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Preparing for a Greener Future 

Preparing for a Greener Future 

By Luke Carothers

When the carbon footprints of various industries are compared, the AEC industry is by far the largest contributor, particularly construction.  Sustainable design has been understood historically as a way to offset carbon footprints of new construction.  Often, however, sustainable design efforts are deprioritized due to cost and the effort to educate clients on the impact of modern sustainability choices.  In light of these historical challenges and recent economic challenges, the adoption of sustainable design choices and materials is increasing and firms are looking to prepare themselves for a future in which sustainable design choices and materials are critical to winning projects.

Despite the recent tendency to deprioritize sustainable design for these reasons, experts believe that AEC firms will start to embrace new technologies that more easily integrate sustainability with cost-effective construction.  One such expert is Camp Boyd, Sustainability Specialist and Senior Specifications Writer for MasterSpec at Deltek.  Having worked in several facets of the industry–including green building certification, product sustainability reports, and greenhouse gas emissions reporting–Boyd has a unique perspective on the implementation of sustainable design.  Boyd believes that the AEC industry will continue its push for more sustainable projects as sustainable building strategies become more and more affordable.  

Compared to even five years ago, efficient systems and fixtures, as well as responsibly made materials, are only nominally more expensive than their traditional counterparts.  With this, Boyd says, comes a “renewed focus on specifications to streamline the process of incorporating appropriate features, fixtures, materials, and systems that further the sustainability goals of a project.”  Architects have indicated that they are more focused on using their specifications as a place to identify appropriate products and communicate that with the rest of the team.  Boyd uses the example of AIA MasterSpec®, who have been developing a tool in the new Specpoint program to help automate the process for spec writers.  This lets architects input a rating system and specific goals and software will pull in compliant materials and systems.  

Another major factor that has historically lessened the impact of environmental design is the cost of educating clients on the benefits of sustainable design choices.  Clients who aren’t educated on the impacts of sustainable design choices on their project tend to choose the cheaper, often less environmentally-friendly option.  However, Boyd points out that, now more than in the past, clients are coming to the table better educated on the aspects of sustainability, which is a “game changer” for these projects.  Still, despite an increase in a client’s prior knowledge, Boyd points out that there is still more work to be done such as increasing the awareness of sustainability strategies as well as the benefits of incorporating these in projects with all members of the project team.  Furthermore, Boyd says there must also be a push to incorporate these strategies early in the design process, so that they are integrated into the full building design.  

While technology will continue to improve and sustainable choices will gain visibility, the adoption of sustainable design choices is heavily influenced by the economic climate.  With challenges putting pressure on projects in the current economic climate, Boyd believes there may be an “inclination to value engineer what some may still consider additional items may start to rise again.”  In the current economic climate, Boyd puts a particular emphasis on engaging stakeholders early on in the design process.  This allows teams to process sustainability items and categorize them from “nice to have” building characteristics to “necessary.”  Boyd believes this will “encourage continued strides towards more sustainability in the built environment.”

Despite the current economic climate, Boyd is confident that sustainable choices will continue to increase in adoption, further noting that AEC firms can “benefit greatly from investing in technology now as the industry rapidly evolves.”  By investing now, AEC firms can keep pace on goals that are becoming increasingly critical in remaining competitive.  As sustainable design and greener building practices continue to rise, technology and software tools can help firms optimize their designs for efficiency and sustainability.

Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.