Building Design for the New Economy

“Our goal is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy and just world with clean air, water, soil and power… economically, equitably, ecologically and elegantly enjoyed.” This is a beautiful quote from William McDonough. Professor of Architecture, Designer, Environmental Consultant to world leaders in manufacturing, and inspired soul. He addresses here the same principles of The New Economy, and supports the knowledge that there is a direct relationship between life, the living environment and the built environment. Have you ever been in a built environment that gave you a sense of calm and nourishment, that awakened your senses and gave you a feeling of deep rest and recuperation? We feel calm, nourished, awakened and alert when the air quality in a space is healthy… when form follows function… when space, light, color, and texture combine in an economy and elegance of design.

Nature is the gold standard against which our built environments should be measured. On its own, Nature has a finely tuned balance, but problems occur for both people and the environment when synthetic or man-made materials are introduced and the essential balance is lost. Ecological, sustainable building means not just sustaining our ecosystems, but human health as well. Mind, body and soul are affected in a myriad of ways by a dwelling. And it is clear that the once finely tuned relationship between humankind and nature is out of balance.

Let’s take a look at the 4 values that William McDonough mentioned in his quote and how they relate to sustainable building.

Economical, Equitable, Ecological, Elegant.

First let’s look at Economical… A quote from local Environmental Inspector & Building Consultant Jon Cotham… “It’s important to remember that with the rising cost of health care and lost productivity from illness, that anything we can do to maintain our good health is financially beneficial”. Our health is priceless and when buying, renovating or building a new home or business, its ability to nurture health should be our top priority. As more consumers look to healthy, sustainable building materials, the costs have come more in line with conventional materials. Contrary to popular belief, often the healthier alternatives are no more expensive, or even more economical in the long run due to a longer lifecycle and greater durability, or by reducing energy costs.

We have the ability to shift industry if we persevere in either buying less of something, or in buying more of the sustainable alternatives. Many of us will spend additional money to buy natural, organic and fair trade food & clothing. Why not take these into consideration when buying building materials? History has shown that consumers’ have great power with their spending habits. Runaway consumerism, has played a significant role in the collapse the economy and of the ecosystem, given the energy, water, land and other resources required to produce all the “stuff” people buy and quickly dispose of. Exciting opportunities for sustainability lie in the beginnings of a revolution that replaces materials made using dirty, wasteful methods with those resulting from clean processes patterned after Nature’s cyclical patterns. Since the 1990s leading manufacturers have adopted sustainability standards that have increased revenue through risk management, increased competitive advantage, cost reduction and product differentiation. They have demonstrated that such sustainable practices not only work but are economically viable.

Equitable. Most of us are all familiar with this term in regards to Fair Trade practices, which is an important consideration in buying practices for building materials. It is important to look to manufacturers who ensure healthy working conditions, fair labor practices and fair compensation. But, do we consider how we can be more equitable to our children, our pets and the elderly that occupy our dwellings? They may not have much voice, if any, in the decisions made concerning building materials, and yet they are the ones whose health is most at risk. Children are more affected by indoor contaminants than adults because their respiratory, immune & neurological systems are still developing. And, their breathing zone is much closer to the ground where most contaminants originate.

The next value is Ecological. When considering materials for your built environment, think about the impact your decision has on the world at large. Fortunately, there is a current awareness that Building Operations… that is heating, cooling and lighting… is having a huge impact on our outside air quality. Surprisingly, when we compare sources of Co2 emissions, we see that the manufacturing of Building Materials alone is actually higher than the levels produced by Automobiles. The manufacturing of Portland Cement used in concrete, and the gypsum used in drywall are among the biggest polluters, but there are alternatives.

The destruction of global health is mirrored by a similar impact on our personal health. Tens of thousands of chemicals being used today in the home and elsewhere are known to be toxic. The alarming growth of diseases such as childhood asthma, autism, and fibromyalgia – have become cause for researchers to look for links between these chemicals and our health, and indeed many have been found. Both the EPA and American Lung Association urge us to not use materials with PVC or formaldehyde added which can include vinyl flooring, carpet pad & backing, plywoods and particleboards found in cabinets and furniture, textiles, paints, stains and sealers. Studies have shown that poor indoor air quality affects attendance and productivity in schools and the workplace.

Elegant and Sustainable go hand in hand. The dictionary defines Elegant as “of a high grade or quality”. With today’s selection of sustainable building materials, elegance does not need to be compromised. There are a wide variety of materials that are truly elegant not only because of their high grade or quality, but also because they are truly pleasing and sophisticated. Sustainable building no longer is limited to a rustic or industrial looks.

Today we are faced with a dazzling array of finishing products. It is a daunting task to make healthy, sustainable choices, especially when considering how little information is revealed on product labels, and how much knowledge is required to decipher them. Fortunately, there is now more information available to the consumer through the internet and television, through books, and through the increasing number of professional consultants available to help with inspections, analysis, design and procurement. When starting any type of building or remodeling project, we need to take time to plan. A hard thing for many of us in this society of immediate gratification, but we need to invest sufficient time into finding healthy, environmentally sound choices.

Our homes and business represent one of the biggest investments we will ever make of our time, energy and money; they are a life long focus of concern and can become a source of well being. The simple steps of creating a healthy home or workplace are some of the easiest ways we can live an ecologic life, doing our part to be stewards for the earth, and helping to create a truly sustainable economy.

Copyright 2009 Cynthia Grier. All rights reserved.

