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What are the next steps in sustainable design?

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Adam Krason Adam Krason
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Adam Krason is an architect and principal at ZMM Architects and Engineers. He has been involved in a variety of project types, including military facilities, educational facilities, office buildings, justice centers and multi-unit residential development.  He also has been an advocate of sustainable design in West Virginia, participating in a variety of sustainable design seminars throughout the state.

Efforts to implement principles of sustainable design in the commercial construction market have in large part been successful.  The strategies advanced by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) through the LEED Certification process have become industry standards, and manufacturers, suppliers and contractors have responded to the shift in the market.  The LEED guidelines laid the groundwork for what became an intense focus on green building design, and there is now a significant amount of real-world evidence to back up the concepts and technologies.  Additionally, sustainable design rating systems and standards have continued to push the envelope and drive the industry forward.  Model Building Codes are catching up by adopting these strategies and standards, and in the near future, what we now call "sustainable design" will simply be called "building design and construction."  Realizing these advancements, it is time to consider, "What are the next steps?"

Over the last several years there has been an acknowledgement that while there is a benefit to designing new facilities (or undertaking substantial building renovations) to meet the requirements of LEED certification, the benefit is incremental in that very few new buildings are constructed every year in comparison to the existing building stock.  To achieve a greater reduction in the energy use associated with buildings, the focus needs to migrate from new building construction to improvements to the energy performance of our existing structures, as well as a focus on developing more efficient and sustainable ways to operate and maintain existing structures.  This renewed focus on existing buildings will help building owners by reducing both energy consumption and other operational expenses.

Another emerging "next step" is a focus on resiliency as a component of sustainability.  A general description of the relationship between the two concepts has often been stated as "where sustainability aims to put the world back into balance, resiliency looks for ways to manage an imbalanced world."  While buildings that have been designed to respond to sustainable design principles have focused on reducing their impact on the environment, they have not always been designed to respond or adapt to environmental changes and catastrophic events.

This discussion is timely in West Virginia, where we recently faced several significant weather related events including last summer's derecho and the winter weather generated by Hurricane Sandy.  Many of the strategies for designing more resilient structures can be found by observing practices from developing countries where the power grid is less reliable.  Locally, many people have responded to these catastrophic events by purchasing individual generators, but there are emerging sustainable strategies such as smart grid technology and renewable on-site power generation that will begin to provide the fail-safe resiliency that is desired.