May 22, 2014

Environmental & Economic Benefits of Sustainable Design

Buildings consume a large amount of our natural resources and have a wide range of environmental effects. These environmental concerns are a key driver behind the choice to use sustainable design.

Buildings use resources (energy, water, raw materials, and etc.), generate waste (occupant, construction and demolition), and emit potentially harmful atmospheric emissions contributing significantly to environmental pollutant levels in the United States and abroad. So, it’s not a surprising to hear that as a whole, U.S. buildings use 36% of U.S. energy demand, 68% of the country’s electricity (more than half of which is generated from coal), and nearly 40% of U.S. natural gas consumption (DOE 2002). Applying sustainable design principles can significantly reduce these impacts.


Decreases our Ecological Footprint

Preserving our environment and avoiding the depletion of the earth’s natural resources is important to us. Many sustainable structural engineering principles can help reduce impacts on natural resources and ecosystems (improving air and water quality, conserving and restoring natural resources). In addition, these designs help to lower air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.

Reducing fuel and electricity consumption can lower CO2 emissions, a greenhouse gas that is linked to climate change. In addition, by cutting electricity consumption, air pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) from power plants, can also be decreased – helping to reduce regional environmental problems, such as acid rain.

Reduces Solid Waste

The US produces more than 230 million tons of municipal solid waste per year, consisting of paper, yard waste, plastics, metals, etc. The 30 to 35 million tons of construction, renovation, and demolition waste that U.S. builders produce include wood (27% of total) and other materials such as cardboard and paper; drywall/plaster; insulation; siding; roofing; metal; concrete, asphalt, masonry, bricks, and dirt rubble; waterproofing materials; and landscaping materials (DOE 2002). Sustainable architectural designs can help to reduce this waste, decreasing the strain on landfills. This all inspires the development of new industries that produce recycled products, further reducing waste disposal needs and the use of new materials.


Sustainable design and construction not only helps cut down on emissions released into the ozone, but also helps significantly reduce energy, water and HVAC costs. A common impression about sustainable building is that it is too expensive to be considered economically feasible. However, studies have shown that the costs of green buildings are not substantially higher than regular development projects. Higher construction costs can generally be avoided by the inclusion of green design from the outset of the project.

In addition to drastically reducing operation costs (energy and water savings), sustainability can decrease your infrastructure strain. Efficient buildings exert less demand on the local power grid and water supply, stretching the capacity of local infrastructure.

Employee attendance and productivity can also be positively affected. Green design emphasizes increased natural lighting and control of ventilation and temperature-attributes that improve employee health and prevent absences. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports major reductions in health care costs and work losses resulting from commonly recommended improvements to indoor environments.

KMB specializes in creating energy and resource efficient, eco- friendly designs that work. We are proud to provide these benefits to the community and environment, often the most economical and best operational choice for our clients.