How to Make a Building More Energy Efficient

Each day, thousands of people make a conscious effort to “go green” and become more eco conscious. While Al Gore may have popularized the idea in the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, citizens of the world have been banding together for years to help save the planet. Individually, each of us can contribute to the overall sustainability of the Earth’s resources to guarantee safe and livable conditions for future generations of all species, humans included. Energy consumption is one huge part of the puzzle. Humans are consuming electricity, primarily from coal-burning plants and other fossil fuels at an unprecedented rate in just living our day-to-day lives. One way to make a large impact on the amount of energy consumed is to conserve — make buildings everywhere more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable. Energy sufficiency needs to be our big picture goal.

The following are ways to make an existing building more energy efficient:

• Start with what is called the “low hanging fruit” -Weatherization: Check the building’s insulation: Old, warn insulation, inefficient windows and air leaks will increase the rate at which heat leaves a structure during cold weather months and cooled air in summer. This will require the heating and air conditioning systems to use more energy to keep the building at the desired temperature. Installing additional insulation and caulking leaks is pretty easily done and pays big dividends in saving energy and money. Many communities now have Energy Audit services and Weatherization programs available to help with this effort and these programs are also investing in creating training and employment for “green jobs”.

• Turn off lights and unplug electronic devices that are not in use. Significant reduction of electric usage can happen by simply flipping the light switch or pulling the plug or investing in a smart power strip for your tv, computer and other energy hog appliances. Also, replace incandescent lights with compact florescent bulbs – Florescent light bulbs last upwards of 10,000 hours and use approximately 27 watts of energy to generate the same amount of light as 100-watt incandescent bulbs, which have a lifespan of only 1,000 hours. This not only conserves energy, but also eliminates the waste that is created from constantly having to replace incandescent bulbs.

• Replace older furnaces and HVAC systems – Furnaces that utilize a standing pilot light waste up to 35% of the fuel that it burns. Additionally, upgrading to more modern HVAC systems will help save energy in air filtration, as well as provide the building with a cleaner, healthier airflow. There are several tax and other rebates in place now to help with this investment, so while it may be pricey to replace old furnaces and HVAC units, you will save money in the long run with reduced heating and cooling costs with the additional incentive of a hefty rebate.

• Utilize electronics with the ENERGY STAR logo – Many commercial buildings use thousands of electronic devices, from computers to microwaves. According to its government sponsored website, ENERGRY STAR is “a government-backed program helping businesses and individuals protect the environment through superior energy efficiency.” Making use of ENERGY STAR sponsored products can reduce energy use by up to 50%.

These are just four of the many different ways to make a building “greener.” Never hesitate to contact an energy efficient building consultant if you have questions or concerns regarding strategies so that you can be more energy efficient, saving money and doing your part toward sustainability and energy independence.

Popularity of Bicycle Team Building

Almost ten years ago an Event Planner in Dallas asked my colleague to generate a conference event with a philanthropic element. After a good bit of brainstorming on our team, the bicycle team building was created. The Dallas program was warmly received with some minor glitches. We rethought some of the elements and I conducted the second ever bicycle team building in Orlando for a large pharmaceutical company. The Senior Vice President emailed me to say, “Your bicycle program was the single best team building event I have ever attended. And let me tell you I’ve attended plenty.”

When I last checked online there were 80+ companies offering bicycle team building events. Over the years tens of thousands of bicycles have been given to children in need. As someone who did the second event ever held and since that time has conducted over 200, I think I am uniquely qualified to answer the following questions: Why has this program become so popular? What are the key elements that make a bicycle team building successful?

1. Why so popular? A well-planned bicycle team building has three key elements…

A. Accomplishment – Team building can be fun, and at the conclusion of a bicycle team building your group has accomplished something tangible. Participants feel a sense of pride after coming together as a team and creating something valuable for needy children.

B. Bikes – Everybody has had one. Think about how you felt when you received your first bike. Remember the thrill of ownership and feeling of freedom your bike gave you. Quite simply, bikes engender fond memories for most adults.

C. Kids – The well-selected charity will bring children who need bikes and often times have never owned one. The look in a child’s eyes when they receive their first bike is something adults won’t soon forget.

2. What are the key elements? There are many decisions to be made correctly when planning a successful program.

A. Venue – Making a decision where the event will be held is important for two reasons. The first is to insure sufficient square footage for the size of your group. Participants will be moving around and assembling parts. If they do not have enough space it can create logistical problems. The second decision is whether to hold the event indoors or outdoors. When the weather is good, having the event outdoors gives participants a break to the indoor meetings they have likely been attending all day. A change of surroundings can foster a change in mood. Keep in mind that temperature and weather conditions where you are traveling from can be radically different than where the event will be held. Late spring can be extraordinarily pleasant in the Northeast, but uncomfortably hot and humid in Florida.

B. Charity coordination – It is highly desirable to work with an organization that is accustomed to moving their children in groups. They are likely to have suitable transportation and staff to manage their youngsters. They must select children of the appropriate age for the bicycles being built. Finally they must need the bicycles. I live in Orlando, a key convention destination. Some charities have become saturated with bicycles. If you don’t ask, they won’t tell. I was recently told by a nationally known organization with branches here in Orlando, they had almost a hundred new bicycles in storage. Your team building consultant should be able to find a children’s agency in need of bicycles.

C. Secrets – Who knows what? I believe it adds a vital element of “POP!” to the event if participants don’t know what they are going to be doing. So calling the event Bicycle Team Building pretty much gives away the story. I also strongly encourage the presence of the children receiving their bikes at the end of the event. The surprise experienced by the participants who are building bikes is surpassed by the excitement of meeting the children for whom the bikes were built.

Bicycle Team Building has grown from a standing start ten years ago to the most popular team building event. Many of our large corporate clients do events repeatedly for different divisions within their organizations. I was recently talking with a large healthcare client at the conclusion of an event and she told me, “This is my tenth bicycle team building and I cry every time!”