Creating a Green Office
By Stuart Silk, A.I.A. and John Adams, A.I.A.
• Understand how green design has evolved into a global imperative as well as a marketplace reality for any construction project
• Recognize the advantages of green design to your staff, patients and your bottom line
• Leverage your green design message
• Identify key green design strategies for your practice
• Evaluate return of investment for green design strategies
• Understand certification programs for sustainability and green design
In the design and construction industry the concepts of sustainability and green techniques have made great strides in the last two decades and have moved beyond the theoretical to the practical. While this movement is young and still years away from a truly sustainable model, it is clear that a different awareness has taken hold, spurred by a clearer understanding of the limits of the earth’s resources.
Today there are many measurable benefits to sustainable design. First there are the environmental benefits of reducing the impact of natural resource consumption. But there are also economic benefits that can be realized by improving a building’s energy use, operation and maintenance performance. Improved health, comfort and safety benefits, such as greater thermal comfort, better visual quality, and cleaner indoor air can lead to enhanced productivity and morale. Today, green buildings can be more than 10% more energy and resource efficient than conventional buildings.
In the grand scheme of things, the construction and operation of buildings have a significant impact on the environment. The moral and social imperatives that surround discussions on the environment including global warming, dwindling energy resources, destruction of the ozone layer, and biodiversity have to include the effects of buildings and their operations.
Buildings account for:
• 65% of total US electricity consumption
• 30% of total US greenhouse gas emissions
• more than 30% (136,000,000 tons) of US waste
• 12% of potable water use
• 40% (3,000,000,000 tons) of raw materials used globally
Creating a Healthy Workplace for Your Patients and Staff
Today the dental industry is being transformed by the principles surrounding green practice. New technologies are already available. Some dentists may not be aware of just how green progress has already been incorporated their practice. Features like low energy use displays, LED operatory lights, recycling programs, paper-reducing record-keeping practices, non-toxic disinfectants, etc. may already be part of the office. To a large degree, this is being driven by a growing number of patients who are concerned for their health, as well as their family. Patients’ desires for healthier places to receive treatment also apply to the people in your workplace who are becoming more and more conscious of health issues. These people want to be certain that the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the chemicals that they are exposed to are as clean and safe as possible.
Indoor air quality is an important issue because most people spend as much as 90% of their time indoors, either at home, work, or school. Poor indoor air quality can be caused by a number of factors, including inadequate ventilation, poor cleaning, and excessive emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Within dental offices, furniture systems, seating and components; hard surface flooring; paint and wall coverings; casework; and insulation can all contain VOCs which, if not properly ventilated, may lead to headaches and even nausea, as well as potential long term health risks.
Proper air filtration, either through High-Efficiency Particulate Arresting (HEPA) or Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) filtering systems, can make your indoor air much cleaner and freer from irritating or harmful particulates than outside air. For people with allergies or asthma this can make a huge difference. Today, particulates can be efficiently screened down to all but the smallest of sizes.
We can see a transformation in the latest generations of dental equipment and systems, such as LED lighting, which uses a fraction of the energy of conventional lighting and lasts for years. Another breakthrough is digital X-ray equipment that doesn’t require harsh chemicals or emit potentially harmful particles.
Dental offices in the United States flush an estimated 100 million liters of clean drinking water down the drain every day. Fresh water is a precious resource which needs to be conserved. Dual flush toilets are an important water saver requiring only a fraction of the water of a conventional toilet and have been used in Europe for years, only recently taking hold in the United States.
Transformations are also occurring in the materials available to furnish buildings, including dental offices. Today, one can find a near infinite array of flooring, carpeting, glues, paints, fabrics, and cabinetry products that do not emit harmful gases into the atmosphere. There are also exotic woods available that are grown sustainably and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an organization whose mission is to ensure that the harvest of timber products is done in such a way as to maintain the forest’s biodiversity, productivity and ecological processes.
Here is a list of things you can do right now to reduce the environmental impact of your practice:
• Choose earth friendly materials, products and equipment
• Recycle whenever possible
• Educate your team and patients about environmentally-sound practices
• Support suppliers who offer environmentally-sound products and services
Leveraging Your Green Message
There are a growing number of people who believe that there is a moral and social imperative to do what is best for the environment. These people will support those who share their values and the importance they place on their overall well-being and the environment.
Every dentist wants to convey a message of professionalism and quality of care for patients and employees alike. By giving consideration to the use of ecologically sensitive products, a doctor can also build a message that is not only responsible, but says something about his or her concerns for the planet, as well as the safety and welfare of their patients and staff.
