Sustainable design is crucial to creating environmentally friendly, healthy, and supportive spaces. Furthermore, it is a core requirement for achieving sustainability certifications like LEED and WELL.  


For developers and real estate owners, the value of sustainable design goes beyond creating structures with low environmental impact – sustainable structures provide significant financial benefits. On average, they have 14% lower operating costs, 6% higher occupancy rates, and 2% higher rents. When buildings achieve LEED certification, these financial benefits are even higher.


Understanding and applying sustainable design in new builds and retrofits is both an environmental and financial decision. 


What are Sustainable Design Guidelines? 

There is growing evidence that developers should incorporate sustainable design, but how is it done? The answer is nuanced and unique to each build, but following general guidelines is a great starting point. Sustainable design guidelines are prescriptive design principles intended to ensure design team strategies and owner goals work to reduce a project's environmental and social impact. They encourage environmentally and health-conscious decision-making during each step of the design phase as well as balance well-being and the bottom line.   


Additionally, they provide a general framework that developers and real estate owners, and their A/E/C (architect, engineers, and contractors) can follow again and again on different projects. This creates a system of increasing efficiency in decision-making and design on successive projects.   


There are several organizations that have developed sustainable design guidelines. Some have narrow focus areas, like the TRUE certification for waste management, and others are project-encompassing, like the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED certification system. Other certification systems our clients follow and achieve are WELL Building, Fitwel, Enterprise Green Communities, NGBS, and Sites.   


For example, a financial institution that Emerald works with has a goal to get half of their locations LEED Certified by a specific goal date. By following LEED design guidelines from the start of design, the architect and mechanical engineers know the project needs elements like MERV 13 filters and VOC monitors right off the bat (both are beneficial to occupant air quality!).


Best Practices for Sustainable Design 

When implementing sustainable design guidelines, it's important to consider various aspects of the building process. Here are some best practices to keep in mind: 


  1. Energy Efficiency: Incorporate energy-efficient systems and appliances, such as LED lighting, smart thermostats, and high-efficiency HVAC systems. These measures can significantly reduce energy consumption and lower operational costs in the long run. 

  2. Water Conservation: Implement water-saving fixtures like low-flow toilets and faucets, and explore rainwater harvesting systems for non-potable water use. Efficient water management reduces water consumption and contributes to sustainable water resources management.

  3. Material Selection: Opt for sustainable and locally-sourced materials with low embodied carbon. Consider using recycled or upcycled materials to reduce waste and minimize the environmental impact of your project. 

  4. Indoor Environmental Quality: Prioritize indoor air quality by designing proper ventilation, using non-toxic building materials, and promoting access to natural light. A healthy indoor environment enhances occupants' well-being and productivity. 


Despite these general best practices, sustainable design is broad and a project-encompassing process. It is best to follow established guidelines that lead to a respected and accepted certification. 


Follow Design Guidelines that Lead to Certification 

Certifications show potential tenants, purchasers, and community members that the project has met accepted sustainability requirements, validating sustainability claims. Without certification, there is the risk of greenwashing accusations and reputational damage to developers.  


For these reasons, Emerald always recommends projects pursue official certification (such as LEED certification), rather than following guidelines, which may not include the rigor required to achieve broader sustainability goals.  


Going through the official certification process for sustainable certifications such as LEED and WELL ensures that project teams keep their sustainability promises. For example, LEED requires that teams submit official drawings, cut sheets, and other documents confirming sustainable elements such as low-emitting paints, bike racks, efficient HVAC systems, and recycling bins. For WELL projects, in addition to documenting optimizations with drawings and cut sheets – regimented testing is required for air, water, sound, and light to prove compliance with sustainability goals.  


Emerald Can Help You Implement Sustainable Design Guidelines 

Embracing sustainable design guidelines is a responsible choice and a wise business decision. By incorporating these principles into your development projects, you can reap financial, social, and environmental benefits. At Emerald Built Environments, we understand the importance of sustainable design and are committed to helping developers and real estate owners implement these guidelines effectively. 


With our comprehensive sustainability roadmap, we offer tailored solutions to assist you in developing and implementing sustainable design guidelines that lead to certification. By partnering with Emerald, you gain access to our expertise, resources, and innovative strategies for creating environmentally friendly spaces. Learn more about how we can help your next project get certified and capitalize on the benefits of sustainability. 

We Can Show You the Way