Part VII: Lean, Mean and Green – The Series

Green Economics: Oxymoron or Symbiotic Relationship

We have been leading up to this – the part where ‘the rubber meets the road.” And you probably are ready to hear that you have to spend more money than ‘normal’ for a ‘Green’ building, but that you’ll recoup the costs ‘over time.’ Well, I’m here to tell you to forget all that. Besides, that is just part of doing good design and making value judgements on capital expenses compared to maintenance and utility costs.

Think about the relationship between a better process, a simple concept, and challenging the status quo on standard assumptions we have developed in the AEC industry. A better process places a higher value, and putting more effort into developing better information from which to make decisions early in the project. We should challenge assumptions like:

The architect is the only expert, and is supposed to know how to execute every detail. We should be looking to engaging suppliers and subcontractors in the design process to discover what systems make the most sense for a particular project.

Sustainability practices in the AEC environment are simply ‘add on’ expenses. Another way to look at this is to simply identify ideas and practices that make sense for a particular project and client; then integrate them into the project program and budget.

More drawings are always better. I believe that through working within the boundaries of traditional systems, we can reduce the amount of necessary detailing. Where we need more detail in the ‘science’ of the building – envelope design, mechanical and lighting systems – as well as the ‘psychology’ of the spaces – how do they make people feel, and how much more productive can they be as a result?

Interestingly, these are the things that European designers look at as baseline design requirements. For them it’s not about ‘being green’ as much as it is about doing the right thing. Somewhere we have missed that, and are now working our way back in that direction.

The economics of this kind of thinking can’t always be measured, but if we start developing baselines, and use BIM and energy modeling to review and check our design against baselines, we can work toward continual improvement. I’m thinking of numbers like BTUH per Square Foot per Year. And yards of concrete or pounds of stell per Square Foot. And employee productivity gains.

If you have not, you might consider picking up the book called “Natural Capitalism – Creating the Next Industrial Revolution.’ If you’re like me, you will read it and think ‘wow, this is all good stuff’ and you will walk away feeling good about your new found knowledge…that is until you realize the book was actually written in 1999 and you’re 10 years behind the curve.

In the last section of this series, we’ll bring all of the previous posts together and talk about the future of the AEC team and what it means to all of us.