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Is your building design Green or Sustainable?

by Mel Starrs on June 29, 2009

in Opinion, Theory and Comment

I’ve been geeking out over my gorgeous faux leather hard bound copy of the 2009 Ashrae Handbook – Fundamentals (SI units) which recently arrived in the post. One of  the perks of ASHRAE membership is an updated copy every year of one of the handbooks on a rolling schedule (something CIBSE have started to do too in recent years).

Anyway, in this year’s tome is a new chapter – Chapter 35 SUSTAINABILITY. Under ‘Characteristics of Sustainability’ is a clarifying few paragraphs on the difference between green and sustainable buildings. For reference:

Sustainability Addresses the Future

Sustainability is focused on the distant future (e.g., 30 to 50 years). Any actions taken under the name of sustainability must address the impact of present actions on conditions likely to prevail in that future time frame.

In designing the built environment, the emphasis has often been on the present or the near future, usually in the form of capital- or first-cost impact. As is apparent when life-cycle costing analysis is applied, capital cost assumes less importance the longer the future period under consideration.

This emphasis on the distant future can differentiate sustainable design from green design. Whereas green design addresses many of the same characteristics as sustainable design, it may also emphasise near-term impacts such as indoor environmental quality, operation and maintenance features, and meeting current client needs. This, green design may focus more on the immediate future (i.e. starting when the building is first constructed and then occupied). Sustainable design is of paramount importance to the global environment in the long-term while still incorporating features of green design that focus on the present and near future.

An interesting way to slice the problem, and makes me realise (by this definition, at least), most of the stuff that I am most interested in is green design, rather than sustainable design, occupant comfort being my raison d’etre. The chapter goes on to point out that HVAC&R engineers cannot by themselves create global sustainability (however, we all need to do our bit and encourage as many others as possible), and that sustainability has many contributors, is comprehensive and that technology plays only a partial role.

As green building rating systems continue to converge (BREEAM and LEED), I find a growing interest in keeping up to date with ASHRAE, which I have always found more ‘engineery’ than CIBSE (in that their technical guidance seems to have many more equations than CIBSE).

Given ASHRAE’s definition, which rating system is more sustainable (rather than green) – LEED or BREEAM? Something I’ll poder a while longer…

  • http://www.elementalsolutions.co.uk Nick Grant

    Interesting to consider the various near/far aspects of green/sustainable design but I’m not convinced that this split is useful unless intended as a critique of much so called green design which often fails to take a life cycle view. Classic cases include prioritising embodied energy over operational. Rammed earth building (UK climate) with reclaimed windows and 100mm of sheep wool insulation (no budget for more!). Are we saying these are examples of ‘green’ as opposed to ‘sustainable’?

    I’d like to see ‘sustainable’ as integrated and not optional, just as roofs must keep water out as their first requirement. Sometimes the pursuit of an aesthetic means that the roof is prone to leakage (or is it just the buildings I visit) but even architects won’t try and argue that this is an acceptable compromise. They may however argue (most of the time) that the energy performance must be sacrificed to achieve a certain architectural effect.

    Like many I came to sustainable building via the funky materials and kit route (earth, straw, local timber, microgen’, rainwater etc) but like a growing number of people I got turned on by doing the numbers and taking a life cycle view (back of the envelope not mind numbing full LCA).

    I’d prefer green and sustainable to be interchangeable with any shortcomings clearly spelt out for those without access to the Ashrae handbook.

    Unfortunately I don’t have the ASHRAE handbook so I might be getting the wrong end of the stick.

    Nick

  • http://www.elementalsolutions.co.uk Nick Grant

    Interesting to consider the various near/far aspects of green/sustainable design but I’m not convinced that this split is useful unless intended as a critique of much so called green design which often fails to take a life cycle view. Classic cases include prioritising embodied energy over operational. Rammed earth building (UK climate) with reclaimed windows and 100mm of sheep wool insulation (no budget for more!). Are we saying these are examples of ‘green’ as opposed to ‘sustainable’?

    I’d like to see ‘sustainable’ as integrated and not optional, just as roofs must keep water out as their first requirement. Sometimes the pursuit of an aesthetic means that the roof is prone to leakage (or is it just the buildings I visit) but even architects won’t try and argue that this is an acceptable compromise. They may however argue (most of the time) that the energy performance must be sacrificed to achieve a certain architectural effect.

    Like many I came to sustainable building via the funky materials and kit route (earth, straw, local timber, microgen’, rainwater etc) but like a growing number of people I got turned on by doing the numbers and taking a life cycle view (back of the envelope not mind numbing full LCA).

    I’d prefer green and sustainable to be interchangeable with any shortcomings clearly spelt out for those without access to the Ashrae handbook.

    Unfortunately I don’t have the ASHRAE handbook so I might be getting the wrong end of the stick.

    Nick

  • admin

    Nick – your comments re: leaking roofs made me giggle – only last week I was reading Edwin Heathcote’s review of FLW’s Falling Water in the Financial Times weekend supplement:
    “Frank Lloyd Wright’s relationship with water could be problematic. “If the roof doesn’t leak,” he once said, “the architect hasn’t been creative enough.” And when one client complained that water was coming through his new roof he famously asked whether he had considered getting a bucket.”

    I’m not sure if I agree with the ASHRAE definition myself. Interestingly though, the CIBSE Guide L is much less explicit about the importance of WLC, and focuses mainly on the costs of LZC’s. Somewhere between the two, the truth lies…

  • admin

    Nick – your comments re: leaking roofs made me giggle – only last week I was reading Edwin Heathcote’s review of FLW’s Falling Water in the Financial Times weekend supplement:
    “Frank Lloyd Wright’s relationship with water could be problematic. “If the roof doesn’t leak,” he once said, “the architect hasn’t been creative enough.” And when one client complained that water was coming through his new roof he famously asked whether he had considered getting a bucket.”

