Green design is a general term for a philosophy that promotes environmentally friendly, socially responsible and energy conserving design. While it is an international trend and has been around for several years, the concept has not been greatly embraced in many parts of the United States, including western Pennsylvania.
However, building operations experience and new research are showing that, besides providing a healthier environment, green buildings enable occupants to gain more efficiencies as well. So building owners are starting to see them as a competitive advantage.
As a culture, we are seeing more attention to products and spaces that are green in concept. Material suppliers are promoting chemically benign and recycled materials in products as varied as carpeting and ceiling tile.
Green design is a total building philosophy that looks at inherent techniques for increasing human comfort, health and productivity; saving expenses on operations and maintenance; and reducing harmful impacts on the environment from current practices.
Ultimately, any discussion of green design comes down to employee health and building performance issues. Its the next step beyond the obvious environmental concerns such as radon and asbestos.
We know, for instance, that certain finishes and adhesives produce fumes that can contribute to employee health problems resulting in higher rates of absenteeism and poor productivity. By utilizing low volatile-organic-compound (VOC) adhesives and chemically benign wall finishes, we can produce a healthier environment that ultimately translates into higher employee productivity. We also can configure the space and employ advanced HVAC designs to improve air quality.
Lower energy and operating expenses
Green design is concerned with producing a more efficient structure from the standpoint of energy consumption and operating expenses. (See related energy article.) While the initial costs arent necessarily lower than those of conventional designs, incorporating green design components such as high performance glass, additional insulation and raised floors for easier installation of power and data wiring systems can have a significant savings over the life of the building.
Many of my clients are seeing green design not just as an environmental statement, but as a competitive advantage. In fact, the Soffer Co.s 60,000-square-foot Tech Office Building at 6 Penn Center West is the first green spec office building in the area. Its being followed by two similar buildings in the same complex, one under construction and one in the design stages.
Green design improves the value of the buildings environment. Value can be realized by reduced costs, less impact on resources and lower vacancy rates due to better occupant comfort and health. Ultimately, the return on investment is more attractive.
In the case of the Tech Office Building, an investment of $4,400 worth of additional insulation in the ceiling will result in a savings of approximately $1,000 a year in energy costs. Utilizing split lighting a combination of ambient lighting and local light (desk lamps), as opposed to direct ceiling lighting, will result in an estimated energy savings of nearly $12,000 a year.
Flexible, high-tech spaces
The high-tech office of today demands rapid changes. Building tenants often need to reconfigure their offices, add equipment, and change the location of power sources and data outlets. At 6 Penn Center West, the average savings for tenant remodeling will be approximately $5 a square foot. By developing intelligent combinations of open and private offices, designers can increase occupancy and reduce HVAC installation and operating costs.
DynaVox Corp., a medical electronics company, wanted its new office space in the Birmingham Towers on the South Side to be more efficient and healthier for its 100-plus employees. The new offices, completed late last summer, feature a combination of closed offices and open work areas with 54-inch-tall wall panels. (See sidebar.) Besides improving the work environment, the new design increased occupancy of the space by 20 percent, reduced overall space requirements by 6,000 square feet and saved the firm about $120,000 a year.
Besides the obvious advantage of a healthier environment, green buildings are more efficient from the standpoint of operating expenses. While the initial costs are not necessarily lower than those of traditional buildings, green buildings over the long term provide a better working environment for tenants and a competitive advantage for the builder.
J. Gary Gardner, AIA, is a principal of Garner+Pope, a Pittsburgh-based architectural firm providing architecture, interior architecture, master-planning and facilities management services. Reach him at (412) 381-1184.