Raising Environmental Standards

Designers are developing a growing awareness of the ecological impacts of the built environment. They are being asked to create buildings that perform better in terms of energy, water and resource consumption, waste management, emission of ozone depleting substances and greenhouse gases, and indoor environmental quality. In order to minimize these impacts and improve the green design of any project, whether new construction, renovation or demolition, environmental considerations must be factored into all stages of project development and implementation. One method that can be used to accomplish this is the development of an environmental management tool that can be used by project teams to integrate environmental considerations into the decision-making process. One such tool is the ISO 14000 Environmental Management Systems Framework developed by the International Organization for Standards, or ISO as it is also called (from the Greek iso, meaning equal).

Increased demand for improved sustainability in design and construction stems from a variety of factors, the most important being the need to alleviate the strain on our environment and resources. Other influences include increased public and client awareness of environmental issues. With increased knowledge about what can be done, buildings are being judged for environmental performance as much as for aesthetics and functionality. Knowledge about environmental issues on the part of manufacturers, suppliers, and designers has improved tremendously, bringing green technologies and green buildings into the mainstream.

For those involved in public sector projects, there is a growing body of legislation requiring green design for federal, provincial and municipal buildings. All federal government departments are required to produce and adhere to Sustainable Development Strategies and Environmental Management Systems. These policies also apply to design and construction, and consultants must follow the requirements. Provincial governments are also altering their design standards, and municipalities are adopting performance guidelines for their buildings.

The private sector is following suit and, in some areas, breaking new ground. Companies such as Nortel, Interface and Soprema are pursuing environmental management at all levels. Three major auto makers are pursuing ISO 14001 Certification by 2003. These standards will apply not only to their production methods but also to their buildings.

While this information raises consciousness and influences decisions, a more solid, practical framework is necessary to effectively integrate environmental priorities into the already hectic design process. Without it, environmental strategies run the risk of being abandoned if they interfere with more traditional concerns such as cost and schedule. A well-structured framework provides a means of making sound environmental decisions while accommodating the limitations associated with a particular project.

Although several good reference documents exist to help with environmental decisions regarding design and material selection, there is very little guidance in terms of actual procedure. The ISO 14000 Environmental Management Systems (EMS)–a series of voluntary standards that ensure the systematic establishment and maintenance of an environmental management methodology–also provides a basis from which to make decisions about incorporating environmental considerations in design.

According to ISO 14000, an EMS is the organizational structure, responsibilities, practices, procedures, processes, and resources for developing, implementing, achieving, reviewing, and maintaining environmental policy. It allows an organization, whether it’s a project team addressing a single building or a large corporation managing its operations, to develop and establish an environmental policy and priorities; develop a commitment for environmental protection; encourage environmental planning; establish a management system process to meet specified performance targets; identify and determine environmental aspects and legal requirements; develop and maintain emergency preparedness and response programs; and develop a management review process. ISO 14000 is flexible enough to apply to all types and sizes of organizations, both public and private sector, and to accommodate diverse geographic, cultural and social conditions.

To date, ISO 14001: Environmental Management Systems Framework is the only requirements standard; the others remain guidance documents. Organizations can be certified or pursue self-declaration under the ISO 14001 document. The framework is intended to provide organizations with the elements of an effective EMS, which can be integrated with other management requirements.

The standards do not establish absolute requirements for environmental performance. Rather, they uphold three main principles: legislative compliance, prevention of pollution and continual improvement. In other words, to attain recognition for ISO 14000 compliance, a project team does not have to be perfect–but it does have to demonstrate that it abides by the law, that it is trying to reduce the amount of pollution it produces, and that it is continually improving its performance.

An EMS can be applied to a design and construction project to establish and realize environmental goals by following a series of steps that can be integrated with traditional project delivery. The EMS can find a basis in a client’s or a corporation’s environmental policy, or can develop from the input of the client and the consultant team.

To achieve success, it is critical that the client and sub-consultants be involved with environmental management at every step. Clear communication, input and commitment from all parties goes a long way towards ensuring the environmental success of any project. It is also important to note that the following steps are simply one approach based on ISO 14000; designers and project teams are encouraged to adapt the standards to meet the specific needs of their own operations to ensure maximum effectiveness.

