Sustainable Design Trends: Green Wants You

By Brian Kraemer
Published in the October 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Facility managers are responsible for nearly everything that goes on inside of a building. From access control to flooring and locks, nothing is outside the scope of the job. And if these responsibilities weren’t enough, some motivated facility managers have been doing their best to try and save the environment between replacing air conditioning units and installing new carpeting.

Buildings, where so many people spend their days working, have the ability to cripple not only the community they are located in but also the world. While this may sound fatalistic, the reality of the situation is that buildings are a contributing member of the fraternity that is poisoning the planet.

But instead of letting the problem continue to spiral completely out of control, facility managers have become one of the driving forces in environmental change. By asking questions about the origins of manufacturers’ products—the materials and the chemistry—and taking into consideration how building practices, such as lighting and energy efficiency, impact not just occupants but the world, this mentality is changing. Now, because of a movement to purchase only those products which are friendly to the environment and a desire to implement smart building practices, the demand is effecting change.

“Facility managers have indicated that going green is good business,” says Allan Smith, director of global environmental strategies and programs for Grand Rapids, MI-based Steelcase. This realization, in turn, spurs manufacturers to address their customers’ needs.

“There has been a proliferation of products that help facility managers address these issues,” Smith continues. Those products include energy efficient lighting, office furniture made from materials that are friendly to the environment, and carpeting that no longer has to end up in landfills.

Reducing The Footprint

By asking questions that force manufacturers to provide tough answers about how a product impacts the environment, facility managers are taking the proper steps toward sustainable buildings. Questions concerning the composition of the product, the impact on natural resources, and the interaction with the environment all lead back to how a building’s footprint on the environment is reduced.

Diann Barbacci, vice president of sustainable design for the Kennesaw, GA-based Mohawk Group, offers this advice before purchasing green products. “Ask in depth questions. Such as, do these products contribute negatively to the indoor air quality of a facility? What are the life cycle costs? How are manufacturers and their vendors reducing the impact on the environment?”

For products that have a larger physical presence, such as carpeting, sustainability can be accomplished through recycling. Georgina Sikorski, brand manager for Kennesaw GA-based Antron, points to using less material to the lower footprint.

“Production with recycled content is now standard practice. It ensures the highest quality product and has a significant affect on reducing the consumption of virgin raw materials,” she says.

On the other hand, products that don’t have a large physical presence can still drastically affect the sustainability of a building. Energy use through lighting, for example, is just one such way. “In terms of lighting, using energy efficient lighting systems and long life lamps reduces environmental impact,” says Jennifer Dolin, environmental marketing manager for Danvers, MA-based OSRAM SYLVANIA. “Efficient lighting requires less energy, which lowers electricity demand. This means power plants need to burn less fossil fuel to meet this demand, which reduces emissions of air pollutants.”

Not only will intelligent product purchasing spur environmental reform, but it will affect the bottom line of any company. Efficient lighting lowers energy costs. Recycled products perform as well as products made from virgin material and often times are less expensive.

Recycling And Beyond

It is easy to get caught up in recycling. It seems to be the most concrete way for anyone to make a contribution to the green movement. For example, when the carpet in a building is spent and gets ripped up, a responsible facility manager will have that carpet sent back to the manufacturer or other recycling agency so it can return as another product.

Clearly, recycling should be encouraged whenever practical. But after the old material is out the door, the temptation for a manager to pat himself on the back needs to be resisted. There is more to sustainability and being environmentally friendly than just recycling.

Reusing is just as important. “Facility managers engaged in a green movement should keep in mind that sustainable decisions are more than recycling,” says Sikorski. “It is important to make holistic decisions in terms of sustainability.” The process can’t end when the old material is shipped out the door—purchasing products that have gone through the cycle is just as important.

Dolin agrees, saying, “Environmental sustainability needs to be a continuous initiative that spans the entire life cycle of products.”

So where to look? The simple answer is any and everywhere. Lighting, carpeting, furniture, and even cleaning products will all influence the environmental impact of a building.

This may seem like a large task, but it doesn’t have to be. Scott Lesnet, safety and environmental manager for Muscatine, IA-based Allsteel says, “Being sustainable and green is about doing the right thing. Don’t make it complex; keep it simple.”

