Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sustainable Corporate Facilities: Design and Operation Techniques & Synergies

Sustainable Facilities – Techniques & Synergies

In the broad context, sustainable facilities are environmentally-conscious buildings which utilizes natural, technical and configuration to minimize the negative environmental impact of buildings by enhancing efficiency and moderation in the use of materials, energy, and development space. Sustainable facilities are an integral part of the larger discussion of sustainability - pressing environmental, economic and political issues of our world. Most simply stated, corporate facilities construction and operation must be implemented in a manner to ensure that meeting these need of today do not inhibit the opportunities of future generations to meet the same needs.

Sustainable Facilities & Planning Principals

To achieve sustainability in our building designs, I employ a host of natural and technological design measures which I define as Passive and Active. Combined and integrated, these synergistic measures not only provide high-level aesthetics, but also promote human health, energy conservation and natural resources conservation – in-parallel with LEED and other international sustainability disciplines.

Passive measures are generally non-technological design aspects of building which acknowledge the natural features of a project’s site and capitalize on them through building orientation and the shaping of the building’s form. For example in the northern hemisphere – orienting roof surfaces to the south to best collect solar energy, and sculpting a faced to catch prevailing breezes.

Active measures are those measures which can be classified as technological. These measures acknowledge the natural features of a project’s site and then modify the natural features of the site through mechanical or scientific practices. Active measures are wide ranging - from photovoltaic solar collection cells to site bio-swales.

The following section provides a cursory description of ways in which passive and active sustainability techniques may be integrated into corporate facilities and demonstrates the resultant synergistic benefits.

Project Sites & Building Orientation

Passive technique – Reduce energy cost/consumption - use the form and solar orientation of buildings to reduce public utilities demand/cost – design building to accept/reject solar radiant energy, prevailing breezes, sunlight for daylighting of interior spaces and geo-thermal energy as appropriate for augmenting heating and cooling systems on a seasonal basis.
Passive technique – Maximize exterior open spaces and reduce construction costs by avoiding the use of undisturbed lands for new facilities - select previously developed building sites and locate facilities away from habitats, water bodies, forests, farmlands and parks.
Passive technique – Reduce transportation related energy cost/consumption and the creation of associated pollution – choose to encourage the use of public transportation and reduced use of automobiles by selecting a facility site which is near or in an urban or other previously developed area.
Active technique – Reduce facility site stormwater runoff and water utility costs – Install catch basins, cisterns, and ponds to collect rainwater onsite and reuse this water for landscape irrigation.

The Synergy – lower public utility costs +increased human health & productivity
Choose facility sites with an eye toward conservation of energy, water, virgin lands and natural habitats. These site/facility techniques reduce energy and water consumption, protect habitats/species and promote employee productivity. Reduced demand on public utilities and reduced onsite energy use provide life-cycle and operating costs reductions to building owners and operators. Additionally, the water and air pollution caused by the generation of public energy is reduced, and the raw natural resources used in energy generation are conserved. Reduced air and water pollution contribute to reduced healthcare costs – and studies show that employees work harder when they are happier at work in a healthy pleasant environment.

Water Use & Facility Design

Passive technique – Reduce water utility demand and costs of facilities operations and landscape maintenance – integrate rainwater collection into the design of facilities such that the building’s roof, for example, acts as a rain-catcher. Site collected rainwater can be use for irrigation and in some cases graywater plumbing fixture supply.
Passive technique – Reduce water utility demand and costs of facilities operations and landscape maintenance – choose to use drought-resistant and location/geographically appropriate landscaping design to reduce unnecessary irrigation demand.
Active technique – Reduce water utility demand and costs of facilities operations and landscape maintenance – install mulch landscaping where possible to assist with onsite water retention and reduce irrigation evaporation by installing high-efficiency drip irrigation systems.
Active technique – Reduce water utility demand and costs of facilities operations and landscape maintenance - Install low-flow and ultra low-flow interior plumbing fixtures such as water closets, faucets and urinals.

The Synergy – water cost reductions + natural habitat protection
Conserve natural aquifers and other fresh water source while reducing water utility demand and reduce water costs for facility owners. These passive and active water saving techniques reduce water utility consumption which translates into building life-cycle and operational cost reductions, while simultaneously preserving/protecting natural habitats. For example, native plantings are parts of natural habitats, and they require little or no supplemental irrigation - so maintaining natural habitats reduces landscape irrigation needs therefore reducing the need and cost of public utility water for irrigation. In the larger view – onsite water retention/conservation also reduces the demand on natural aquifers which supply our rivers and streams – a rapidly depleting and vital resource.

