How to Green Your Architecture Firm – October 20, 2004

October 20, 2004

HOW TO GREEN YOUR ARCHITECTURE (OR OTHER) FIRM

The can-do spirit of presenters Meredith Elbaum of Sasaki and Jason Abbey of New York-based Fox & Fowle Architects at GreenHomeNYC’s October forum was contagious. Both presenters shared how they have worked to green their firms and projects through education, demonstration, and recreation. Audience members left ready to green their places of employment.


SASAKI AND ASSOCIATES


Note: You can download the Sasaki & Associates powerpoint presentation here. (File size is approximately 8 mb)

The interdisciplinary nature of Sasaki as well as the firm’s history and culture set the stage for Ms. Elbaum to start and grow Sasaki Green – the initiative to educate employees on how they can reduce their environmental impact both through their actions and their projects. Sasaki Green aims to infuse green building practices into the firm’s projects by focusing on the company’s operations to, leading by example, and empowering professionals with information on the process, resources, research, and education to put green building into practice.

Learning how to lead by example requires employees to reflect on their day-to-day actions and office environment and ask

  • How much energy do we use?
  • What is the quality of our indoor environment?
  • What is the impact of our daily commute?
  • What is our impact on our site?
  • What do we purchase?
  • How much waste do we produce?

Similarly, empowering the professional practice requires asking many questions.

  • What do we need to know?
  • What resources are available?
  • Within our processes, what needs to change?
  • What research is available to help us figure out what can we do?

To begin to answer some of these questions, Sasaki rated its energy performance and scored an Energy Star rating of 47. The firm then hired an energy consultant to look at how this could be improved. Together with the consultant, Sasaki Green set its first priority to be more energy efficient by focusing on building envelope performance, lighting, controls, equipment, and electronics. So far the group has instituted a computer shut-down program and replacing failed computer monitors with more efficient flat screen monitors and as incandescent lights fail, they are replaced with compact fluorescents. The second priority is to create energy through renewable technologies. In fact, Sasaki was awarded a grant to study the feasibility of building-integrated photovoltaics and a micro-hydroelectric system on the Charles River Spillway adjacent to their building. The third energy priority for Sasaki is to invest savings in energy costs into purchasing green power.

Beyond the performance of the building, Sasaki Green encourages employees to evaluate the impacts of their commutes to work in a fun way. Sasaki Green threw a happy hour where they posted a transit map and outlined transportation alternatives. The group looked at several ways of encouraging alternative transportation at Sasaki including 100% financial support of local transit (nearly 20% participation) to monthly “alternative transportation days” where employees bike, walk, run and even kayak to work. The group has also instituted Sasaki’s sponsorship of an on-site hybrid Zipcar that provides transportation at the office for those without a vehicle. The group has also begun a tree planting program to offset carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles.

A third example of Sasaki Green’s reflection on the firm’s environmental impacts focuses on its site impacts. The group looked at ways to diminish contribution to the Urban Heat Island Effect, especially from its parking lot. They are exploring ways to reduce and contain storm water runoff and examining the best practices to do this adjacent to the Charles River. The pilot project was to install five different pervious paving systems in their parking lot in order to determine their durability, aesthetics and ability to filter storm water. Sasaki Green is also investigating several potential projects including a green roof to capture roof runoff for onsite irrigation, and testing photovoltaic sunscreens on the building’s façade.

Sasaki Group is providing employees with the tools to be change agents. Once the principles of green building make their way into, the impact can be great. Sasaki has projects worldwide including Beirut, Cairo, Poland, Greece, France, Singapore, Taiwan, China, Mexico, and Aruba. While the impacts of Sasaki employees “greening” their daily activities is minimal, the impact of greening their projects which are located all over the world can be much greater. Information and status of Sasaki Green initiatives are provided through the GreenNews quarterly e-newsletter. Sasaki Green brings in green vendors to speak to the design professionals during regular lunches. In addition, Sasaki Green hosts Sasaki GreenDay once a year with various speakers, festivities, and encouraged alternative transportation.

