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Sustainability is Not a Dirty Word

Updated: Sep 3, 2021

I know, I know, some people think it is. Often, for people thinking about a new building, sustainability seems like a buzz word that means maybe some solar panels. Actually, there’s a whole lot more that your building should be able to provide for you. So, it might make more sense to think of sustainability as resilience. In good and bad times, whether it's nice out or storming, if you have power or if you don’t, you want sustainability. That just means that the building is helping your bottom line and not making it harder for you to meet your obligations to your clients, your workers, and any of your inventory depending on what kind of business you are in.

After a Hurricane Elvis, a Snowmageddon, or some other unforeseen event, a sustainable, or resilient, building will be back up and running more quickly. That could be something like uninterruptible power supply so your computers still work. Or, maybe if you lose power for ten days, you can open the windows and still be comfortable in the space. Do you have cross ventilation and operable windows? Those things are also important in case of, say, a pandemic. We want our people to still be able to work in the office and feel safe, too.

A sustainable building also makes sense for your bottom line. If you are designing a new building, the first thing to consider is orienting it properly on site to reduce your utility bills. You can drop these annual costs by around fifty percent with just this one move. I don’t enjoy paying the utility companies and you probably don’t, either. I mean, I’m sure they’re nice people, but I’d rather use my money to support my own business. If you’re on a grid-based city block you may not have a choice on orientation, but if you do have the option, the long sides of the building should face north/south and the short sides should face east/west. You can still have optimum efficiency on an angle up to twenty degrees from this orientation. A good architect can run those numbers and figure out exactly where that best exposure is for your building.

Although I think the fifty percent drop on your utilities is a pretty good deal, there are others advantages to proper orientation. It will also positively affect the people inside the building. Like for a hospital, when you get more sun in there, but not just any sun, controlled sun, the patients will heal more quickly and get out faster. In a school, kids show increased performance and attention with integrative design. Same story with productivity for regular employees because there are fewer sick days. Did you know you can get up to twenty-six percent more productivity just by having some nice windows, good indoor air quality, and optimum climate controls? Employees do better work, they’re more engaged, and they're happier, so you get more work out of them. It’s a really good bet that’s good for your bottom line. When it's a nice office environment, people are happy to stop by, people are happy in their work, and you have a lot less turnover. We all know how expensive high turnover can be.

So, sustainability is a whole lot more than most people realize. There’s orientation, there’s climate control, and there’s this idea of resilience. And all of these things will help support your business, your employees, and your clients. And that’s just the start. Sustainability also includes the use of “green materials” and building carbon neutral buildings, which it might surprise you to know do not make a building more expensive. We’ll talk about that in the next blog.

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