Perusing through the crowded aisles at this year’s NeoCon World’s Trade Fair, attendees were inundated with manufacturers’ claims of a product’s environmental sensitivity. It seemed that each company had a different definition of what makes them more responsive to the environment than the next company. And to make things more difficult, many companies were accusing each other of “green washing” – making misleading or inaccurate green claims.
What’s a facilities manager to do? Many building owners and facilities managers want a simple, straightforward approach to green design without marketing flummery.
Unfortunately, the answer is there is no easy answer. Green design encompasses a variety of aspects. It is apparent that sustainable design is a growing trend in construction and modernization. Operating and maintaining facilities in an environmentally sensitive manner is a rising focus as well. But there is no cookie-cutter list for building owners and facilities managers to create high-performance, efficient buildings that run cleaner and healthier.
Although there isn’t an easy answer, facilities professionals can take aggressive steps to get efficient, cost-effective green facilities. The first step is education. “There has been a lot of education in the design community, but there needs to be more in the facilities community,” says Janet Compton, director of marketing, Designweave, Dalton, GA. Designweave, a commercial carpet firm, has been involved with sustainable design issues since the 1980s, from reclaiming water during the manufacturing process to its product line, including a biodegradable carpet backing.
A variety of websites and conferences can give facilities professionals a good understanding of sustainable design. “Green design is simply a catch-all phrase to capture a mindset that encourages people to design and construct their buildings in environmentally responsible ways,” says Penny Bonda, director of Environmental Communications, EnvironDesign, Washington, D.C.
Bonda encourages more facilities professionals to educate themselves by seeking out conferences and seminars. “The EnvironDesign conference is considered to be the foremost conference for learning about environmental design in all its aspects,” says Bonda.
“People call me all the time and ask me to send them a list on how to be green. And my answer to them is that there is no list,” she adds. Green design is more than picking from a list of recycled products. The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is an excellent source for understanding the principles of sustainable design and for creating a unique guideline to build a healthy, responsive high-performance facility.
Facilities and design professionals need to adopt green building practices early in the construction process. “Learning how to do this isn’t just something you can get from attending one seminar or reading an article. It is really a process that you are learning to integrate green strategies into the way you do everything,” explains Bonda. The building team also needs to take a holistic approach to sustainable design, analyzing all of a building’s systems and the needs and characteristics of the surrounding community.
To achieve outstanding results, building owners need to be motivated and informed. “In many cases, you are going to end up with a better building in the end. Sometimes, it is hard to see that as you try to change behavior,” says Bonda.
Eventually, she hopes green design practices will be as accepted, widespread, and compliant as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to Bonda, “Green design buildings start in many ways. The greenest of them are owner initiated.”
To achieve sustainable design practices with respect to maintenance, LEED is developing a set of guidelines for the operation and maintenance of existing buildings. “By looking at LEED EB (Existing Buildings), we [are] able to see what the issues are,” says Bonda. These issues include such cleaning and maintenance areas as chemical use, indoor air quality, water and energy efficiency, recycling programs, exterior maintenance programs, and system upgrades to meet green building energy, water, IAQ, and lighting performance standards. For additional information on the latest LEED guidelines, see (www.usgbc.org).
Because of the difficulty in asserting the validity of the various green claims in products, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken an interest in establishing a set of guidelines. These Environmental Marketing Guides can be used by facilities professionals for evaluating green claims in marketing. To ensure accuracy in claims and to prevent customers from being misled, companies sign a statement stating that marketing materials are consistent with the FTC guidelines. Guidelines cover the basis of claims, environmentally friendly claims, and overall clarity, as well as the biodegradability, recyclability, and recycled content of products. A full copy of these guidelines is available at (www.ftc.gov).
“I will ask the million dollar question: ‘What is a green product?’” asks Alan Whitson, president, Corporate Realty, Design and Management Institute, Newport Beach, CA. Whitson has devised a thought-provoking list of questions for carpet choices (see information on “Game Cards” above). These questions are a starting point and can be adapted to fit other commercial interior products. The Dalton, GA-based Carpet and Rug Institute is another good source. Check out (www.carpet-rug.org) for carpet and sustainable design issues.
“Sustainability is only part of the question. We have to figure out a way to do it economically,” says Whitson. The commercial interiors products and systems industry has to mature in order to have adequate recycling programs to support green projects. According to Compton at Designweave, the carpet industry has made great strides in addressing the overcrowded landfill issues through reuse and recycling, but there is still much work to be done. “Someone has to start somewhere,” says Compton. Adds Whitson, “[The interiors industry] is trying to get to a place where … they have a true ‘closed-loop.’ But that loop is not going to happen overnight.”
So what is a facility manager to do? “Engineers. Listen to them and ask is there a better way to do what we are doing,” says Glenn Fischer, executive vice president, Corporate Realty, Design and Management Institute, Portland, OR. Fischer encourages buildings professionals to look past the hype and initial costs and burrow into manufacturers’ written materials and websites for clearer answers. He adds: “Ask ‘How do I get a building that lasts longer? What about maintenance?’”
When it comes to green design, Fischer stresses the importance of a good working relationship and solid communications skills with a project’s design team. “Listen to how they talk about a building. Choose someone who focuses on their client’s needs, as opposed to saying, ‘Me, me, me, my designs’,” says Fischer.
“The world has changed. There are new ways to do business,” notes Fischer. With careful analysis and cooperation among the building team, high-performance, efficient buildings can be created. And despite the common myths, these facilities can be constructed and maintained affordably.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘We can’t afford to save money right now’,” says Whitson. “Don’t be those people.”
Regina Raiford (email@example.com) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.