The hope is that one day all buildings are healthy, interactive, creative, generative and accessible to all people.

Twelve West Office - Portland, OR

Twelve West Office – Portland, OR

Let’s talk ROI:

What is the most expensive “component” within your business?  Is it energy?  Is it the building? Actually, it is the people!  Your employees… Salaries, Healthcare, Benefits… Cost of personnel is 90% of running a business. That means the cost of the building is only 10% of the cost of operating a business but it has the largest opportunity to make a positive impact on the personnel.  It’s time we begin investing more into the comfortability of the workplace and making it healthier for our employees.  Studies prove that the healthier and more comfortable that our employees are, the happier and more productive they become.  This means retaining and growing talented people and creating a work environment which helps them instead of hurts them.

Operational Cost Breakdown

Findings of the WGBC report conclude:

Costs of ill-health vary by sector and country, and are rarely comparable, but the impact is clear:

  • The annual absenteeism rate in the US is 3% per employee in the private sector, and 4% in the public sector, costing employers $2,074 and $2,502 per employee per year respectively.
  • Poor mental health specifically costs UK employers £30 billion a year through lost production, recruitment and absence.
  • The aggregate cost to business of ill-health and absenteeism in Australia is estimated at $7 billion per year, while the cost of ‘presenteeism’ (not fully functioning at work because of medical conditions) is estimated to be $26 billion.

How to start… Conduct a workplace survey:

I challenge you to start by creating a simple workplace survey of your employees and get feedback.  The survey will allow you to measure what is working well at your business in terms of the building, comfort, workplace habits, expectations and happiness.  This survey should be confidential and will serve as a baseline.  From here you will be able to target areas that seem to be the largest potential impact for your business and start to slowly make improvements.  Like any system or process improvement, you must track the impact, report back to the group and continue to monitor these improvements until you receive the desired outcomes.  It may be a good exercise for your leadership to reexamine your company philosophy and goals around employee happiness and productivity.

Areas of focus for the survey may include:

  • General information about the employee (age, sex, department, distance from work)
  • Impressions of the building/company in general
  • The role of sustainability
  • Building fabric and systems
  • Office Design/Layout
  • Location/Amenities
  • The workplace and me
  • Employee engagement
  • Move-in questions after occupancy

For more resources, please visit:

World Green Building Council – www.worldgbc.org

Whole Building Design Guide – www.wbdg.org

International Well Building Institute – www.wellcertified.com

Living Building Challenge – www.living-future.org/lbc

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GreenBuild 2013 – Tips for your Philly visit!

This year I will be attending my third GreenBuild Conference & Expo.  With the previous two experiences I have learned a couple of tips & tricks which may make your trip even more memorable!

1.) Schedule some time before or after the conference to take in the local scenery – My last trip to Chicago unfortunately I missed out on this and still regret it to this day.  Philadelphia is full of art, culture and exciting venues to check out – I highly recommend any of the following activities during your visit:

Eagles-Go-Green1

2.) Take advantage of the exclusive tours made available to you through the conference – Yes they may have a fee associated with them but they may be exclusive, once in a lifetime tours that shouldn’t be passed up http://dvgbc.org/greenbuild/2013Tours

Take a half day tour of Philadelphia’s Navy Yard and learn how they are reinventing their campus into a sustainable model for the 21st century

3.) Take the train – There is nothing cooler than the train.  Free wifi, a comfortable seat, great views, food and beverages… Not to mention, it’s about the most sustainable way to travel.  Also, pricing is very reasonable when you compare against driving/parking and flying.  http://www.amtrak.com/home

4.) Enter to win the prizes – At my first GreenBuild Conference I won a TV, the second I won an iPad… Enough Said!  The conference offers a fun scavenger hunt called “Passport to prizes” which I encourage you to try and many of the vendors have great giveaways.  It’s fun, it’s a conference, it’s about the free swag… Enjoy it.

5.) Find a cause – GreenBuild isn’t all about shameless promotion of the vendors.  MANY non-profits and small organizations will be in attendance sharing their mission and their vision and looking for support.  Here is a list of “Partners” who are involved in this years conference http://www.dvgbc.org/our-partners.  Do yourself a favor – Find a cause that resonates with you and get involved.  When you return home, feel free to find your local chapter and volunteer your time or money to helping the cause.

