One of the mistakes that many designers and builders make in regard to green design is making it an “add-on”. Good, sustainable design is integrated into the client’s needs, desires and budget; it’s not something that you tack on at the end so that you can label the project “green”. A select number of clients are interested in making an environmental statement because they are environmentally conscious, but most client’s first concern is how the project will satisfy their needs and how much it will cost them; being environmentally friendly is just an added bonus. The beauty of good green design is the synergies that result from an integrated approach to design. The best green strategies meet the client’s needs, budget AND are environmentally friendly.
To create practical, cost effective and functional projects we must start by asking the client what’s important to them and implement the best strategies to meet those needs. Below is a simple framework for asking those questions and how sustainable design concepts fit into that framework. These items are by no means the only items to consider but they are certainly important ones to keep in mind.
First Cost vs. Life Cycle Cost
First cost is almost always a primary concern for clients and the perception of higher first cost is the number one barrier to green buildings. Although some green strategies such as photovoltaics (solar panels) or green roofs are more expensive upfront, with an integrated approach to design many are not. For those that are it’s important to educate clients about life cycle costs and the return on investment for green strategies. Most clients will borrow the money to build and will carefully guard how they spend their project finances. Operational cost savings can often offset the difference of early investments with long-term returns. With utility costs rapidly rising, energy and water efficiency strategies become more and more attractive. Also consider the service life of the facility, the longer the service life the more attractive energy and water efficiency, material durability and adaptability become.
Educate your clients about the effect that indoor air quality, day lighting and other strategies have on their employees, patrons, patients, students, etc. The people costs of a facility over its service life far exceed capital costs so any increases in productivity, sales, etc. can pay dividends. Many, if not most, of the indoor environmental strategies produce no added cost; they just require some thought on the part of the design and construction teams.
Many clients have established program requirements that are not as efficient as they could be. Examine with the client how efficient use of space, multi-use spaces and adaptability can reduce their overall space requirements. Look at their parking and infrastructure requirements and determine if they reflect responsible engineering judgment. Few strategies save more money or decrease environmental impact as much as reducing the development footprint. A smaller development footprint can reduce construction costs, be more resource efficient, protect outdoor open space and reduce the impact on local infrastructure.
For some clients the environmental impact itself may drive the design. With this type of client give them direction regarding where their environmental concerns can have the greatest impact. Find out which impacts are important to them; energy use, water use, material use, preservation of open space, stormwater quality, local environmental impact, etc. Based on their concerns you can focus strategies on those items.
Designing and constructing green buildings presents an opportunity to have a significant and positive impact on the local and global environment. There is no question that going green is the right thing to do. As a service industry we must find ways to meet our client’s needs while at the same time create facilities that are healthy to live, work and play in, efficient to own and operate and are environmentally friendly. By starting with what’s important to the client and implementing strategies to meet those needs we can accomplish that goal.