by Lauren Nowicki
The world of sustainable design is often viewed from an anthropocentric lens – alterations made to exterior and interior environments for operational gain. While sustainability connotates optimizing natural resources, redrafting human impact is an all-inclusive assessment from economic, environmental and corporate culture positions. This framework necessitates a comprehensive view of resource types and availability, their impact and use, spanning issues such as site typography, waste management, building materials, energy optimization, water reclamation and vegetation.
The primary challenge for designers, builders and clients alike is that sustainability is not well defined. While it would seemingly be intrinsic to everyday life, the reality is that sustainable design is a complicated set of variables. Outside of reducing negative impact on the environment, the extent of aspects that can be implemented – and identifying those that impart a true influence – is an ambiguous task.
In building a Silver accredited LEED innovation and solutions center for the technology firm, Edwards Vacuum, the following elements were evaluated for their business culture, and operational and environmental impact.
During the grading process, soils were reused with 3.5 acres left untouched to limit the impact on critical ecosystems. In aligning with LEED regulations, greater than 30% of the total site remains open space whose water needs are limited by undemanding native and wild plants. While this sensitive consideration enables wildlife reproduction, pollination and foraging, naturalistic habitats also harbor human development. In using a human ecology lens, it is the entire ecosystem – land, air, sunlight, organisms, plant life and buildings – that affects employee motivation and creativity. This is particularly relevant for firms like our client that manufacture innovation-driven products. Landscape vistas are not simply aesthetic – they enhance human cognition as well.
Site design is not just a study in natural ecosystems. It touches social systems when considering transportation. Open social spaces, increasingly popular post-Covid, articulate a freshness and modernity to corporate culture. Within this project, resource conservation is encouraged via priority spacing for 10 bike stalls and 10 EV charging stations, while a 1,250-foot open pathway with informational trail signage leads to public transportation. The effects of cycling are impactful on human health, reducing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis and chances of cancer while increasing mental health and interpersonal connections. Spacing for biking storage and EV parking is calculated based on maximum building occupancy.
As a form of environmental degradation, light pollution comes in multiple forms. While we are all affected by car glare, clutter (a grouping of multiple light sources) and light trespass (the errant extension of light where unnecessary) are site specific. At this facility the timing of exterior lights is governed by two factors: natural light levels monitored by photocells and programs which supersede the photocells on cloudy days. By restricting lighting on this site to the immediate facility area, wildlife welfare remains undisturbed, as well as protects employees from prolonged exposure. Various solar arrays are currently under consideration.
As part of the commissioning process, the facility was analyzed for possible leaks and inefficiencies of the building envelope that would exacerbate the use of HVAC systems. Low emitting and low carbon materials were used both internally and externally to moderate energy costs. Metal wall panels insulated with mineral fiber cover the exterior to achieve a resistance of R18.9, while mineral fiber roof insulation provides a thermal resistance of R30. This insulation was specifically requested by the owner due to high fire resistance and noise insulation. An aluminum and glass curtain wall system using Solarban windows provides a gray exterior and clear interior.
There are many rationales for a client desiring a sustainable facility. Employee performance, corporate culture, operational costs and wildlife preservation are all inextricably linked to sustainable design. For innovation-driven enterprises, harmonizing with natural elements also becomes a conduit of creativity.
Sustainability is a mindset of accountability that can be simultaneously sophisticated and simple. It is a reminder that humans live alongside nature and that our influence is always in need of improvement. It is a misconception to view sustainability as a vanguard of value creation, as at times a true environmental focus requires forsaking profit-centered choices for ecological preservation.
Lauren Nowicki is chief communications officer at Dacon Corporation.