Jill Fehrenbacher

THE NEXT BIG THING IN GREEN BUILDING

by , 04/18/06

Guest writer Jared Silliker lives in Seattle and works as a senior analyst at The Cadmus Group, an environmental consulting firm. He works with the architectural community to encourage high-performance building designs and also writes about the green building industry.

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Bigger green buildings? Sure. More sustainable products? Absolutely. Improved technologies and integrated natural systems? Indeed. More LEED certified buildings? Everywhere you look.

But hold on to your sustainability seats. There are bigger ideas brewing.

I listened to a few architects and engineers talking to developers this week at the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) Developing Green conference in Seattle.

While one session was actually entitled �The next big thing in green building,� I took away several themes from that session and others. And four words really stuck with me: learn, zero, sell, and people.


Let’s start with learn. ULI members and others were there to learn, yes. But Sandy Mendler, a vice president in HOK‘s San Francisco office, brought the idea to a more pragmatic level. Mendler spoke about HOK’s work with the Center for the Built Environment to conduct post-occupancy evaluations of buildings. Get this: they want to learn how well their designs worked! No kidding. Mendler described a three-part process that includes a Web-based survey, conducted by CBE; an energy analysis, conducted by a third party firm; and a set of interviews.

The examples were striking. The surveys and interviews yielded empirical data about occupants’ satisfaction with the building. The energy analyses were even more dramatic; performance measurements were often much higher than models predicted. Now the important part — the green building industry can learn from these exercises, continually improve, and produce green buildings that truly conserve resources, increase occupant productivity, contribute to a cleaner environment, and so much more. Learning is about achieving results.

You might have guessed why I included zero. Be on the lookout for zero-energy buildings and homes. It’s possible. But more important, as Ray Cole discussed, is the constant push to improve and reach toward the ultimate goal-combining smart design and renewable energy to make a building self-sufficient. Cole heads the Environmental Research Group at the University of British Columbia’s School of Architecture, and compared small and fast changes with slow and big changes. We’ve seen lots of small and fast advances-new technologies and strategies that directly impact a building or its occupants. But Cole is after the slow and big changes that will change the context within which buildings are designed. And maybe zero and carbon neutrality are part of that. It has to be on our wish list.

Since this was a conference primarily for developers, we must look at how to sell these green buildings. The sustainable design community talks a lot about the business case, and this week was no exception. It is possible to develop a green building within traditional budgets and make a profit. But it’s more than life-cycle analyses and reduced operating costs. Jerry Yudelson, associate principal at Interface Engineering, and author of The Insider’s Guide to Marketing Green Buildings, talked about marketing value and quality. There is the immediate pitch to buyers upon construction, but the longer-term impact may be the bigger story. As energy prices skyrocket, buildings that perform more efficiently will be less risky investments and more valuable to future owners and tenants. And as more states and cities enact laws and mandates requiring LEED certification and other sustainable building practices, green properties will be more and more the norm.

And fittingly, we finally arrive at people, who are really at the center of all the next big things. Stemming from her emphasis on evaluations and learning, Mendler harped on the importance of designing a building from the inside out, for the people that will live there. Scot Horst, LEED steering committee co-chair, added that green building is about people and their connections to buildings and the land. He argued that LEED is merely a tool that helps to make these connections. Horst and his US Green Building Council colleagues are now working on re-tooling the tool. The next generation of LEED, version 3.0, will be big, but the building design community must apply lessons learned to achieve real results, strive towards zero, market the overall value of green buildings, and focus on the people that will use its buildings. It all sounds pretty big to me.

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2 Comments

  1. lawrence May 15, 2006 at 5:25 am

    I need a contractor whose is versed in green building methods, strawbale, etc. to build 4 homes in Sedro Woolley, Wa. (near Mount Vernon) as templates for a larger eco-style village. Thanks Lawrence

  2. Elemental · Lear... April 30, 2006 at 11:57 am

    [...] I’m unashamedly pinching my topic today from a great post over at Inhabitat last week on ‘The Next Big Thing in Green Building‘. Guest writer Jared summarises his finding from the Developing Green conference. His four key ideas were learn, zero, sell and people. What I love about this medium (the internet) is the realisation that the exact same issues are topical here in Leeds as 4500 miles away in Seattle: [...]

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