What Qualifies as Sustainable?
Architects proclaim sustainable design. Manufacturers promote sustainable products. But, what does it mean to be sustainable?
The words sustainable, green, and eco-friendly are used loosely and way too often. In fact, architects, builders, and manufacturers who take some “green” actions may not deliver a truly sustainable project.
Green does not always translate into sustainable.
By definition, sustainable means the ability to maintain at a certain rate or level. When it comes to building or manufacturing, that level needs definition.
Following is a guideline for what qualifies a building project as sustainable.
Simply put, a sustainable building is designed to stand the test of time.
- It features a timeless design that fits seamlessly into the existing environment.
- That design will be cherished and preserved…and never temporary.
- Its operation efficiency will last and only improve.
Sustainability means not just reducing but minimizing or even eliminating the following:
- Energy usage (generating as much or more energy than the building consumes).
- Water usage (using rainwater for all water functions other than human consumption).
- Impact on other natural resources (maximizing the embodied carbon of recycled products, replanting trees, and investing in carbon offsets).
- Waste (through purposeful materials selection and on-site construction procedures).
- Harmful impacts on the community, watershed, and ecosystems (during construction and in building operation).
A sustainable building supports human health with biophilic elements such as maximized natural light and the use of natural materials, bringing the outside in.
A sustainable building starts with design intention and continues through construction with a partnership with all stakeholders including the project owner, engineers, contractors, energy modelers, and specifiers.
Materials selection is also a critical step in designing a sustainable building. Sustainable products and solutions come from manufacturers that follow the same guidelines above. A sustainable product will have most or all of the following:
- Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) which provides quantified environmental data about the environmental impacts of the product or system.
- Health Product Declaration (HPD) which discloses any known hazards.
- Materials Data Sheet (MDS) lists all ingredients in the product.
- Life-Cycle Analysis (LCA) compares the overall energy costs embodied in the use of a product and measures a product’s complete lifecycle from extraction and manufacture through product utilization to recycling or re-use.
- Limited transportation from factory to the job site.
Architects and specifiers more often take the time to request this information from manufacturers to make informed decisions supporting their sustainable design plan.
How is a sustainable project qualified?
Look to the USGBC. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. Available for virtually all building, community, and home project types, LEED provides a framework to create healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green building. LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement.
Before describing your project or product as sustainable, review the guidelines above. Green building is important, but it doesn’t always mean a sustainable end result. True sustainable achievement is a result of purposeful, qualified, and quantified steps.
For more information on LEED certification, visit www.usgbc.org/leed