As the world takes action to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, many tactics are lumped under the term “sustainability”. Investors, developers, and communities are starting to demand more ethical and environmental practices from businesses. This is particularly true for the construction industry, which is the largest consumer of global resources. This sector alone accounts for 3 billion tons of raw material consumption and is responsible for 30% of global waste production.  


For this reason, high-performance buildings are imperative for restoring the health and vitality of our planet and all its inhabitants. In this blog, we will explore what it means for a building to be sustainable and the processes and value services employed during its lifecycle to help mitigate negative environmental impacts. We will also discuss the benefits of building sustainability with the key stakeholders involved in each phase of a building project.  


First, let us consider some key stages in a building's lifecycle:

high performance building


The processes that are carried out in each of these stages, depending on the manner of execution, have the potential to negatively or positively impact the climate and environment. We will consider the typical processes involved in each phase and the value services that can be implemented to yield an environmentally favorable outcome.  


idea phaseThe Idea Phase

When a building project is in its conceptual stage, ideas relating to the project's type, size, and scope are typically considered. Doing research for the project's location and building code specification also occurs during this stage. An engineer or architect is usually introduced in this phase to help determine the project's feasibility.   


To set up your building project for success in sustainability, it is important at this early stage to implement value services such as: 

  • Conducting charettes to discuss the project's sustainability goals 
  • Performing a preliminary box energy model
  • Making integrative design choices 
  • Conducting a gap analysis 
  • Engaging stakeholders   


The benefits of introducing such services in this stage include:  

  • A more informed preliminary design   
  • Clearly defined goals, strategies, and key performance indicators 
  • Clearly defined sustainability goals and decision-making criteria  
  • Clearly stated Owner's Project Requirements 
  • A solid framework for evaluating first costs and operational costs 
  • An evaluation of building performance 
  • Increased risk mitigation  

design phaseThe Design Phase 

After the ideation phase, the project team members move on to design. This phase provides a roadmap for navigating the project goals and deliverables. Deliverables of the design phase include design documents, construction documents, and contract documents.   


In this phase, it is typical to establish the total building area and refine the scope of work. It is crucial to engage in sustainable design planning during this stage, as failing to do so will inevitably lead to missed opportunities and higher costs if changes are made at a later stage. Pursuing a sustainable building certification such as LEED is one way to align your project goals with a sustainability outcome.  


Certain key value drivers must be implemented during this phase to ensure optimal building performance. These include:  

  • Conducting early  energy modeling
  • Integrating sustainability design elements 
  • Conducting a Building Life Cycle Analysis and Embodied Carbon Analysis 
  • Defining key performance indicators and a solid, green-aligned framework for evaluating the project's design 


Implementing these strategies in the design process can provide the following benefits:  

  • Better-informed value-management decisions
  • Better risk management 
  • Tighter budgets and fewer complications in the later life of the project 
  • Improved energy efficiency 
  • Opportunity to realize operational cost savings 
  • Potential reduction of the building's carbon footprint 

construction phaseThe Construction Phase 

The construction phase is all about the physical process of building. Associated activities such as building landscaping may also be performed during this time. It is essential during the construction phase to be intentional about material selection and sustainable construction methods. What goes into the building here will determine the building's overall embodied carbon


Value services that can be utilized during this phase include:  


The benefits of incorporating such value services include but are not limited to:  

  • Additional risk mitigation
  • Improving construction quality and durability
  • Achieving an independent 3rd party confirmation  

renovationBuilding Renovation 

Unlike new construction, building renovation involves making changes to the existing structure of the building. Building retrofits are made for several reasons, but most commonly to improve the energy conservation of the building and to reduce costs associated with the heating, cooling, and lighting of the buildings. Buildings may also undergo signification renovation or adaptive reuse.   


Value services that can be integrated during Renovation include:  

  • Many of the same services from the Idea and Design Phases 
  • Energy audits 
  • Net zero planning 
  • Building lifecycle cost analysis 


The benefits of implementing such services include:  

  • Clearly defined goals and strategies, key performance indicators, metrics for success, sustainability goals, and decision-making criteria 
  • A clear and concise framework for evaluating first costs and operational costs 
  • An evaluation of building performance 
  • Alignment of Current Facility Requirements with the Owner's Project Requirements for the renovation project 
  • Decreased occupant annoyance 
  • Risk mitigation  (again)


For a building to remain sustainable throughout its lifetime, it is important for it to be operated responsibly and maintained properly. There are several valuable sustainability drivers that can be adopted during this time. They include:  

  • Ongoing and retro-commissioning 
  • Sustainable certification management 
  • Measurement & verification 
  • Annual occupant surveys 
  • Air and water quality testing 
  • Stakeholder engagement 
  • System decommissioning  


 Outcomes that can come out of implementing such sustainability drivers include:  

  • Increased net operating income 
  • Decreased operating costs 
  • Increased occupant comfort 
  • Decreased maintenance costs 
  • Increased maintenance practices and performances 
  • Improved metrics, data, and analytics 
  • Increased building system reliability 

ownershipTransfer of Ownership 

Investing in building health, resilience, and energy efficiency have the potential to increase the overall value of a real estate asset. Understanding the potential value that can be realized from having a high-performing, sustainable building allows buyers and sellers to better assess and price the deal going in, to underwrite sustainability investments that drive higher returns, to market the value created by these investments to tenants, and to communicate this value to buyers when buying or selling an asset.  


Here, it will be wise to implement the following value drivers:  

  • Performing energy audits 
  • Conducting operating & maintenance performance assessments  

decommissioningBuilding Decommissioning 

Decommissioning aims to eliminate liabilities and potential hazards in the building and its systems from occurring when it is dormant. Approaching this process with a sustainability strategy in mind will help minimize the environmental impacts associated with this process.  


Some of the benefits of employing a sustainability strategy include:  

  • Having a detailed construction plan 
  • Decreasing risk of financial and legal liability with local, state, and federal regulators 
  • Receiving recognition for environmental stewardship  

The Benefits of Sustainable Buildings 

Each stage of a building's lifecycle has a unique set of tools to meet sustainable criteria. Successfully capitalizing on these opportunities adds value to buildings in multiple ways. 

They provide financial benefits like lower energy costs, attract tax incentives, and can lead to higher rental rates. Additionally, they help foster a positive reputation for the project and company. Investors and community members prefer to do business with community and environmentally inclusive companies. Not only does this drive business, but it creates a positive relationship between a developer or owner and the community. Community support is critical for new building projects.  


Finally, they align with the organization’s sustainability goals, which are continually growing in importance for customers, employees, investors, and stakeholders. Public companies may soon have to legally report on their climate impacts - triggering suppliers to do the same. Implementing sustainable design principles puts your business on a positive path when this happens. 


Having a knowledgeable consultant to support these initiatives is critical. Emerald Built Environments helps developers and building owners succeed in their building projects and ongoing operations by creating long-term sustainability and project success. As experts in the industry, we implement sustainable best practices that are applicable and unique to each engagement. Contact us to learn more about how you can capitalize on sustainability throughout the lifecycle of your building (or leased space). 

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