Simple entails making informed decisions and considering practical solutions. If the energy bill is skyrocketing, install energy efficient lighting. Harvest daylight and use dimming systems. Enroll in a carpet reclamation project, and install carpeting that avoids PVC or materials that cannot be broken down. When specifying cleaning materials, make sure they don’t contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Not only will these types of changes make an impact on the bottom line, but they will also show employees that the company feels the need to be responsible for the environment.

The Triple Bottom Line

While the most important aspect of sustainability and green conscious thinking is the impact on the earth, business is business. Bottom line considerations still have to be taken into account before changes can be made.

“Facility managers show they are interested in purchasing green products when they deliver the same or better performance and durability,” says Sikorski. “Similarly, manufacturers are seeking suppliers who are environmentally conscious. The trend toward sustainability can be attributed to the positive effects it has on the triple bottom line—the environment, the economy, and society.”

This translates directly to facility managers who are in any stage of greening a facility. Now the argument can be made to upper management that there is no reason not to involve the company with the movement. The myth that green products are more expensive and less durable has been dispelled, because manufacturers have embraced the movement as well and are producing high quality green products.

Smith echoes Sikorski, saying that the benefits to a business are becoming more self evident. “It’s an excellent way of conducting a business. It’s less about a trend and more about a way of doing what’s right for the community. It’s not right to pollute the community you live in. It’s not right to cause your workers premature health issues.”

Once C-level executives understand the culture that surrounds the green movement, dollars and cents can be brought into the equation as well.

“The most important reason for facility managers to ‘go green’ is longevity,” says Barbacci. “Not needing to replace a product frequently means less cost for facilities. If you purchase a performance based product, the cost over the life cycle will be less in terms of material costs.”

Educating C-level executives may be the most important task a facility manager has to undertake in order for a green program to materialize in the company. By involving the executives early and often in the process, facility managers can marry environmental benefits with business goals.

Beyond LEED

The most widely publicized environmental program is currently Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) run through the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED offers a credit system that certifies a building as environmentally efficient and offers a starting point for facility managers who want to investigate the process.

Green Globes™ is another independent certification system. Billing itself as something other than an assessment tool, Green Globes provides users the equivalent of a design consultant available through the Web, 24/7. Through this service, users can consult the Web site any time and perform a self evaluation.

Christine Ervin, former president and CEO for the USGBC and assistant secretary of energy in the Clinton Administration, says of Green Globes, “It offers third party certification through an independent assessor system rather than the paper transactions currently used by LEED.”

Additionally, the new program offers facility managers and executives a sense of security that the USGBC cannot. “Ever since LEED was launched in 2000,” she notes, “some customers have wanted a more personal interface with the certification process. They want assurance from a live body that if they do x, y, and z, they will earn the credits they seek to achieve the overall certification goal.

“As one company explained to me: ‘It’s hard to go into the corporate board room and ask for additional money without being able to assure them that it could make the difference between Silver or Gold.’ For those customers, waiting until the end of the process to learn the result is just not a viable business option.”

Of course, there is always the option to bring in an experienced environmental consultant. But in doing so, the feeling of interacting with an independent third party assessment program will be lessened, and the whole experience could leave a sour taste.

Green Globes eliminates the impersonal feeling through its interface. To use the program, a facility manager logs onto the Web site and takes part in a 150 question survey concerning the design aspects of the building. The Green Globes program then evaluates the answers and gives rankings in seven areas that are key to facility management: project management, site, energy, water, resources, emissions and effluents, and indoor environment.

For a facility manager who has questions about purchasing a new product, the Web site can be valuable. This system gives facility managers the opportunity to interact with the program rather than sorting through a tome of requirements.

From an educational standpoint, rather than presenting management with a book to read, facility managers can walk through the Web site with C-level executives. This provides the opportunity to explain how the program works in a question and answer format rather than just referencing a chapter and paragraph.

The program has critics who question the true independence of the assessment. Still, it’s another option for anyone who is frustrated with extensive documentation.

Combining a solid educational program with good business practices will make the case for green initiatives self evident. Questions and concerns about environmental products are being answered by manufacturers who understand this movement is taking root. And new tools offer facility managers more avenues to pursue the movement and make it a reality.

Information for this article was compiled through interviews with Ervin, Dolin, Barbacci, Smith, and Sikorski. For more information on Green Globes™ visit