Dominique Davison / June 30, 2017
Building Professionals are Addressing Sustainability Early.
Buildings are a huge part of our lives. We spend about 90% of our lives inside of them. They form our cities and shape the public realm. An entire industry of professionals are involved in how the built environment shapes our day-to-day activities. Architects, engineers, urban planners, developers, and policy-makers have a huge impact on the building industry. In recent decades, researchers have concentrated on how buildings affect personal and environmental health, leading to new standards of how we address the process of designing and building the structures that make up our cities. Sustainable building (Green Build) can benefit ecosystems, impact personal health of its users, reduce spending on public infrastructure improvements, improve water quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and optimize resources.
So why hasn’t sustainability been mainstream in the industry? The short answer involves cost. Typical methodologies for achieving higher performing buildings cost the industry time and money. However, new, data-driven strategies are bringing the topic of sustainability to the forefront of the building process by transferring resources into revenue and giving some companies a head start on the paradigm-shift towards a greener industry.
We can do better.
The process of designing and constructing a building is typically inefficient and wasteful. Buildings are responsible for almost as much CO2 emissions as industry and transportation combined. Not only that, but about 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States can be attributed to the burning of fossil fuels for electricity. $170 billion per year is literally wasted on inefficient building operation, and McKinsey & Company calculated that about $130 billion per year of that is reasonably recoverable. However, investment has fallen behind the pace to achieve this annualized rate. As an industry, we can do better. We need to be doing better. And thanks to new technology solutions, improving the performance of buildings is a very straightforward strategy for thinking globally while acting locally.
Cities are going green.
Metropolises around the world are urbanizing. Fast. More than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas and the urbanization rate in the United States between 2000 and 2010 was higher than the country’s overall rate of population growth. More people are moving to cities every day, making now the best opportunity to get ahead of the game when it comes to resource use. The federal government is calling for a 32% reduction of greenhouse gases by 2030, and many states and local municipalities have been moving towards net-zero policies in order to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. If building professionals don’t start thinking about the coming net-zero policies early, their respective companies will be unable to compete in the future. California has already established a plan to reach net-zero on all new residential and commercial buildings, enacting Big Bold Energy Efficiency Strategies (their words, not ours).
Being ahead (and staying ahead) will save companies money.
The earlier the better. Many design and building professionals have heard that the first 20% of decisions made impact 80% of the operational costs of a building over time. Engaging with mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineers early with the design team can provide valuable insights about how to optimize building performance without costing the client (or the design team) additional time and money. Addressing sustainability early on a project-by-project basis can save design firms and developers a lot of money in the long run. According to McKinsey & Company, building the internal rate of return on green buildings vary from about 3 to 5 years. Industry professionals are concentrating on return on investment and payback periods as a big incentive towards sustainability. When resources are optimized correctly, everyone wins.
Web-based data is finally available.
With the coming of greener policies and newfound sources of revenue, data-driven decisions are becoming more important than ever before in the building industry. In the past, the current technologies and practices make sustainable design a costly, time consuming (potentially leading to lost fees of more than $20,000 per project) endeavor. Therefore, the adoption of better practices has not accelerated as quickly as hoped by leading advocates.
PlanIT Impact is a web-based platform that operates with the mission of making sustainable design accessible and achievable for all building design. The tool leverages local and national data to inform digital models produced by design and building professionals. It helps them understand, even in the early phases of design, how to optimize resources. “Smart-modeling” now allows companies to make design decisions not based just on gut, but based on real-time data. It allows owners to better understand their costs and make decisions that improve the performance of their buildings, making every building more sustainable.