6.) Treat yourself to at least one good meal – If you are in seminars or on your feet on the expo floor all day, the chances are you don’t get to eat very well during the day.  Take the time to research the local scene and find a good restaurant.  Treat yourself to one good meal when your there and make sure to invite some friend you have met at the conference.  Book in advance!  Here are some good spots around the convention center: http://www.urbanspoon.com/ps/21/9019/philadelphia-pennsylvania-convention-center-nearby-restaurants

All in all, I hope that you have a fantastic conference and it leaves you motivated to take what you have learned and your new found connections back with you to propel the movement of sustainability.

Here are some quick stats about this years conference:

Greenbuild-at-a-Glance

Green Apple Day Of Service

Image

Mark Kurowski (K&W Engineers) and I taking part in the Green Apple Day Of Service

What is the Green Apple Day Of Service?

USGBC and The Center For Green Schools created this annual event to engage people around the world and give them an opportunity to give back to their community.  The goal is to educate children/students about sustainability in their very own backyard.  They have a fantastic website (www.mygreenapple.org) which has tracked, organized and reported on the thousands of service projects that have been going on around the world on September 29, 2012.

Who was involved?

Our local Green Apple Service event was coordinated by The Emerging Professionals Committee of USGBC Central Pennsylvania.  In just a couple of weeks, Sarah Knehr and Justin Kovaleski were able to secure over $1500 in donations for trees/mulch/tools and round up 30+ volunteers to help.  People of all backgrounds came out to chip in… Professional engineers, occupational therapists, construction workers, parents, children and college students.  It was great to see such a positive response to the event and really inspired me to do more projects like this on an ongoing basis.  Penn State Harrisburg and their newly founded USGBC Student Group was there with numerous volunteers.  Penn State Harrisburg also visited with Middletown Area Middle School students this week to teach them about green buildings and the environment.

Penn State Harrisburg USGBC Student Group

What did we accomplish?

We accomplished many things today…  We connected people… We improved City Island by planting 15 trees… We supported a struggling city in need (Harrisburg)… We educated students about giving back… and most of all We Had FUN!  People really do enjoy rolling their sleeves up once in a while and getting dirty.  It was great to see so many smiling faces and people really looking to help each other with this project.  I even got to see a mom teach her two middle school age children how to plant a tree… quite remarkable!

How can you get involved and support future projects like this one?

Become a volunteer with your local chapter of the US Green Building Council… Our website in Central Pennsylvania is www.usgbc-centralpa.org.  Our chapter covers 37 counties throughout Central Pa and includes large areas such as State College, Lancaster, Berks, York, Harrisburg, Carlisle and Chambersburg.  We have many great committees doing good work and fun interactive events on a monthly basis.  Check here for upcoming events!

Donate now… Non-profits like USGBC Central Pa need financial resources in order to continue to provide community service projects, educational programs and to advocate for sustainability to local and state government.  Please consider donating today to ensure this organization can continue to support sustainability in your community for years to come.

Higher Education: Truly Embracing Sustainability

Higher Education is perhaps the field which has embraced the realm of sustainability to the fullest.  Colleges/Universities have implemented curriculum, green building policies/procedures, research projects, marketing efforts, recycling programs, and campus wide sustainability efforts.  This seems to have occurred both from the students (grassroots) and from the leadership supporting the efforts resulting in massive culture change.  Higher Education is very competitive and they have found that ‘being green’ can make their campus & school more attractive to the next generation (which is all about the environment and smarter decisions).

Two years ago, The Princeton Review + USGBC teamed up to provide the guide to green colleges and universities.  You can download the latest publication here for free: http://www.princetonreview.com/green_guide_download.aspx

There is a ton of great information on each of the schools and what they have done on their campuses to become more environmentally responsible.  I personally found it pretty cool to find out that my alma mater, Catholic University (Washington, DC) was on the list.

Also an emerging trend on campuses, USGBC Student Groups are popping up all over the country!

Here is a map of the current sanctioned USGBC Student Groups (78 of them to be exact): http://centerforgreenschools.org/main-nav/higher-edu/community/usgbcstudents/findagroup.aspx

This is pretty remarkable for a program that is fairly new (two years old)… The student groups are focusing on campus sustainability initiatives, LEED AP/GA prep courses, local green building tours, research projects, engaging local leaders in green building and more.

Locally here in Central Pennsylvania, we have two official student groups: Penn State & Penn College of Technology

Three other schools have shown interest in the program and are starting the affliation process:  Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC), Messiah College and Dickinson College…

Pennsylvania Higher Ed Student Roundtable:

On March 15, 2012 at GreenCon we will be holding a USGBC Student Group Roundtable discussion to share information and resources… we hope you can join us!

