It’shard to look anywhere these days without seeing someone touting the benefits of “being green”. During the pre-game show for NBC’s Football Night in America this weekend, the network turned off most of the studio lights at one point. They stated that by turning off these lights they were saving enough electricity to power an embarrassingly large number of single family homes for an embarrassingly long period of time. Erstwhile Bob Costas noted that NBC was doing this to bring awareness to “green” strategies, which worked because I’m now aware just how wasteful NBC really is.
Notwithstanding NBC’s attempts, some of the biggest potential impacts of the green movement can be achieved by the construction industry. And it is ultimately the designers and the municipalities themselves that must embrace these techniques if we are to ever fully realize this potential.
You’re probably most familiar with the concept of a green roof, that being a roof designed with living vegetation to help cool the structure and reduce storm water runoff (among other benefits). You may also consider the selection of high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment, or out-of-the-box ideas like geothermal cooling and solar panels.
The general public usually gives little thought to the supporting infrastructure however, even though site engineering can have significant impacts on many levels. Properly sitting a building on a site can help decrease construction costs as well as operational expenses associated with electrical service and heating/cooling. It can also help minimize the amount of infrastructure needed, which reduces the amount of raw materials needed and the pollution associated with construction equipment. Implementing creative strategies for managing site storm water can not only reduce capital costs, but reduce the strain on the surrounding public systems while improving the quality of water discharging into our lakes and streams.
A team of professionals needs to work together to create a complete program that includes these ideas from the beginning of a project. We then need to show our clients that there are real cost savings that can be derived from this approach in the near term.
Lastly, we need to press our local communities to embrace these techniques by adopting proven standards for design and construction. This cannot be just lip service either, which is unfortunately what sometimes happens when design plans are reviewed by building officials stuck in their old-school thinking.
I hope you’ve enjoyed your peak inside the head of an engineer over the course of the last few days, no matter how scary it might have been. I’ve touched on topics that will require changes in the way that some developers, architects, engineers, and government officials think. If you are a member of one of these groups I suggest you start thinking. Even if you are not, then let your local officials know how you feel about your community and hold them accountable to their promises. With yesterday being Election Day, I can’t think of a better time to start.