Sustainable design aims to avoid depletion of critical resources like energy, water, and raw materials; prevent environmental degradation caused by facilities and infrastructure throughout their life cycle; and create livable, comfortable, safe, and productive structures to ensure the viability of future generations.
Aside from introducing sustainable design in new construction, proponents of sustainable design are pushing towards retrofitting existing buildings rather than building anew. Retrofitting an existing building can be more cost-effective than building a new facility by reducing operational costs, diminishing environmental impacts, and increasing building resiliency. The embodied energy of the existing building are squandered when the building is allowed to decay.
The following six fundamental principles of sustainable design are applicable to both new construction and existing buildings.
1. Optimize Site Design
Creating sustainable buildings begins with careful site selection, taking into consideration the reuse or rehabilitation of existing buildings. The location, orientation, and landscaping of a building affect local ecosystems, transportation methods, and energy use. It is vital to include smart growth principles into the project development process, whether the project is a single family home, multifamily condominium or university campus. Siting for physical security is a critical issue in optimizing site design, including locations of access roads, parking, vehicle barriers, and perimeter lighting. The site of a sustainable building should treat storm water runoff and strive to support native flora and fauna of the region.
2. Optimize Energy Consumption
With the increasing demand for fossil fuel resources, concerns for energy independence and security are increasing. As the impacts of global climate change become more evident, it is essential to reduce energy consumption, increase efficiency, and maximize the use of renewable energy sources in the private and public sectors. Government and private sector organizations are committed to building and operating net zero energy buildings as a way to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel-derived energy.
3. Preserve Water
In many regions of the United States, as well as many sections of the world, fresh water is an increasingly scarce resource. A sustainable building should utilize water efficiently by reusing and recycling water for on-site use whenever possible. The effort to bring drinkable water to our household faucets consumes enormous energy resources in pumping, transport, and treatment. Not only are potentially toxic chemicals used to make water potable but the environmental and financial costs of sewage treatment are too great to ignore.
4. Optimize Space & Material Usage
While our population continues to grow, natural resource usage will continue to increase and the demand for additional goods and services will continue to stress available resources. It is paramount to achieve an intelligent use of materials that maximizes their value, prevents upstream pollution, and conserves resources. A sustainable building is designed and operated to utilize and recycle materials in the most productive way across its entire life cycle and is adaptable for reuse during its life cycle.
The materials used in a sustainable design minimize life-cycle environmental impacts such as global warming, resource depletion, and human toxicity. Environmentally preferable materials have a reduced effect on human health and the environment and contribute to improved worker safety and health, reduced liabilities, and achievement of environmental goals.
5. Improve Indoor Environmental Quality
The indoor environmental quality (IEQ) of a building has a significant impact on occupant health, comfort, and productivity. Among other attributes, a sustainable building maximizes daylighting, has appropriate ventilation and moisture control, optimizes acoustic performance, and avoids the use of materials with high-VOC emissions. Principles of IEQ emphasize smart systems to control lighting and temperature.
6. Optimize Operations & Maintenance
Taking into account a building's operations and maintenance (O&M) during the initial design phase of a facility will contribute to improved working environments, higher productivity, reduced energy and resource costs, and prevented system failures. Urge building operators and maintenance personnel to participate in the design and development phases to establish optimal O&M of the building. Designers can specify materials and systems that simplify and reduce maintenance requirements; require less water, energy, and toxic chemicals to maintain; and are cost-effective while reducing life-cycle costs. Facilities should be designed to include meters in order to track the progress of sustainability initiatives, such as reductions in energy usage, water usage and waste generation.