More Information:

If you are interested in starting a group at your college/university, here’s how to get started: http://centerforgreenschools.org/usgbcstudentsstart.aspx

If interested, here is a sustainable design competition for those that are either students or young professionals: http://dvgbc.org/sustainable-design-competition

Feel free to share your campus initiatives and green efforts here!

Zero Energy Buildings: Myth Or Must?

As the immediate needs for more environmentally friendly and energy efficient buildings become more and more apparent, a logical question begins to come into focus: Where does it end?

Many in the design and construction community believe the answer is Zero Energy Buildings.  Zero Energy is a term used to describe a building that consumes as much energy as it generates in a given year or net zero.  Conversely, carbon emissions, which are directly related to the energy consumed, are zero. This is not to be confused with the notion that the building consumes zero energy all together.  This would be nearly impossible given all of the HVAC, Lighting, and Life Safety System demands that are needed to operate a building, especially a commercial one.  The key is to reduce the amount of energy consumed to the lowest possible amount and then create that amount of energy on-site by renewable means.

Here is a DOE’s database of Zero Energy Buildings in the US Today: http://zeb.buildinggreen.com/

Science House (Minnesota) is a Net Zero Building Used as A Teaching Tool

It all starts with the building envelope and conservation: 

This encompasses the entire surrounding perimeter of the building including the roof, the walls, fenestration (windows/glass), and the foundation below.  The envelope is the first building system which must be optimized to achieve the most efficient building possible.  Several new building envelope concepts have emerged, most notably the use of air/vapor barriers and insulation on the outside of the building in lieu of the traditional installation on the interior of the building.  Driving this concept is the fact that thermal bridging has been found to drastically reduce the functional R-Value of an exterior wall when substrate and exterior finishes are attached directly to the framing of the building with no layer of thermal protection on the outside.  Not only must a building envelope be well insulated but it must also need to be sealed well enough to prevent air leakage.  Air leakage is one of the top reasons for energy loss in existing buildings today.

Click here for a link to a great resource, the passive haus institute on more information to maximize envelope efficiency: http://www.passivehouse.us/passiveHouse/PassiveHouseInfo.html

System Optimization & Proper Sizing: 

The next step to achieving net zero energy consumption in a building is through the optimization of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems that operate the building.  Virtually on a monthly basis new mechanical, electrical, lighting and plumbing equipment are released to the market with increased efficiencies.  Designers are finding new ways to integrate these systems and make them efficient as possible.  Also, these systems need to be engineered to be properly sized and configured based on the envelope and the anticipated demands of the occupants.  After occupancy, the use of building management systems, smart controls and variable settings on equipment have all helped to integrate these systems and provide constant feedback on the amount of energy being used at a given time.  The proper sizing and smart usage can combine to reduce the energy consumption by nearly 50% by using highly efficient systems and equipment.

For more information and great articles on optimizing energy efficiency in buildings:  Check out the M-Files Blog http://blog.mcclureco.com/

Note:
Studies and energy models have shown that maximizing both the envelope and the major building systems can reduce the energy consumption of a building by 70% (over the baseline energy usage established by ASHRAE 90.1).   Where does the remaining 30% come from?

On-Site Energy Generation:

The final step of achieving net zero energy consumption is through the generation of on-site energy for use by the building or the purchase of renewable energy through a green power provider.  The plausibility of generating your own energy or using renewable energy sources has increased recently due to a heightened awareness and a drop in costs (avg solar array runs between $3.50 and $5.00 per watt).  Systems that incorporate energy recovered from these various systems are becoming more of a common place for those planning to construct a new building: Solar, Geothermal, Cogeneration, Energy Recovery, Micro turbines, Wind and hydroelectricity.  Utilizing this energy locally first, at the building location, is where the remaining 30% reduction occurs.

Whether Net Zero is Feasible or Not, Raising the bar is a Must:

Buildings and optimizing their performance must be a focus for the design and construction communities because they have the single largest impact on the environment today (and the costs of operating our buildings).  Our collective commitment to creating buildings that perform optimally from a comfort, consumption and generative stance is imperative.  Finding creative ways to reduce energy (as much as fiscally possible) and then operating these buildings in an optimal manner is a must.  I am confident that the technologies and the strategies will continue to evolve and netzero will eventually become commonplace.