    I’m not sure if I agree with the ASHRAE definition myself. Interestingly though, the CIBSE Guide L is much less explicit about the importance of WLC, and focuses mainly on the costs of LZC’s. Somewhere between the two, the truth lies…

  • Gab

    I sort of agree on ASHRAE definition of green and sustainable. There is some kind of difference in the time frame of the analysis when assessing if a building is green or sustainable. Green seems to be related to a set of features that are used in the building to make it more environmentaly friendly. Sustainable is more holistic and the key of a sustainable design is considering the implication of decisions in the long term (sort of LCA). Sustainable is more focus on environmental impact rather than only indoor environment or high performance of a building.

  • Gab

    I sort of agree on ASHRAE definition of green and sustainable. There is some kind of difference in the time frame of the analysis when assessing if a building is green or sustainable. Green seems to be related to a set of features that are used in the building to make it more environmentaly friendly. Sustainable is more holistic and the key of a sustainable design is considering the implication of decisions in the long term (sort of LCA). Sustainable is more focus on environmental impact rather than only indoor environment or high performance of a building.

  • http://www.elementalsolutions.co.uk Nick Grant

    Love the quote! Our local Arts centre looked very impressive (for Hereford) when it opened but the buckets on the floor and the tarp draped over the roof for years did rather spoil the clean lines of glass and steel.

    When I looked around the Heelis building I said that I was surprised that the sawtooth roof didn’t leak. My host pointed to the carpet stains.

    Given that it is so hard to get ‘compromise on creativity’ to keep water out what hope have we for keeping heat in?

  • http://www.elementalsolutions.co.uk Nick Grant

    Love the quote! Our local Arts centre looked very impressive (for Hereford) when it opened but the buckets on the floor and the tarp draped over the roof for years did rather spoil the clean lines of glass and steel.

    When I looked around the Heelis building I said that I was surprised that the sawtooth roof didn’t leak. My host pointed to the carpet stains.

    Given that it is so hard to get ‘compromise on creativity’ to keep water out what hope have we for keeping heat in?

  • cr12

    those interested in receiving help with building green sustainable buildings check out http://www.e3bank.com they also help people convert their current home to be more eco-friendly.

  • cr12

    those interested in receiving help with building green sustainable buildings check out http://www.e3bank.com they also help people convert their current home to be more eco-friendly.

  • http://www.elementalsolutions.co.uk Nick Grant

    Gab and Mel

    Are we discussing how the label ‘green’ tends to be applied (ie let’s say simplistically) or are we trying to agree on a definition for an aspect of sustainable design? (All terms used loosely!).

    I’m happier with trying to make all the green, eco, sustainable etc labels interchangeable and then focussing on what it means to be genuinely green, eco, sustainable etc.

    This stuff is hard enough to sus and communicate without extra categories that sound like they are an endorsement (green etc) but in fact are subtle labels understandable by a few people in the know.

    If we have a conflict between say health and sustainability then we need to go back to the drawing board and sort it rather than labelling it as Green but not sustainable.

    Or have I completely missed the point of all this??

    Nick

  • http://www.elementalsolutions.co.uk Nick Grant

    Gab and Mel

    Are we discussing how the label ‘green’ tends to be applied (ie let’s say simplistically) or are we trying to agree on a definition for an aspect of sustainable design? (All terms used loosely!).

    I’m happier with trying to make all the green, eco, sustainable etc labels interchangeable and then focussing on what it means to be genuinely green, eco, sustainable etc.

    This stuff is hard enough to sus and communicate without extra categories that sound like they are an endorsement (green etc) but in fact are subtle labels understandable by a few people in the know.

    If we have a conflict between say health and sustainability then we need to go back to the drawing board and sort it rather than labelling it as Green but not sustainable.

    Or have I completely missed the point of all this??

    Nick

  • http://www.joanko.net joanium

    The responsible use of the label ‘sustainable’ should look at the social and economic aspects of the project as well. Occupant comfort and health and safety is a tiny slice of the social aspects of sustainability.

    In terms of rating schemes, LEED for Neighbourhood Development, Estidama for Communities, BREEAM Communities go a bit further (well, they’re allowed to, given their scope!) to take into account access to social infrastructure, green space and ethical procurement.

    It is worth thinking about supplier diversity and local employment (e.g. great work being done on the East London Line), social inclusion and wellbeing (e.g. update to the Department for Transport appraisal guidance for highways schemes), cultural identity, universal access (e.g. in the very best hospital design).

    And I haven’t even gone into the economic aspects yet!

    Green isn’t the same as sustainable.

  • http://www.joanko.net joanium

    The responsible use of the label ‘sustainable’ should look at the social and economic aspects of the project as well. Occupant comfort and health and safety is a tiny slice of the social aspects of sustainability.

    In terms of rating schemes, LEED for Neighbourhood Development, Estidama for Communities, BREEAM Communities go a bit further (well, they’re allowed to, given their scope!) to take into account access to social infrastructure, green space and ethical procurement.

    It is worth thinking about supplier diversity and local employment (e.g. great work being done on the East London Line), social inclusion and wellbeing (e.g. update to the Department for Transport appraisal guidance for highways schemes), cultural identity, universal access (e.g. in the very best hospital design).

    And I haven’t even gone into the economic aspects yet!

    Green isn’t the same as sustainable.

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