Green Forum: Greening the triple bottom line

Filed under: Focus |

By Tia Heneghan

Special to the Business Journal

High performing buildings which improve the economic, social and environmental performance (triple bottom line) compared to buildings of the past happen as a result of an integrated design process. This process relies on a multidisciplinary team working together to create optimal “whole buildings” design solutions that are greater than the sum of their parts.

How you site a building can enhance its aesthetic value, decrease its environmental impact, and improve energy performance for the entire life of the structure. Other site factors to evaluate include cost, future flexibility, ease of maintenance, and impact to occupants and the surrounding community

Since the siting of a building is a major impact in every aspect, from direct environmental impact, to energy consumption, to indoor environmental quality (IEQ), considerations include location and building orientation. Initial site investigations include what are the impacts from the surroundings such as exhaust fumes and noise as well as what are the existing transportation corridors and infrastructure. Are there water or soil containment problems, and can they be mitigated? Site issues include transportation, green field impacts, existing pollution on the site, storm-water management and orientation of the building to improve energy efficiency and IEQ.

High performance building principles discourage the development of green fields. Green fields include previously undeveloped land, restored land, agricultural properties, and parks. These areas have high ecological, social, and community values. In addition, often the development of green fields increases sprawl which can often burden the local infrastructure if it is not considered early in the process.

A climate-responsive design is impacted by the building’s orientation with relation to the sun. Elongating a building along the east-east axis can improve the building’s ability to optimize passive heating and cooling, natural ventilation, and day lighting. Maximizing the south facing building façade not only optimizes the exposure to the sun but also allows for more diffused day lighting. The sun is low in the sky in the morning (east) and afternoon (west) and the light coming in would be more likely to cause glare.

Heat islands are areas that have higher ambient temperatures than the surrounding area. This is due to the use of dark, impermeable surface areas and lack of vegetation and tree cover. Heat islands can be 2-10 degrees hotter which create higher HVAC loads and reduce both outdoor and indoor comfort. Heat islands can be mitigated by using cool roofs or green roofs, by strategically landscaping the perimeter of the building with trees to increase shade cover, and by decreasing impervious surface areas. A simple strategy for our local Colorado climate is to not put parking on the west side of a building. The peak cooling load in Colorado for most office buildings is in the afternoon, so the west side should have a landscape strategy to mitigate an additional load on the building.

Site developments involve covering permeable ground with impervious surfaces (parking lots, buildings, etc.) which significantly increase the storm-water runoff of the site. The runoff will often contain pollutants, such as oil and gasoline, from the parking lot. Infiltration techniques can be utilized to treat the water before it leaves the site.

Using integrated landscape management plan techniques, such as vegetated run off areas to filter the water before it leaves the site and increasing the landscape to paved area ratio, reduces the impact of the water leaving the site.

Proper siting of a building can improve the triple bottom line by maintaining an efficient infrastructure, creating a sense of community, and preserving natural systems.

Tia Heneghan is a LEED accredited professional. She can be reached at 719/475-0980.