Cost-Justifying Green Buildings to Skeptics

Many are concerned about what might happen to the green building market when climate change denial is seeing a political resurgence in the US and UK. Yet there is a way to defend green buildings using a business and economics lens palatable even to the biggest green building skeptic. Long used in the world of large-cap infrastructure projects, "cost-benefit analysis" is the gold standard when it comes to weighing different design options for their Net Present Value, Life Cycle Cost, Return on Investment, etc.

Over the past year, two real estate industry leaders, Prologis and San Francisco International Airport, have recently taken that approach and improved upon it, using rigorous economic methodologies from academia and industry alike to also translate into dollar terms the non-financial value of their green building designs, including enhanced occupant health and productivity from improved IEQ and lighting, increased property value and reduced flood risk from green infrastructure, and improved community support from preserving local air and water quality.

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Collaborating for Sustainability in Leased Space

Energy efficiency and sustainability have multiple benefits for commercial building occupants. Now, many forward-thinking corporations are employing sustainability tactics and focusing real estate strategy to attract and retain top talent, minimize operating expenses, and drive occupant comfort, health, and productivity. New technologies, a rapidly developing business case, and increasing research are making it easier for more organizations, across sectors, to leverage sustainability to capitalize on the same trends that are rapidly becoming the norm in top-of-the-market, class-A real estate. However, as tenants progress from site selection to occupancy, it becomes increasingly difficult to invest in sustainability. Tenants and landlords should collaborate early to maximize sustainability throughout the life of the tenant-landlord relationship.

In 2015, Congress passed the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act, which directed several federal agencies, including EPA and DOE to identify and employ appropriate strategies to incentivize and engage commercial landlords and tenants to collaborate towards energy efficiency. This panel will discuss the opportunities that legislation will create for tenants and corporate occupiers to leverage energy efficiency and sustainability to meet corporate social responsibility goals and earn public recognition for their success. Panelists will also introduce a variety of tools and resources that are currently available to the market.

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Design and Construction of Taller Wood Buildings (Print Course)

The properties of wood buildings, such as sustainability and a low carbon footprint; structural, thermal, acoustic, and seismic performance; and fire and life safety, are contributing to an evolution of building taller with mass timber. New materials and design strategies are enabling a centuries-old practice to address modern building concerns and technologies. Code, too, is evolving to recognize the attributes of building with wood, and the 2021 International Building Code contains new provisions for building taller wood structures. This course delves deeper into this evolution, exploring why and how to design taller wood buildings.

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Green, Complete and Smart: Build Green vs. Grey

Communities are turning to innovative stormwater management solutions to solve local and regional stormwater challenges. For example, in the nation’s capital, DC agencies recently modified a plan that predominately relied on grey infrastructure to instead partially replace the grey infrastructure with green infrastructure in targeted existing impervious areas. These green installations will serve to mitigate flooding and stormwater issues to the same capacity but with many more environmental and community benefits.

The panel will discuss stormwater challenges through several examples located throughout the country, and the impact of vegetated systems to manage stormwater in local and regional jurisdictions. One example that will be discussed is The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) proposed Green Street Demonstration Project in the Chinatown neighborhood of Washington D.C. where the ASLA headquarters are based. The project seeks to serve as an example for such green, complete, and smart street design. The plan transforms an underperforming street corridor into a showpiece of both green infrastructure technologies and complete street approaches.

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Your Zero Net Energy Building May Destroy the Grid

With emerging standards requiring different forms of Zero Net Energy and aggressive owners developing ZNE buildings already it's an important time to look at the potential impacts net metered buildings can have on the historic grid structure and operations. High penetration of renewable energy can destabilize the grid operations and cause havoc for grid operators.

We'll provide a detailed discussion of the different definitions of ZNE and how they impact design and interaction with the grid. We'll outline current issues with high penetration of renewables on Hawaii's grid structure and how they may apply to ZNE building design for larger grid systems. We will provide building strategies that can enhance ZNE building design participation with the grid such as battery storage with renewables, demand response, thermal energy storage, and controls. Finally the team will outline ongoing changes to the grid structures and enhancements needed to prepare the grid for true ZNE buildings on a mass scale.

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The Future of Sustainability and Green Design: Health, Daylighting, and Material Selection (Print Course)

This course will examine biophilia and sustainable and green design, focusing on the ways in which these concepts have evolved to incorporate human health and well-being. It will also specifically focus on concepts such as daylighting, demonstrating how the incorporation of natural light in design can contribute to productivity and well-being.

Finally, the course will examine several case studies where different products helped to contribute to sustainable, green design as well as occupant health and well-being.

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Occupant Aware Buildings, or Building Aware Occupants?

As technology and intuitive interfaces enable occupants to become more aware about buildings, buildings are becoming more aware of them. Smart buildings leveraging big data collected from thousands of inexpensive sensors and the IoT, promises to improve convenience and comfort, all in a more sustainable manner. Is this a win-win?

High performance buildings with passive design strategies require engaged occupants. Training these occupants for hoped behavioral changes, is both an imperative and a challenge. Even if trained people forget or don't care, or the specific people occupying a building changes.

Does this mean ultimately your building may know more about you than you are comfortable with, even though you are more comfortable in your building? Is the next generation of high performance only possible at the expense of personal privacy? Can we count on this additional layer of systems complexity to be reliable, affordable, maintainable and secure?

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Designing Restrooms for Sustainable Operation (Print Course)

Designing restrooms for sustainable operation requires unique strategies beyond those typically associated with green building. This course does not discuss the details of LEED certification or environmentally responsible materials and related documentation. Instead, the focus of this course will be to educate architects and designers on operational approaches that encourage sustainable restroom project design.

Thoughtful product specification considers energy costs, battery usage, waste, and usage of consumables that in turn allow the architect or designer the opportunity to educate the client on the benefits and incentives that sustainable design creates for both building owners and occupants. While architects and building designers who specify sustainable design products must take into consideration the economical investment necessary from the client, specifying for sustainable operation allows a restroom to operate both sustainably and cost-effectively while retaining the architect’s aesthetic vision.

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Increasing Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Architecture (Print Course)

The under-representation of many ethnic groups in architecture translates not only to inequities within the profession, but also to missed opportunities in business. Leveraging the benefits of a diverse workforce requires a culture of inclusion and equity, one that values differences among people and ensures a culture of fairness.

This article explores the barriers that people of color face in entering the design profession, the organizations working to mitigate several of these barriers, and internal firm initiatives to create a more equitable work environment.

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RMI's Innovation Center: First-Year Lessons Learned

The Rocky Mountain Institute’s (RMI) Innovation Center illustrates the potential of achieving net-positive-energy performance in a replicable manner, serving as a demonstration project for the design and construction industry. Its first year of operation has offered many lessons around technological incorporation, financial replicability and incentivizing an integrated design process.


With four decades of leadership and advocacy for hyper-efficient buildings and economies, RMI is the ultimate client and occupant for such an innovative project. First-hand staff video interviews will address design process, system integration, performance and occupant satisfaction. RMI researchers guide attendees through the building with interactive video technology, providing commentary to frame the experience. Observations will be contextualized by members of the architecture and engineering team, translating lessons that can—and should—be applied to the next generation of high-performance buildings.

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