Sustainability: Beyond LEED
We’ve all become keenly aware of the need for more wisdom in our approach to building design to minimize the environmental impact. The USGBC’s LEED program has become the industry standard for measuring "green" design. But true sustainable design should start first with smart, strategic, integrated approaches, and only later look to scorekeeping guides like LEED or Green Globes for points.
We believe in an integrated team approach to sustainability issues, where all of the key consultants involved in a project are engaged in the conversation early on to contribute ideas and strategies for making a better building. As structural engineers, we have a much greater opportunity to impact the sustainability of a project when we’re engaged early, rather than simply including fly ash in our specs, or taking advantage of the fact that most steel contains very high recycled content.
More than just including recycled and local material content, a building should be efficient and effective over its entire life cycle. That means making informed, smart choices about durable structural systems and details. It means designing a structure that’s flexible to meet changing needs over time, because an adaptable building is better than a replacement building. Key issues like bay sizes and floor-to-floor heights also enter into the discussion.
It is critical to integrate the structural design with the architecture and MEP systems. This could mean taller floor heights or shallower structures to allow more natural light to penetrate deeper inside the building, reducing electricity demand for lighting. This could mean exposing the structure to eliminate extra finish materials. Or this could mean taking advantage of the structure as a conduit for MEP distribution, or as thermal mass. All of these issues and many more are unique to each project, each site, and each team. That’s why it’s critical that we get involved at the outset.
We also offer to perform a structural carbon study at the outset of a project to examine the CO2 impact of various structural systems. In this way, the team can include sustainability as a criterion in the process of choosing which structural system is best for the project.
We have participated in over 20 projects which have or will receive LEED certification, including the Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, which is the world’s first LEED Platinum Hospital. Other projects include Austin City Hall which received a LEED Gold certification; the UT Research Office Complex (UT’s first LEED Certified building); and the UNT Business Leadership Building, which has a goal of LEED Gold. Datum has nine LEED Accredited Professionals on staff.