Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Civil Engineer's Role in Green Rating Systems

There are a half-dozen or more "green" ratings systems available, each with a different set of guidelines and focus.  The civil engineer plays a role in all of these systems, but the level of involvement and opportunity in each can differ significantly.  Most of the systems focus on green buildings but there is also a system with a focus on sustainable sites and a new green rating system with a focus on roads.  Unfortunately, civil engineers have taken a back seat to architects and other engineers in the green building process and don't contribute as much to the process as they could.  That needs to change.  The future of the market is in sustainable design and a civil engineer's familiarity with and ability to work within these green rating systems is vital to long term success.  The number of rating systems is too long to list and describe in this post but the systems below are some of the more well known and pertinent for the civil engineer profession.

  1. LEED - The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is the most recognized and widespread system for measuring green construction projects. The rating systems have grown to include over six different project types including New Construction (with specialty areas including schools, healthcare and retail), Existing Buildings, Commercial Interiors, Core and Shell, Homes and Neighborhood Development.  All of these systems provide opportunities for the civil engineer to be involved with about 20% of the total available points in each system assigned to the site.  By becoming familiar with the entire rating system, not just the site credits, the civil engineer can  add value by understanding the potential synergies among different point categories and contribute to an integrated design approach.    
  2. The Living Building Challenge - The Living Building Challenge was developed by the Cascadia Region Green Building Council.  In the words of the International Living Building Institute the Living Building Challenge "...defines the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today and acts to diminish the gap between current limits and ideal solutions."  The Living Building Challenge applies to all project types and sizes and is extremely environmentally rigorous. More than any other system it stresses the synergies between the different disciplines and functions of the built environment and how it interacts with the environment and society.  There are opportunities and requirements for civil engineering involvement within this system, and as with LEED, the ability to create synergies between disciplines and areas is extremely important.  
  3. Sustainable Sites Initiative - The Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) was developed as an interdisciplinary effort between the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the United States Botanical Garden.  SITES was created to promote sustainable land development and management practices and was the first rating system to apply to sites with or without buildings.  The SITES system has five focus areas: hydrology, soils, vegetation, materials and human health and well being.  Civil engineers have a great opportunity with this system to take a lead role along with landscape architects in creating sustainable projects.                                                   
  4. Greenroads  - The Greenroads Sustainability Performance Metric is a brand new rating system for roadway design and construction.  The system is a joint effort of The University of Washington and CH2MHILL.  It is applicable to new and reconstructed/rehabilitated roads and awards certification at four levels: certified, silver, gold and evergreen.  Greenroads focuses on creating roadways that have less environmental impact, lower lifecycle costs and more positive societal outcomes.  The rating system is based on sustainable best management practices and choices that are backed by empirical evidence and sound engineering.  Greenroads is the first and only widespread rating system that is based solely on engineering practices.  Possibly even more so than the Sustainable Sites Initiative, Greenroads provides an opportunity for civil engineers to be in the driver's seat in creating more sustainable projects.  
This list is certainly not all of the green rating systems currently available or in development, but it does provide a representative list.  All of the above rating systems provide a strong frame work for projects that are better for the environment, society and long term financial sustainability even if certification is not pursued. Now and in the near future both public and private clients are going to demand sustainable designs for their projects and many are going to ask for certification under one of the green ratings systems.  The sooner that civil engineers become familiar and comfortable with these systems the more prepared they will be when the time comes to contribute to a green project.