Sustainable Design is Simply Good Business

June 1, 2012

I’d like to introduce an emerging paradigm in how we understand project costs.  It’s the green paradigm – not the one only associated with dollar bills, but the one associated with environmental stewardship as well.  And with eco-consciousness.  And community-wide benefits.  But especially the one associated with good business strategies.

This paradigm is not new.  Just misunderstood, maybe, like the artist who is ahead of their time.  While it’s undeniable that sustainable strategies do have a cost premium, it should no longer be seen as the elephant in the room.. As the design and construction industries trudge forward ever so slowly towards full integration of sustainable products, practices, and strategies in all the various types of projects, the ‘green’ premium is vanishing before our eyes. A residue will remain (as you can never have 100% of the people on board 100% of the time), but by expanding our knowledge base through experience working on sustainable projects, learning from those experiences, and then asking the right questions and applying the right strategies on future projects, sustainable design will simply become a good business strategy.

Let’s take the Populous-designed Marlins Park for example.  When considering the entire project costs, this $500 million+ facility earned LEED Gold certification under the New Construction (version 2.2) rating system for less than 1% of the overall project cost.  And that doesn’t take into consideration the amount of money the Marlins organization will save annually on operations.  With a projected 22.4% energy use savings, a 52% water use savings from plumbing fixture selection, and a 60% water savings for irrigation purposes, not only are the Marlins acting as ‘good neighbors’ in the contemporarily downtrodden Little Havana district of Miami, but they are saving themselves boatloads of cash each year.  Now, what client of ours wouldn’t want that as part of their bottom line?  Can you imagine such a conversation:

Ballpark Operations guy – “Mr. Owner, we’ve saved $500,000 on our electrical bill this year!”

Owner – “Who cares about money, Mr. Ballpark Operations?”

No, you can’t imagine that conversation, because it would never occur.  Money matters.  And now, sustainability can have a significantly positive impact on all matters involving money.  So next time a client asks, “How much is that going to cost me?” you – as the informed design professional that you are – can now tell them, “It’s not about how much that’s going to cost, but how much money that’s going to save you.”  That’s the life-cycle cost analysis approach, rather than the up-front cost analysis approach – analogous to buying a Toyota Prius (high initial cost of purchase, low life cycle costs due to less gasoline consumption) rather than a Hummer SUV (high up-front costs, equally high maintenance and fuel-efficiency costs).

Whether it’s saving money or saving the environment, working toward the integration of high performing, sustainable buildings is a win-win situation for everyone involved, as can be witnessed in the 12 projects completed by Populous thus far that have achieved some level of LEED certification.  So just ask the Marlins.  Or the Twins, who have saved millions of gallons of water (and millions of dollars consequently) by collecting all rainwater that falls onto the Target Field site, purifying that water in a filtration system and then re-using said water for field irrigation and bowl wash-down services.

In essence, the concept of sustainability is pretty simple – using available natural resources to maximize efficiency in a healthy, cost-effective and long-lasting manner.  Just as we strive to perform that way as architects on a daily basis, wouldn’t it seem natural to ask the buildings that we design to perform similarly?



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