Energy Use & Facility Design

Passive technique – Reduce energy utility demand and costs – choose to provide renewable energy systems - integrate solar energy collection into facilities such that the facility’s roof, for example, acts as a solar collector. Onsite collected solar energy can be converted directly into water heating and/or into electricity through photovoltaic processes – electricity, both of which can be used for facility operations purposes and reduce these costs.
Passive technique – Reduce energy utility demand and costs – choose to include “Trombe wall” design into the form of buildings. These thermally absorptive exterior walls collect solar radiant heat and use the temperature differential to either add heat to a building’s interior or evacuate heat when cooling is needed. 
Passive technique – Reduce energy utility demand and costs of the facility – choose to foster the development of alternative energies by purchasing your public energy supply from sustainably managed sources – buy “Green Power” for your building.
Active technique – Reduce energy utility demand and costs – reduce electricity consumption by eliminating unnecessary lighting of unoccupied spaces by installing occupancy sensor switching for interior and exterior lighting.
Active technique – Reduce energy utility demand and costs - Install high-efficiency heating/cooling and water heating equipment and systems.

The Synergy – energy cost reductions + human comfort
Use less public energy, reduce operational and life cycle energy costs and provide increased user comfort. These passive and active energy saving techniques reduce energy utility consumption which translates into building life-cycle and operations cost reductions, while simultaneously reducing air pollution (caused by power generation) and preserving unused natural resources. By reducing public energy demand I reduce public energy production which reduces the need to use natural resources like water and fossil fuels for the production of energy. Also this reduction contributes to the survival of human and other species relative to the reduction of need to construct additional nuclear facilities which produce hazardous uranium production bi-products extremely dangerous to human life.

Construction Materials & Building Design

Passive technique – Reduce construction costs and keep zoning rights – choose to reuse existing buildings in favor of constructing new facilities.
Passive technique – Reduce construction costs and reduce pollution - choose regionally made materials made wit
Active technique – Reduce construction costs and decrease materials in the waste stream - recycle construction waste during constru
Active technique – Preserve natural habitats and reduce pollution – install materials containing recycled content and choose materials 
Active technique – Increase human comfort - install materials having high insulation values for thermal energy savings and thermal comfort.

The Synergy – energy cost reductions + indoor spatial quality
Materials synergies are mostly related to reducing the use of virgin natural resources and reducing construction costs for facility owners. Facility owners may reap the financial benefits of re-using existing buildings - their existing utility connections, structural systems and sometimes otherwise unattainable zoning rights. By reusing existing buildings, owners can save construction costs by not having to build new structural systems, floors and interior/exterior walls. Also, often municipalities allow “grand-fathered” existing/historic zoning right to remodeling facilities, which are less stringent than newer zoning regulations and unavailable to new construction projects. Facility owners can benefit from the reduced cost of construction materials by selecting and installing materials produced within a 500 mile radius of facilities. Using regional materials reduces the quantity of materials in the waste stream and reduces energies used and pollution create to extract, fabricate and transport construction materials to a building project. The environment benefits from these techniques are many - reduced air pollution created by the manufacturing and transporting of new construction materials, natural resources (raw materials) are conserved as they are replaced by recycled materials to make construction materials. By installing well insulated materials, a higher degree of human comfort is achieved as heating, cooling and acoustic performance are easier to control. Happier, more comfortable employees are more productive.

Healthy Spaces & Building Design

Passive technique – Increase human health, comfort and productivity – design facilities which capture prevailing breezes and use them for facility ventilation.
Passive technique – Increase human health, comfort and productivity – design interior spaces which are naturally lit by the sun (daylighting).
Passive technique – Increase human health, comfort and productivitydesign interior spaces with views to the out of doors and without glare.
Active technique – Increase human health, comfort and productivity - install low-voc (volatile organic compounds) construction materials and finishes.
Active technique – Increase human health, comfort and productivity – install lighting controls which allow for adjustability based on room occupancy/use.
Active technique – Increase human health, comfort and productivity – Install heating/cooling systems which have a high degree of control and adjustability based on room occupancy/use.

The Synergy – energy cost reductions + indoor spatial quality
The synergy in this section is primarily centered on the human condition as facility occupants use their buildings. Fresh outside air and air free of volatile organic compounds is often easier for heating/cooling equipment to process and contributes to the well-being of building occupants which lowers health maintenance costs. Controlled heating/cooling and artificial lighting leads to building owners achieving life-cycle energy cost reduction and simultaneously conserves natural resource due to reduction in energy used for heating/cooling and lighting of unoccupied spaces. Visual access – views to the outdoors has been shown to improve worker productivity and is usually coupled with daylight previously mentioned. Healthier more comfortable working environments encourage more productive building occupants – healthy and happier building users have been shown to be more productive workers – out performing the discontent. This translates into more profit for corporations.

Inventiveness & Building Design
Beyond simply providing shelter, corporations must continually “raise the bar” of facilities design & operation. It is incumbent upon corporations to strive to improve the human condition and respect the natural environment  while generating maximum profitability. Human comfort/health, environmental stewardship and prosperity must belie all corporate facilities …. A creed to innovate.

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