Buildings all over the nation use a variety of resources (energy, water, materials, etc), generate waste (construction, occupant, etc), and release atmospheric emissions. Building owners are often faced with the challenge of meeting the ever-changing demands for new, upgraded facilities that are accessible, secure, and healthy; while minimizing environmental impact. Thus, choosing sustainable building design can reduce operation costs and carbon footprints as well as increase building resiliency.
Energy Efficient Buildings
Energy use in the U.S. typically includes air conditioning, heating, ventilation, lighting, and facility support. Although every commercial building uses resources, generates waste, and creates pollution, it has become more fuel-efficient and less labor-intensive over the years.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in the United States, buildings account for:
- 36% total energy use
- 65% total electricity use
- 12% total water use
- 30% total CO2 emissions
- 60% total non-industrial waste generated (from construction and demolition)
In 2023, the EPA published its Annual Energy Outlook (AEO2023), focusing on long-term energy trends in the United States. According to that report, U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions are projected to drop 25%, to 38% below the 2005 level, by 2030. The report also notes that the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Public Law 117-169, has altered the policy landscape used to develop energy efficiency projections.
Reducing emissions from buildings has become a central part of the U.S. government’s plan to reach its decarbonization goals. The latest research shows that commercial and residential buildings account for nearly 40% of energy consumed in the U.S. and more than 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. In populated areas like Washington, D.C., emissions from the buildings sector will make up an even greater percentage of the total emissions in 2023.
Energy and resource-efficient, eco-friendly designs aim to decrease the depletion of resources, reduce pollution, and create a safe and productive environment for the people living and working in it. Green buildings have minimal impact on the environment and utilize natural resources. They are beneficial to the community and environment, socially responsible and thus well received, and often the most economical and best operational choice for businesses.
The EPA states that Green buildings are designed to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment by:
- Efficiently using energy, water, and other resources
- Protecting occupant health and improving employee productivity
- Reducing waste, pollution, and environmental degradation
As a top Energy Engineering Company KMB seeks to balance the needs of these areas by providing results-oriented designs and solutions.
Definition of a Green Building
The concept of a green building can be loosely defined as one that has minimal impact on the environment. It is constantly evolving.
Also known as green construction, a green sustainable building refers to both structure and the use of environmentally responsible processes and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle: from design to construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition. One which has minimal impact on the environment.
Ideally, the green building preserves and restores the surrounding habitat that is vital for sustaining life and then becomes a net producer and exporter of resources, materials, energy, and water (rather than being a net consumer). Green building construction and operation assure the healthiest and most efficient (meaning least disruptive) use of land, water, energy, and resources.
2023: A Breakthrough Year in Energy-Efficient Building Design
Energy-efficient building design is constantly evolving, with new technologies and approaches emerging all the time.
A few of the latest updates in energy-efficient building design in 2023 include:
- Smart technology integration: Smart technology is being used to automate and optimize building systems, such as lighting, heating, and cooling. This can lead to significant energy savings, as well as improved comfort and convenience for occupants.
- Passive design: Passive design strategies, such as optimizing building orientation, maximizing natural light, and utilizing natural ventilation, are becoming increasingly popular. These strategies help to reduce energy consumption without the need for active mechanical systems.
- Thermal energy storage: Thermal energy storage systems can be used to store energy from renewable sources, such as solar and wind, and then release it when needed. This can help to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and improve the overall energy efficiency of buildings.
- Low-GWP refrigerants: New low-GWP refrigerants are being developed to replace traditional refrigerants with high global warming potential. This is helping to reduce the environmental impact of building cooling systems.
These are just a few of the latest updates in energy-efficient building design. As technologies continue to advance, we can expect to see even more innovative and efficient building designs in the years to come.
Six Fundamental Principles of Sustainable Building Design
While the definition of sustainable building design is ever-changing, the National Institute of Building Sciences defines six fundamental principles.
- Optimize Site Potential
- Optimize Energy Use
- Protect and Conserve Water
- Optimize Building Space and Material Use
- Enhance Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)
- Optimize Operational and Maintenance Practices
1. Optimize Site Potential
Whether designing a new building or retrofitting an existing building, site design must integrate with sustainable design to achieve a successful project and begins with the proper site selection, including the existing building’s rehabilitation. The location, orientation, and landscaping of a building all affect local ecosystems, transportation methods, and energy use.
According to the WBDG Sustainable Committee, “The site of a sustainable building should reduce, control, and/or treat storm-water runoff. If possible, strive to support native flora and fauna of the region in the landscape design.”
2. Optimize Energy Use
Improving the energy performance of existing buildings is important to increasing our energy independence. Operating net zero energy buildings is one way to significantly reduce our dependence on fossil fuel-derived energy.
3. Protect and Conserve Water
Freshwater resources in the United States are increasingly becoming scarce. A sustainable building design and construction uses water efficiently to minimize the impact that affects freshwater stock. Additionally, sustainable construction and building design should encourage recycling water on certain on-site projects when possible.
4. Optimize Building Space and Material Use
As the world population continues to grow; the use of natural resources (and the demands for them) continues to increase. A sustainable building is designed and operated to use and reuse materials most productively and sustainably across its entire life cycle.
Utilizing sustainable materials can also help to minimize environmental impacts such as global warming, resource depletion, and toxicity. According to wbdg.org, “environmentally preferable materials reduce impacts on human health and the environment, and contribute to improved worker safety and health, reduced liabilities, and reduced disposal costs.”
5. Enhance Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)
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.
Although all buildings require different measures, HVAC modifications can go a long way toward improving commercial air quality.
6. Optimize Operational and Maintenance Practices
Building owners face unique challenges to meet increasing demands for new or renovated sustainable building designs that are balanced with safe, secure, and productive environments.
Through collaboration, engineers, architects, and other site contractors can specify materials and systems that simplify operational practices and reduce maintenance requirements. On-site and within the facility, these practices not only aim to reduce water and energy requirements, and require less toxic chemicals use but are also cost-effective and reduce life-cycle costs.
Energy Engineering Company Makes an Impact
Ultimately, energy efficiency can be enhanced through the integration of sustainable architecture and engineering and can have direct impacts on our environment, society, and economy. With experience in multiple LEED projects and energy-intensive markets, our experts at KMB look to propose and implement environmentally sound practices on all projects based upon historical evidence of practical, economical results.
Is sustainable building design one of your strategies for your next commercial construction project?
Contact us to get started today!