One of the benefits of ISO 14000 is that it can accommodate other approaches and tools necessary to green design. For instance, as with an integrated design process (IDP), ISO 14000 promotes discussion and exploration of opportunities early in design involving all disciplines: architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical, landscape, etc. The IDP is a collaborative approach that relies on the participation of the entire team in defining and realizing a project’s functional and sustainable goals. Working with the owner and other stakeholders, the design team uses these goals to make decisions affecting the design, construction, and operation of a building over its entire life cycle. Environmental issues cannot be addressed in isolation from other concerns, as they effect the work of all disciplines. The steps prescribed by ISO 14000 can assist the IDP team in this process.

A green facilitator, often called an environmental or sustainability consultant, helps to fill any gaps between a project’s goals and the design team’s abilities. As environmentally conscious design is still emergent in the building industry, a green facilitator can contribute additional expertise that supplements and complements that of more traditional architectural and engineering disciplines. The facilitator can also be a critical player in the administration of an environmental management system, taking the lead in assisting the project team to develop environmental priorities.

While the concept of adopting an international framework and guideline may seem overwhelming in light of the demands already placed on project teams, it is important to note that the ISO 14000 EMS Framework is flexible and adaptable. While certification of a project or company can be pursued formally using the international guidelines, they can also be used on a more general level and adapted to the needs of specific projects or organizations. The following case study of a Nortel project near Ottawa illustrates how the steps
above were used to establish an environmental management framework and successfully integrated environmental considerations into an otherwise typical design and construction project.

Case Study: Nortel Block F

After a presentation by Vince Catalli of by dEsign consultants on the topic of green construction and waste management related to construction, renovation and demolition projects, Nortel Networks project manager Paul Morrison approached him to apply ideas presented in the seminar to an actual project. Specifically, Morrison wanted to use the ISO 14000 Environmental Management System (EMS), and specifically ISO 14001 EMS Framework, to integrate environmental opportunities into a project on Nortel Networks’ Corktown campus in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata. As prime consultants for the project, Ottawa-based Griffiths Rankin Cook, Architects were asked to design a new link between two existing buildings on the campus. The link was to contain circulation space, a cafeteria/assembly room, a fitness centre and a boutique. As environmental and waste management consultants for the project, by dEsign consultants assisted the client in setting environmentally sustainable project priorities, and managing the design and construction process in accordance with ISO 14000. The firm researched, recommended and helped incorporate environmentally responsible choices within the project.

by dEsign consulstants became involved in the project in the design stage, before many of the final decisions were made, but after some phases of the fast-track project had begun. Using Nortel’s EMS for guidance, a five-step process based on the ISO 14001 environmental management framework was used to establish environmental priorities and integrate them into the design process. These steps and their results are as follows:

Step 1: Identify Environmental Aspects

After establishing an understanding of the client’s environmental mandate as well as the details of the project, by dEsign conducted a brainstorming session to identify potential environmental opportunities on the project. The list ranged from simple environmentally responsible materials and practices to cutting edge alternative technologies. Items were included on the list even if they were perceived to be too costly or too alternative, so that the design team could seriously consider each opportunity. The complete list, organized according to consultant disciplines and other involved stakeholders, was circulated to all members of the project team, including the client and the building owner, to facilitate discussion during the next step.

Step 2: Determine Significance and the Relationship of the Identified Aspects to Environmental Evaluation Criteria

The intention was to narrow the list to include only those that possessed the greatest potential economic and environmental impact and which were realistically achievable for the project team. The following nine criteria were used to assess opportunities and determine significance:

Interviews were conducted with members of the project team to determine their interest in, experience with and willingness to introduce environmental priorities into the project and to identify any project-specific constraints. One of the constraints identified was that the project was fast-tracked with some portions going out for tender before the final design was established. This meant that subsequent design options would be limited by the constraints imposed by previous decisions. For instance, with the foundations tendered and erected early on, opportunities to alter the building footprint, orientation and layout were limited. Other influencing factors included cost and schedule implications, and the needs of the occupant. Additionally, since the project was an infill connecting two buildings on the campus, phasing had to be considered in order that the existing buildings could remain accessible throughout the work. The results of the interview were designed to identify those aspects influencing the environmental priorities and a general sense of what opportunities were achievable within the scope of the project.

