Sustainable Building Project Implementation

Photo of the Zion National Park Visitor's Center in Utah showing a brown building featuring brick chimneys in front of mountains and a blue sky.

At Zion National Park Visitors Center in Utah, designers moved exhibit space outdoors and introduced natural cooling and lighting. The building cost 30% less to build and reduces energy costs by 70%, compared to a conventional facility that just meets code.

An integrated, whole-building systems process is key to sustainable building design and operation. Whether designing a high performance building or "greening" overall facility operations, the following general steps apply:

1. Set your sustainability goals early in the planning stages

Sustainable building design is most effective when applied at the earliest stages of the building programming and design phases. Create a vision for the project to motivate and inspire. Get upper management buy-in. Set performance goals that are specific and measurable. Examples and case studies of buildings within your agency, in your region, or with similar functions may be helpful references in determining what's possible for your facility.

2. Set up a cross-functional, integrated design team

Cross-functional, integrated and multidisciplinary project teams should include stakeholders across the project, including owners, managers, architects, engineers, landscape designers, maintenance/operation staff, key contractors, and end-use representatives. Inclusive integrated project teams can identify performance goals or produce design solutions to meet those goals.

"Up-front building and design costs may represent only a fraction of the buildings' life-cycle costs. When just 1% of a project's up-front costs are spent, up to 70% of its life cycle costs may already be committed; when 7% of project costs are spent, up to 85% of life-cycle costs have been committed." Lean and Clean Management: How to Boost Profits and Productivity by Reducing Pollution (Kodansha International, 1994)

3. Conduct sustainability charrettes

A sustainability charrette is an intensive workshop in which various stakeholders and experts from multiple disciplines are brought together to address a whole-building design or a particular design issue. It is a mechanism that enforces communication among the project team members, building users, and project management staff. A sustainable design charrette allows all participants to understand how various goals for the facility such as functionality, size, location, cost, aesthetics, health, safety, future flexibility, and sustainability are interrelated and interdependent. The result of a sustainability charrette should be an overall set of shared performance goals and a project team with a shared vision and action plan for achieving a sustainable design.

4. Pick a qualified architectural and engineering firm

Select an architectural/engineering design team that has capability and experience in sustainable design and operations. FEMP developed the Procurement of Architectural and Engineering Services for Sustainable Buildings resource guide for Federal construction project managers with information for incorporating performance criteria and selecting the design team.

5. Integrate architectural and engineered systems

For a new building design, integrate specific architectural and engineered features of the facility to minimize energy and resource use and reduce cost while maintaining comfort. For example, the overall building footprint and orientation will largely determine the opportunity for daylighting as well as the capacity and distribution of heating and air conditioning equipment required to produce comfortable interior conditions. When the project team commits early to a high level of building integration, they can fully explore and evaluate cost-effective trade-offs before commitments and contractual obligations are initiated.

6. Maintain commitment to integrate sustainability throughout the process

This philosophy of creating sustainable facilities must be maintained throughout design development, construction, and operation. Identify tools and processes to monitor progress on the performance goals. Engage a third-party commissioning authority through the design, construction, acceptance, and warranty phase to ensure proper implementation of the performance goals. Evaluate design and operation decisions by life-cycle costing.

The sustainable design process for a new building involves taking certain actions at each step throughout design and construction. The FEMP Low-Energy Building Design Guidelines publication includes a project timeline that illustrates action items needed at each stage of design.

7. Achieve recognition

FEMP assists the Federal agencies in recognizing individuals, groups, and agencies for their outstanding contributions to saving energy at Federal facilities. Contributions are in the areas of energy efficiency, water conservation, and the use of advanced and renewable energy technologies.

The Office of the Federal Environmental Executive annually presents "The White House Closing the Circle" award, recognizing Federal employees and their facilities that have made significant sustainability achievements.