Part 2: A Deeper Green, Takeaways from Living Future 2015

New Sustainable Design Strategies, Regenerative Design

Earlier this month, Susan Kaplan, CCS, LEED AP BD+C, HLW’s Managing Director of Sustainability & Specifications, and Michele Neptune, LEED AP, BD+C, HLW’s Director of Sustainability, attended the Living Future unConference 2015 in Seattle, WA. Kaplan presented at an affiliated event, the Declare Summit, sponsored by the Living Product Challenge.

In the previous installment, we discussed several broad concepts associated with Living Future 2015. We asked you to consider evaluating your project’s “green handprint,” the capacity to positively impact the environment. We also examined how “scaling-up” nature’s models has its advantages. This post will address regenerative design strategies in more detail.

Revealing Conversations, Getting Closer to Building Materials Transparency

Revealing product ingredients is viewed by many as a catalyst for revealing human health impacts in the built environment. Susan Kaplan serves on the board of the Health Product Declaration Collaborative (HPDC), a non-profit, customer-led organization committed to the continuous improvement of the building industry’s performance through openness and innovation. She has also worked for more than a decade to cultivate a dialogue between manufacturers, designers, and end users about sustainable materials selection. As head of HLW’s Specifications Group, she is ideally positioned to facilitate this conversation within our industry.

For the Declare Summit, Kaplan spoke about how education can lead to implementation of best practices for material transparency. “Wanting to know how the products that makeup our surroundings may negatively impact people and the environment is not new,” she said. “What is new is the emphasis on revealing the ingredients in materials, versus listing and prohibiting problematic materials.” The move toward robust transparency has a number of immediate ramifications for our industry. Manufacturers now need to learn about their own supply chains, and design professionals are questioning anew how best to research materials. The formation of standardized reporting has become critical.

Importance of User Experience

A major focus of Living Future 2015 was identifying how to measure various aspects of the human experience, including happiness. Previous rating systems have touched on occupant satisfaction. However, the current trend places more emphasis on the importance of the well-being of building users.

Conference presenters addressed the specific issue of how to use building commissioning as a vehicle for advancing post-occupancy evaluation solutions. Measuring a building’s lighting and energy usage, including the mechanics of systems like lighting controls, is part of previous rating systems. A newer approach evaluates how people experience a space. Factors, such as glare, luminance, and thermal comfort, are evaluated on an individual level. Similarly, commissioning services could be expanded to encompass other issues, including acoustics and biophilic design.

Advanced technologies, including thermal and high dynamic range (HDR) photography, as well as enhanced measurement tools and software, will be critical to the development of accurate measurements and effective solutions. A key takeaway from this line of discussion is the emphasis on user experience and its evaluation.

Considerations when Choosing LBC, LEED or WELL

According to Michele Neptune, a particularly interesting session at Living Future 2015 involved hearing from a Core & Shell developer pursuing Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification, who described the challenges of building a commercial spec building to “the highest levels of deep green standards.” He strongly stressed the need for an integrated team of professionals and a well-considered game plan that addresses the technicalities of siting, façade construction, and energy efficiency to intangibles, such as biophilic design and occupant experience.

When evaluating which certification process is best for your building, Neptune recommends an integrative approach, involving early and frequent conversations between all project stakeholders, the architects, designers, engineers, contractors, client, and other team members. This approach encourages dialogue and supports interdisciplinary solutions and synergies. “The architect needs to utilize as many resources as possible, from extensive standards, such as the Active Design Guidelines to quick reference apps, like the Ecology Pocket Guide. These resources are vital for facilitating and supplementing conversations about the sustainable implications of our design choices,” she said.

Neptune explained that clients often look for someone to tell them which one rating system to use, but “The truth is that it shouldn’t come down to which single system, but which components of which system (or systems) best complement your project objectives.” People often forget that LBC, LEED and Well are designed to be harmonious, to work together. If you are clear about what you want to achieve for your project and if everyone involved is communicating at each stage of the project, then increasing levels of sustainability is more easily achieved than one would assume.

The big takeaway from Living Future 2015 is that the challenges may be daunting but the solutions are numerous—and feasible, if you are willing to take the leap! You don’t have to wait for tomorrow’s new shade of green. Start making sustainable choices today.