By Scott Kriner, Green Metal Consulting
The USGBC’s LEED program, as well as other green building rating programs around the world, have without a doubt transformed the building construction industry. What started as a way to design, construct and operate buildings to be more energy efficient and environmentally responsible has changed over the past 20 years. Today’s version of LEED looks at the impact of the project site, energy efficiencies, water conservation, environmentally responsible materials and resources, and indoor quality.
Each version of LEED introduced a new phase or evolution of the program that was meant to stretch architects, designers, and manufacturers of building materials into areas that are often new and complex. Most recently we saw this with LEED 2009 where the focus was on transparency. Emphasis began to shift from single attributes of materials to multi-attributes of the performance of systems. This shift resulted in the inclusion of whole building life cycle assessment and environmental product declarations for classes of products or specific products.
In the LEEDv4 program, there is an even greater emphasis on transparency, but with regard to chemical ingredients in building materials and with regard to the indoor air quality. This is leading design teams to consider tools such as Health Product Declarations, C2C certification or other means of disclosure or optimization of the chemical make-up of building materials. This is another evolution to emphasizing the health and wellness of the building occupants. Green buildings are no longer those that have only a small environmental footprint and lower energy usage.
But aside from the ever-changing content or intent of green building rating programs there is also a shift in who is becoming responsible for determining the value of these programs for the building industry.
A recent report by Erin Grossi, Chief Economist of UL, titled “Dawn of the Building Performance Era” predicts that building performance will be the new frontier. And the pioneers in this new era will not necessarily be the design community, but instead will be the Millennial generation who will demand that the building actually performs as it was designed to do. These are young men and women born between 1980 and mid 2000s.
Grossi states that the emphasis on the actual performance of green buildings will trigger growth in what is referred to as the “smart buildings movement”. We will see more buildings with sensors, monitors, real-time dashboards, and interactive gadgets. This will create a more direct connection between the building occupants’ behavior and the performance or environmental footprint of the building.
The Millennials, according to Grossi, will also be much more sensitive and demanding of clean air and health-conscious designs. Even more emphasis will be placed on understanding what chemicals are being introduced into a building through the ingredients of the thousands of building materials used in the construction of these buildings. The sensors and monitors that are part of the new smart buildings may even be monitoring air-borne chemicals that are deemed dangerous.
My two sons are part of the Millennial generation. These are the young people we see communicating with one another with their thumbs through text messaging on their smart phones, or with fewer than 140 characters in their Tweets, or sending Vine videos (no longer than 6 seconds). They routinely visit Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Pinterest, and Yik-Yak to gather the latest information on anything anytime from anyone. I refer to my sons as my Information Technology (IT) department whenever I need help with electronics. This is the next generation of business entrepreneurs and CEOs. Their attitude is “we want it all and we want it now”. So it is no stretch for me to understand why smart buildings will become just as common as smart phones have become. This generation embraces and enjoys the connections that are possible with the number of monitors, gizmos, instrumentation, and sensors.
This generation is also very aware of the benefit of eating healthy and working in healthy buildings. The connection between their health concerns and electronics is apparent in the popularity of the FitBit for example. Millennials are eating better food, buying better products and monitoring their health. Why shouldn’t they also demand a healthy indoor environment in which to work?
Some may scoff at the idea of designing a building with the emphasis on occupants’ health and wellness. Experts will say that workers’ productivity can improve in a healthier environment. Compared to quantifying a building that is designed to be energy efficient, a “healthy” building may be difficult to measure or define. But there is a growing belief that if we can determine how to measure “air quality” there could be an economic benefit just as well. According to the UL report, the Executive Vice President of Energy and Sustainability Services for Jones Lang LaSalle, “a 1% impact on productivity is significantly bigger than energy savings."
So maybe those Millennials will lead us into a better built community after all. And maybe they will explain Yik-Yak to me!