Balancing New Commercial Builds With Environmental Interests
Enterprise and the environment can coexist. Neither has to suffer, and a balance is possible with the right planning and modern practices. The workforce and the planet both have needs, and with emerging trends in sustainability, designers can meet them without having to make a problematic compromise.
That said, accounting for environmental interests demands a significant adaptation of conventional strategies. Drafting for a commercial build that satisfies higher standards of energy efficiency isn't a simple process, and qualifying for LEED certification requires synergy between many different components.
Beyond the use of renewable materials during development, designers also have to consider the integration of alternative energy sources in the building's infrastructure — and the installation can prove expensive. Weighing these expenses against potential gains is part of the math, and everything has to add up.
But when it does, the results are incredible. In this article, we'll focus on ways in which new commercial builds are shirking the status quo, transitioning toward eco-friendly methods of development that will change the nature of planning and construction moving forward.
Zero Energy Buildings
When most people consider the subject of carbon emissions, many think of motor vehicles as the leading contributor. But it might surprise them to know that commercial and residential buildings account for 39 percent of annual carbon emissions in the United States, more than any other sector — including transportation.
It stands to reason, then, why architects would want to counter this issue with zero energy buildings. Essentially, these buildings produce enough renewable energy to meet their own energy consumption requirements. For large commercial builds, this is an attractive proposition in terms of yearly savings.
To maintain a zero energy commercial build takes more than the build itself, however. Employees coordinate their behavior to reflect eco-friendly office practices, adopting new conservation techniques to cut down on waste and reduce individual impact. Working together, they make an enormous difference.
While zero energy buildings account for the expenditure during operation, expenditure throughout the construction process isn't factored in. The waste and emissions that come from resources and equipment aren't as easy to manage, representing a far more complex subject. That said, there are solutions.
Companies are sometimes hesitant to adapt their energy infrastructure, citing their budget against environmental interests. Despite this, the benefits of solar power are indisputable, and the initial investment often yields a high return. All savings aside, solar energy presents a far cleaner alternative to oil or natural gas.
Citing the same statistic from the prior section, commercial and residential buildings are the leading contributor of carbon emissions in the United States. Solar panels combat this growing problem, capitalizing on one of the world's most abundant resources without harming the environment. Every kilowatt of solar energy produced keeps 300 lbs. of carbon out of the atmosphere.
In certain instances, a business can even earn money from their solar power infrastructure. During long spans of sunny weather, they have the potential to accumulate more energy than their operation needs to function, which they can then sell back to utility companies to make a profit. But what about costs?
Solar panel tax credits have made renewable energy far more accessible for American business owners. The costs associated with solar energy have dropped 50 percent since 2008, a margin that is essential to consider. At the current rate, panels will likely prove less expensive than fossil fuels.
Big Data and Analytics
A building relies on both its physical infrastructure and its digital infrastructure. Without data to help make decisions and determine the best course of action, construction firms and business owners alike have difficulty operating at peak efficiency. Fortunately, big data has this problem covered.
Big data pulls together all the important indicators a decision maker has to consider before they make their investment, giving them a clear representation of costs and benefits. With this new context, they can approach their job with an informed understanding of how to proceed and what measures to take.
Many green building teams rely on external metrics to assist them in their day-to-day responsibilities. They use the information to prioritize different design choices, optimizing the resources at their disposal for maximum efficiency. This, in turn, lessens the environmental impact of their commercial build.
Big data addresses two common weaknesses in green construction. It accounts for potential pitfalls in the design and planning process and makes up for the lack of an explicit feedback loop between design and operation. But with thorough analysis, these elements can work together as a dynamic machine.
Finding the Right Balance
The United States still has a lot of progress to make before green construction is normalized. But with the commitment of architects and designers, the broad adoption of new technology, dedicated organizations and government initiatives, the nation gets closer every day to achieving that harmony.
The time may come when sustainable building practices are mandatory once political leaders recognize the necessity of eco-friendly infrastructure. But until then, those in the industry should do what they can to support the push toward a healthier planet.