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March 11, 2004
Photo courtesy of GGLO
Alcyone will offer a tenant education program to complement its sustainable design approach. The project, built by Rushforth Construction, will be complete in May.
With the explosion of interest in sustainable design and green building technologies, there is an avalanche of information available on design principles, materials, construction practices and their environmental benefits.
Designing and constructing a green building is becoming more achievable every day. But what happens after the project is built? What about the relationship between the building and its inhabitants? How effectively do they sustain each other?
Whether you own or manage a green office building, school, municipal facility or residential development, sustainable operations and maintenance are the keys to long-term benefits for owners and users.
Sustainable buildings are often called high-performance buildings. And as any car enthusiast will confirm, high performance also means regular maintenance and knowledgeable operation.
With the wealth of information about sustainable projects, there are accounts of good ideas gone bad. Wonderfully daylit office spaces have made glare problems for computer users; innovative air-circulation systems had to be replaced by costly HVAC systems due to operational misunderstandings; and low-VOC and recycled materials were damaged by common cleaning materials.
From basic strategies of building orientation and layout to enhance natural lighting and solar gain, to complex HVAC and energy management systems, every green building strategy is an expression of the goals and aspirations of its stakeholders.
Each project is designed to offer the user a variety of benefits, ranging from reduced utility costs to improved quality of life. The challenge is realizing those benefits over the long term.
Strategies to ensure that your facility remains green throughout its occupancy include operations and maintenance training, user education and green maintenance.
A successful sustainable building begins with an integrated design process that is carried through construction. Including operations and maintenance staff in project progress meetings is an important way to inform material and equipment choices and specifications.
Building commissioning is also an excellent method for recording the owner's understandings and expectations about building performance and confirming that mechanical and electrical systems function as intended.
An understanding of the HVAC system design and operation parameters is essential to maintaining indoor air quality and thermal comfort. Operations and maintenance manuals are a normal part of building closeout procedures.
But beyond product cut sheets, documenting the specifics of system design and operation as part of a commissioning plan is necessary to convey the dynamics of operable windows, alternative approaches to air intake and circulation, and individual system controls.
The process does not end with the commissioning plan. At the end of construction, a commissioning agent tests building systems and provides a report organizing operation guidelines, maintenance requirements and training procedures. Often the commissioning agent will continue to monitor the building for its first year or two of operation.
Commissioning, a prerequisite for LEED certification, in conjunction with a program of monitoring and testing, post-occupancy evaluation and demonstrations, can add a new dimension to the development of sustainable buildings, establishing a minimum level of training that enhances operator knowledge levels.
Users, tenants and visitors also play an essential role in the functioning of a sustainable building and the quality of the indoor environment.
Building owners and property managers typically establish policies about issues such as lighting, signage, parking, recycling and waste management to protect the appearance, safety and value of their holdings.
Lease agreements frequently constrain behaviors like smoking or chemical usage. These measures ensure the well-being of their clients and differentiate their product in the marketplace.
Sustainable operations can become the elements of a marketing and educational program, providing information and resources to support sustainable living. Outreach to staff, tenants, prospective tenants and visitors can be done through brochures, manuals, case studies, Web sites, interpretive signage and kiosks.
Ongoing outreach might also include joint user and management committees to respond to changing needs. This communication can be a valuable tool in addressing complaints and identifying practices that affect indoor air quality and energy use.
Sustainable buildings often use recycled content, low-VOC and salvaged materials to minimize costs, eliminate waste and reduce pollutants within interior spaces. Many also maintain landscaping and pest control through environmentally friendly methods. However, these approaches require the understanding and cooperation of users.
Common household cleaning products from cleansers to air fresheners can introduce pollutants into indoor air and damage finishes selected for their environmental sensitivity and durability. The improper disposal of cleaning or food wastes in landscaped areas can be detrimental to plants and undermine pest control.
There are many products and services available for green cleaning and maintenance, and more are coming. Some sustainable projects have established co-ops among tenants to buy appropriate supplies, and many are providing initial quantities of approved products to tenants to encourage their use.
Design professional can help developers and owners make the most of their investment in sustainable buildings.
Input from property managers and marketing teams early in the process helps the design team make choices that will be more effective in the long term and more likely to help owners and users save money.
There is a lot we still can learn about effective green design and sustainable living. We must look beyond the design and construction challenges and take into account the day to day issues of owners, tenants, property managers and maintenance personnel.
Together, we can create sustainability in our buildings and in the people that inhabit them.
Nancy Henderson and Michelle Rosenberger are both LEED-accredited professionals and members of GGLO's sustainable design group.