The lessons and tools Sasaki’s employees learn from the events, newsletters, and experiments will help design professionals design better, higher performing, and green developments. Sasaki Green encourages this because it is the socially responsible thing to do; green design is good design; designing high performing buildings is challenging and exciting, and green buildings is good business practice as green buildings take a greater portion of new construction each year. For more information, check out www.sasakigreen.com.


FOX AND FOWLE


Jason Abbey of Fox & Fowle, a well-known green leader in NYC, has also started a green initiative within his firm to green the culture, practices, and projects of the firm. The first step, he explains, is to get organized. He recruited other interested employees and started Team Green at Fox & Fowle with the aim of educating the firm on green products and design through sharing ideas, trying new products at the office, and bringing in speakers. The appreciation of the benefits of green design has spread throughout the office, as approximately 50 percent of the office is LEED accredited to date and the green education process continues with regular seminars.

As part of getting organized, Abbey suggests staying up to date on green building news by subscribing the various publications and websites as well as getting involved with local groups include the local United States Green Building Council (USGBC), the USGBC Emerging Green Builders, AIA COTE, and EBANYS. The Green Team works to keep the other informed of new research or information learned. Similar to Sasaki, Fox & Fowle has a website dedicated to green resources for employees and clients. The website includes projects built to sustainable guidelines, regional information, and possible funding opportunities through NYSERDA and NOAA.

Fox & Fowle’s office initiatives are impressive in terms of number and scope. Best of all, there are replicable in most firms, others more easily than others. The initiatives go beyond education and reducing energy and water consumption to include:

  • Bringing plants with clean air properties to the office to improve the indoor air quality
  • Purchasing green power
  • Use of public transit
  • Purchasing green cleaning products such as Sun & Earth
  • Purchasing other green products such as Marcal paper products
  • Paper recycling
  • Office composting (on the roof in corn starch bio-degradable bags)
  • Avoiding wasting energy after-hours
  • Involvement in environmental action groups
  • Green investment for company 401k plan
  • Benchmarking
  • Attending conferences and conventions
  • Green newsletter

The Green Team is not about to rest on its laurels yet. The members have targeted areas where there is opportunity to further green the office and educate workers and clients.

  • Choose green hotels when traveling
  • Buy energy efficient office equipment
  • Buy secondhand office furniture
  • Develop a plan to reduce carbon emissions
  • Offset environmental impacts
  • Use eco-friendly pest control
  • Resource management

Green design principles are an integral part of many of the firm’s projects. In fact, Fox & Fowle is well known for its pioneering into the field of green building. For example, one of its recent projects, the Helena Apartment Building, will include a black water filtration plant, photovoltaics, and an efficient air handling system that are expected to bring this project to a LEED Gold rating.

The benefit of the green initiatives within the office is that the office acts as a laboratory and a place for clients to see green technologies in action. For example, Fox & Fowle has installed waterless urinals into its New York Office. When clients come for meetings, they have the opportunity to see exactly how the waterless urinals work and how clean they are. They are then less reluctant to have them in their projects. Fox and Fowle has projects in New York City and all over the world and the impact of the Green Team’s initiatives can be significant.


Q & A


Q: How do you deal with in-house resistance to the green initiatives?

A: You must understand what the issues those who are resistant have and address those issues. Bring in product experts and increase education opportunities to correct misconceptions. When an idea is a good one, it is quite easy to make your point strong enough because you are right.

Remember, small steps lead to big steps and eventually you will find fewer and fewer resistant folks. It is easy to get started. Start small. Both Sasaki and Fox & Fowle started their Green Teams through small lunchtime gatherings. The small steps then steamroll and you attract more people and can get a budget. It costs nothing to start a Green Team and it never hurts to ask supervisors if you can start one and eventually if you can have a small budget.

Q: Do clients come to you because you are green or vice versa?

A: Both. Some clients have no idea what green building is. Some clients come specifically because of the firm’s green experience. Having in-house knowledge and experience of green building strategies, which really is high performance building, is definitely a positive marketing tool. This is especially true in attracting cultural institutions and college campuses where donors and students are demanding more environmentally-sensitive development.

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