The Living Futures Institute (Creators of the Living Building Challenge) has now implemented a Net Zero Certification Program, for more information, go here: http://living-future.org/netzero/

Join us for GREENCon – March 15, 2012 – Messiah College

Early Bird Rate is $40 Until 2/22

Join us for a great conference & expo!

USGBC Central Pennsylvania will be hosting GreenCon – A Green Building Conference & Expo on March 15, 2012 at Messiah College.

The day will feature national and local experts on green building technologies, systems and philosophies.  There will be plenty of opportunities to learn, network and witness sustainability up close and personal as Messiah College gives tours of their numerous green initiatives.  There will be several guest speakers discussing exciting, relevant and innovative topics.  You can earn credential maintenance hours and promote your business through exhibiting or sponsorship.

If you are interested in learning more about this conference, please comment below and I will be happy to send you information regarding registration/exhibiting/sponsoring.

Happy New Year!

LEED Credentials: More Valuable Today Than Ever Before…

The Business Case
Clients that are building and renovating today want to do so responsibly and for the least amount of money.  They are beginning to evaluate their building projects not only as long-term investments but they are also taking a closer look at the sustainability of their choices (life-cycle cost analysis, environmental impact, impact on occupant productivity).  They also have employees, customers and shareholders that are all asking “What can we do to be green?”.  Someone with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) credentials can assist in both the evaluation and implementation of green building practices.

The credentials make a clear statement:  I understand and I am committed to building green.

LEED AP:

There are two types of credentials available from The Green Building Certification Institute.  LEED Accredited Professional (AP) and LEED Green Associate (GA). These credentials have been established to be somewhat of a clearing house for those working in either the design or construction of green buildings.  Both require a significant amount of material to study and sitting for a third party exam.

Of course, just having the “LEED AP” behind your name doesn’t make you an expert but it does indicate that you have a certain amount of knowledge and experience in LEED.GBCI/USGBC did catch some flack under the old exam (prior to 2009) because you didn’t need any experience to sit for it.  The market was certainly flooded with new LEED AP’s… and the question was raised “Do these LEED AP’s know what they are talking about or did they just memorize the material?”

They have since modified the criteria and to sit for the LEED AP exam now you must have worked on at least one LEED project.  This does somewhat differentiate the candidates although you cannot guarantee the exact level of experience.  For more information on becoming a LEED AP, check out the various handbooks here: http://www.gbci.org/main-nav/professional-credentials/candidate-handbooks.aspx

LEED Green Associate:
For those without the opportunity to work on a LEED Project, GBCI also created the LEED Green Associate exam.  Although the credential may not carry as much weight in the industry as the AP designation, it certainly denotes a level of understanding and commitment for the candidate.  I highly recommend if you have an interest in green building pursuing this credential.  Not only will it allow you a great foundation for your career, it is a great way for anyone to differentiate themselves and gain a competitive edge in this competitive job market.  This would also be a great way for college students to add a critical piece to their resume. For the Green Associate handbook, go here: http://www.gbci.org/Files/Candidate-Handbooks/LEED-Green-Associate.pdf

Credential Maintenance:
For both the LEED AP and the LEED Green Associate professionals there is continuing education required.  Every two years each LEED AP and GA will need to record 30 and 15 hours of continuing education respectively.  A certain number of these hours must be LEED focused.  This encourages the professionals to continually strive for improvement and to validate their credentials on an ongoing basis.  Check with your local USGBC Chapter for seminars, courses and green building tours which can help you with this process.  Here is the credential maintenance handbook: http://www.gbci.org/Files/cmp_guide.pdf

The Ultimate Goal: A Better Finished Product
The more LEED AP’s you can have working on a project the more well rounded the project will be.  Everyone on the team will understand the “rules of the game” per-say.  Every team member whether it be the owners representative, the architect, the mechanical engineer, or the construction manager should understand the synergies of the credits and how each system integrates into the functionality and ultimately the sustainability of the building.

Throughout the design & construction of any project, many variables need to be evaluated: Cost, Quality, Environmental Impact and Life Cycle Analysis.  Each member of the team should be able to speak to these traits given their area of expertise and weigh in accordingly on all critical decisions such as systems, products, design aspects, etc.  Ultimately the goal is to complete a building that in the long run uses the least amount of energy, reduces the impact on the environment and is comfortable for the owner and the building occupants.