Most likely, you don’t spend a week at work without hearing something about a “green building,” “sustainable design,” or “high-performance facilities.” By now, everybody has heard the hype – you know that these practices are good for the environment, good for your tenants, and good for the future. But what steps can you really take to incorporate these procedures into your own buildings? They may seem hard, out of reach, or just too expensive.
That’s where the Washington, D.C.-based Sustainable Buildings Industry Council (SBIC) comes in. Starting out as the Passive Solar Industries Council over two decades ago, the group has changed its name to reflect the reach of its efforts across architecture, building systems and materials, energy analysis, and “whole building” design and construction. The SBIC continues to be a strong supporter of passive solar strategies, such as thermal mass, shading, and daylighting, but the work covers all aspects – energy efficiency, renewable technologies, healthy indoor environments, resource conservation – all the things that come together to make a building environment what it is.
The Council also stresses that sustainability and high performance be thought of in broad terms – not merely about materials, systems, people, and products; rather, how they are inter-reliant and how they can be integrated. Comfort doesn’t need to be sacrificed for safety; productivity doesn’t need to be sacrificed for cost; and environmental impact doesn’t have to be sacrificed for ease of maintenance.
Although the Council focuses primarily on new design and construction, “many of our resources have been used by professionals to rehab or renovate an existing building,” explains Doug Schroeder, associate director, SBIC. Providing resource and strategy guides such as those found in the High Performance School Buildings publication, SBIC works with industry professionals and government agencies to create tools for building owners. The goal? To change the market through education. “There are other organizations out there that have very similar missions,” explains Schroeder, “and basically, we’re all about building and designing better buildings. But our approach is different. There are other tools, other standards, and other rating programs that form the hub of what a lot of other organizations are doing. We applaud that. We think it’s great. There are different ways to condition the market and get people to be thinking about this.”
Schroeder admits that sustainability is easier to obtain early on in the pre-design phase. “We believe that 80 percent of the efficiency you can build into a building or design into a building occurs very early on. If it doesn’t get done early, it becomes much more costly to do it later. Improving the performance of buildings that are already built is more of a different challenge, but many professionals have found [our] tools useful in planning their retrofit and rehab projects.”
If you’re currently working on a new construction project, now is the time to consider what organizations like the SBIC have to offer. Schroeder identifies some building owners’ mentality toward first-cost as one of the biggest hurdles. “In general, I think the costs for designing and building a sustainable building are comparable or a little bit more. But, when you look at life-cycle costs over a 30- or 40-year plan, the life-cycle costs of that better-designed, better-performing building will be significantly less than a building that’s not taking these measures into account,” he explains.
The process guide is a key element in the High Performance School Buildings manual – a tool to guide owners through the sustainable building procurement process. Although the SBIC doesn’t currently offer process guides for every marketplace, Schroeder says that many elements from High Performance School Buildings can be applied to areas other than educational facilities. He emphasizes that building owners just need to make sure they’re considering the many facets of sustainable building design (addressing the specifics that make their buildings different from an educational facility in terms of design). The process guide helps decision-makers understand their role in the process of designing and maintaining a high-performance facility, and helps them be productive and efficient in that role.
Other elements of the manual describe the 16 “building blocks” of constructing a high-performance educational facility. It explains why topics such as acoustic comfort, environmentally responsive site planning, and safety/security are important to consider; how you can realistically implement these “building blocks;” what impact they may have on other systems and technologies throughout the building; and other places to check for more information. It also provides examples of facilities that are taking action and implementing these practices. Lists of questions to ask regarding these “building blocks” are also included so building professionals can use them throughout the design and construction process. “They have to know the simple questions to ask,” explains Schroeder.
The SBIC also provides software, educational workshops, and other publications regarding these topics. To learn more about sustainability and high-performance design, or to become a SBIC member, check out (www.sbicouncil.org).