The message that one conveys begins with the first impression when walking through the door. The choices one makes in the finishes, furnishings, and décor all contribute to that message. Every year there is a greater selection of green materials because manufacturers are seeing what their customers want and that the sustainability movement is not going to go away. Choices are no longer confined to a few overtly green products.
New equipment such as digital X-ray systems not only improves the performance of your business, but they are also healthier and your patients deserve to know that. Communicating a message that speaks to your concern for patients’ health in addition to being professional and attractive will support and reinforce a dentist’s overall mission and has been shown to attract people with similar views. Information about specific choices you make can be included in handouts available at the reception counter along with collateral regarding your range of services.
We have found that patients often express how they feel about the “greening” of a building. In a recent building that we designed, our clients upgraded their original level of certification from LEED Certified all the way to LEED Gold when patients responded positively to their efforts to create a green building.
Green buildings are energy- and resource-efficient, comfortable and flooded with daylight, with indoor environments that may promote improved health and productivity and decreased pollution. Patients and staff are likely to appreciate these features.
Identifying and evaluating your green design options can be a daunting prospect. In our architecture firm we are often asked by clients to help them sort through the myriad of green options available to them.
Your “Green Team”
If you followed the advice of Chapter 1: Build a Team You Can Trust, you already have a design team in place. Now you need a “Green Team,” your go-to advisors for the green design process. Your design professional, architect or interior designer should be your first step in identifying green strategies for your project. Ideally, your project architect or designer will understand all the aspects of your project, from your goals for your dental practice to the systems and structure of the building to the municipal requirements. A good design professional will have the most holistic picture of your entire project and he or she can best leverage that knowledge to identify green strategies for your particular needs.
Depending on your particular circumstances, an energy consultant or a sustainability consultant may be a good second phone call. This is a relatively new field so these terms mean different thing to different people, but generally speaking energy consultants are mechanical engineers trained to understand how buildings utilize (and waste) energy though lighting, heating, and air conditioning systems. They also look at the materials used to construct the building and the environment to determine how the building performs in maintaining the interior temperature and air quality. Sustainability consultants may also provide this service or they may offer a more holistic approach by identifying water saving options, green roof designs or even public transportation integration solutions. A sustainability consultant may also help you certify for a green building certification program as discussed below.
The more traditional engineering disciplines like building mechanical engineering or even civil engineering are now embracing green design principals. If you are working with that type of engineer already it behooves you to inquire about green solutions with them.
If you are more in the “do-it-yourself” camp, then do not discount the advice of product vendors. While all the usual caveats apply when dealing with salespeople instead of paid consultants, vendors who are selling a particular product or system that interests you can tell you a lot about how the system works, the benefits, and the cost. Re-carpeting your office? A good carpet salesperson can come to your office and show you a broad range of sustainable, non-toxic and non-off gassing carpets at a variety of price levels with no engineering required.
Finally, if you are not already surrounded by a group of professionals that can lead the way then contact the US Green Building Council (www.usgbc.org) for references and recommendations. While the USGBC will not be able to identify specific strategies for your particular needs, it can connect you with professionals in your area that can help you.
Identifying Green Strategies: Who to Contact
• Your Architect or Design Professional
• Energy Consultant
• Sustainability Consultant
• Mechanical (Heating and Cooling) Engineer
• Civil Engineer
• Product Vendors
• The US Green Building Council
In our architecture practice, when we begin to assemble a green building strategy for our clients, we find it helps to think of green design options in three broad categories:
• Low-hanging Fruit
• Reasonable Return
• Pioneering Techniques
“Low-hanging fruit” options are easy to implement and have low or mitigated cost impacts. There are many areas where we have been able to identify options and strategies that fall into this category of implementation. Often these are not very glamorous or observably green but each helps push the building towards a sustainably responsible project.
One example is properly sized walk-off mats at each building entrance. Walk-off mats can reduce not just visible dirt and grime but airborne contaminants that compromise interior air quality. Other examples include low flow water fixtures and low VOC carpets. These have become so common in the marketplace that they can be purchased at prices comparable to higher VOC alternatives. Because of their environmental benefit combined with low cost, they should represent the de facto green building standard at the most basic level.
“Reasonable return” items are typical techniques or technologies that have a higher cost but have a proven track record of success or a demonstrable advantage that justifies any up-front expense. High efficiency mechanical systems often fall into this category. Simply stated, the system costs more up front but has a higher efficiency rating that can be used to calculate a payback time. Sometimes municipal requirements come into play. In many municipalities owners are required to install extensive landscaping to mitigate the effect of covering so much land area with construction.
“Pioneering techniques” are not for everyone, as they represent the vanguard of green building research and innovation. We have been fortunate to have experience with some of these techniques, such as thin film photovoltaic cells and geothermal mechanical systems, which rely on the earth’s nat/>