Step 3: Establish Environmental Priorities

The next step involved firmly establishing the project’s environmental priorities, which would be used to evaluate design decisions and monitor the project’s environmental successes. Primary goals included waste reduction, improved storm water management practices and improved indoor environmental quality. The project team further refined and reviewed priorities with respect to their applicability to the specific project and other influencing factors such as time, cost, team experience, and so on. The information was compiled into an environmental priorities matrix based on the opportunities identified in Step 1 and the constraints and influencing aspects identified in Step 2. The matrix organized the priorities according to discipline and identifed targets, roles, and responsibilities. The matrix was used to monitor environmental goals and priorities throughout the course of the project.

The goals were further reviewed to determine whether they would be actively or passively pursued, or eliminated altogether. Since environmental priorities were introduced at a stage when preliminary design had already been determined, some issues could only be pursued passively because they had not been integrated at the initial design stage. For instance, basing room sizes on modular drywall dimensions would greatly reduce the waste generated from off-cuts. However, with room layouts already determined, the project team could only passively apply the principles of modular sizing where practical.

Step 4: Select Products, Systems and Equipment

The environmental and waste management consultants conducted research, met with suppliers and manufacturers and prepared summary reports. Material safety data sheets and product specifications were analyzed with regard to recyclability, recycled content, effects on indoor environmental quality and other criteria. More detailed reports included analysis of daylighting issues, windows and glazing, roofing systems, a report on the recycled content of various acoustic tiles, indoor air quality issues and manufacturer take-back programs that divert waste from landfill.

Highlights of the environmental successes of the design include a rooftop water collection system that feeds into an underground cistern, used for landscaping. This not only reduces the building’s water consumption but also assists with storm water management. Careful orientation and the use of increased glazing and high performance curtain wall have resulted in a more enjoyable cafeteria space with reduced artificial lighting and perimeter heating requirements. The fitness centre was designed to provide better indoor air quality with minimal material off-gassing. Occupancy sensors were used to reduce energy consumption.

Step 5: Integrate Environmental Considerations into Project Specifications and Project Delivery

To ensure continuity between the various steps, design decisions had to be carefully expressed in the contract documents and effectively executed and administered on site. Along with the construction manager, by dEsign consultants assisted with training, on-site monitoring and quality assurance. In keeping with the project’s waste management priorities, existing kitchen equipment not used in the new addition was sold for reuse. To reduce materials sent to landfill, the contractor was required to pursue waste diversion opportunities. Arrangements were made with CGC to take back removed drywall for recycling. Similar arrangements were made with Armstrong for acoustic ceiling tile, and all trades were encouraged to take back their own waste for reuse and recycling. Remaining waste was handled according to the project specifications and the contractor’s waste management work plan, with regular reporting to the environmental consultant.

In keeping with the principles of ISO 14000, ongoing review of the project’s environmental performance helped to develop a case stud
y, which summarized the environmental management process and made recommendations for future projects. This was submitted to management in order that the project become part of the process for continued improvement and ongoing environmental success.

Learning from ISO 14000

The most critical of the many lessons learned on this project is that incorporating environmental priorities into design and construction is an ongoing process. The ISO 14000 Environmental Management System allows project teams to learn from and improve on their experience with each project they encounter. The framework allows all team members to bring their knowledge and experience to the table to establish and realize an environmental vision.

The key is introducing this additional dimension to the project early in the design process. While in the Nortel case study green considerations were introduced before final design decisions were made, initiating the environmental management process earlier–at the design concept stage–would have meant that additional environmental opportunities could have been explored. This might also have meant that documentation of the process could have been streamlined and better integrated within the existing communication methods.

One of the most important successes of the Nortel project was its demonstration that environmental priorities can be integrated into the traditional delivery of a project and the associated time and cost constraints. The ISO 14000 Environmental Management System allows a project team to do that regardless of whether the project is a state-of-the-art flagship facility or a more modest project. As Martin Tite of Griffiths Rankin Cook, Architects, has observed, with the participation and support of the client and the members of the consulting team, environmental successes can occur in the “real world” conditions of any project.

Vince Catalli is the manager and Maria Drake is an associate of by dEsign consultants inc, a division of DST Consulting Engineers, Ottawa. They can be contacted at (613) 748-1415.