More Than Being Green: Making Sustainable Design Personal
Sustainability is a powerful aspect of design. With the right tools, sustainable design has the power to conserve water, reduce carbon footprints and enhance energy resiliency for present and future generations. These traditional aspects of sustainable design benefit everyone on a grand scale, yet the immediate impact can feel minimal for individuals. What most people don’t know, though, is that there’s an entire area of sustainable design that is solely focused on directly improving the lives of individuals.
Exploring an Unexpected Area of Sustainable Design
According to the General Services Administration (GSA), the objectives of sustainable design fall into two categories. The first and most common objective is reducing negative impacts on the environment. But the second area, the one that is often overlooked, is creating healthy, productive environments for occupants. Or as companies call it: health and wellness.
The health and wellness focus of sustainable design underscores the importance of enhancing the indoor environment to help keep employees and occupants healthy. Many companies encourage their employees to choose healthy activities by offering gym membership discounts or sponsoring a wellness walk for charity. But the truth is, a company’s building can also help keep employees healthy by reducing stressors and harmful materials.
A company’s building can also help keep employees healthy by reducing stressors and harmful materials.
The most common areas of sustainable design for health and wellness include:
- Acoustics — Reducing or isolating loud noises that can damage hearing and cause headaches. For example, conducting sound mapping while determining a facility layout can help ensure excessively loud areas, like a mechanical room or auditorium, are not placed next to individual office spaces.
- Indoor air quality — Ensuring air is properly filtered within a building to help minimize pollutants that cause respiratory illnesses and various chronic conditions. For example, determining upfront the level of filtration and specific monitoring systems desired, like carbon dioxide sensors, and designing the space to accommodate those specifications to make sure the air quality meets a client’s needs.
- Materials health — Avoiding or eliminating toxic chemicals from materials within a building to reduce harmful transference to occupants. By conducting upfront research on the chemical types and levels in all material options, it is possible to make aesthetically pleasing choices that are also healthy and sustainable.
- Thermal comfort — Managing temperature and humidity to sustain a comfortable indoor environment. For example, identifying the proper placement and size of exterior windows can be essential in efficiently maintaining a consistent indoor temperature for occupants throughout all seasons without causing undue stress on the buildings’ heating and cooling systems.
- Visual comfort — Considering the amount of light a space receives, both naturally and artificially, to reduce glare and eye strain. For spaces that receive significant daylight, for example, indoor lighting could be kept at a minimum. Or using circadian rhythm LED lighting that matches the sun, rather than standard lights, can help occupants wind down naturally as the day progresses.
Encouraging Conversations on Sustainability
At Hoefer Welker, our commitment to sustainability goes beyond our work; it is who we are. With events like Earth Week, which challenges our sustainable lifestyle choices, and HW University, which provides our employees with training on the latest techniques, we always keep sustainability at the forefront of our conversations.
Through honest and collaborative discussion, we can help clients realize and articulate the sustainable goals they truly care about early in the design process — and then modify our approach accordingly to achieve those goals
Through honest and collaborative discussion, we can help clients realize and articulate the sustainable goals they truly care about early in the design process — and then modify our approach accordingly to achieve those goals. For example, suppose a client identifies upfront in designing a new building that they want to maximize daylight, ensure thermal comfort and reduce energy costs. In that case, our design team would determine the ideal placement of not only windows but also the building itself to optimize daylight, minimize glare and reduce the amount of hot afternoon sunlight.
Sustainably designing and constructing one building may seem like a drop in the bucket; however, sustainable design can help the planet while also creating a better future for people inhabiting the building now and for generations to come. By considering all aspects of sustainability, architects and builders can develop structures that are environmentally friendly, resource-efficient, and healthy places to live and work. With sustainable design, we have the opportunity to make a real difference in the world — one building at a time.
Senior Associate | Sustainability Specialist
As a champion of sustainability, Ashley continually raises the bar in regard to performance-driven sustainable design at Hoefer Welker, with direct involvement in most of the firm’s sustainable projects from initial application through final certification.