Building Design for the New Economy

“Our goal is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy and just world with clean air, water, soil and power… economically, equitably, ecologically and elegantly enjoyed.” This is a beautiful quote from William McDonough. Professor of Architecture, Designer, Environmental Consultant to world leaders in manufacturing, and inspired soul. He addresses here the same principles of The New Economy, and supports the knowledge that there is a direct relationship between life, the living environment and the built environment. Have you ever been in a built environment that gave you a sense of calm and nourishment, that awakened your senses and gave you a feeling of deep rest and recuperation? We feel calm, nourished, awakened and alert when the air quality in a space is healthy… when form follows function… when space, light, color, and texture combine in an economy and elegance of design.

Nature is the gold standard against which our built environments should be measured. On its own, Nature has a finely tuned balance, but problems occur for both people and the environment when synthetic or man-made materials are introduced and the essential balance is lost. Ecological, sustainable building means not just sustaining our ecosystems, but human health as well. Mind, body and soul are affected in a myriad of ways by a dwelling. And it is clear that the once finely tuned relationship between humankind and nature is out of balance.

Let’s take a look at the 4 values that William McDonough mentioned in his quote and how they relate to sustainable building.

Economical, Equitable, Ecological, Elegant.

First let’s look at Economical… A quote from local Environmental Inspector & Building Consultant Jon Cotham… “It’s important to remember that with the rising cost of health care and lost productivity from illness, that anything we can do to maintain our good health is financially beneficial”. Our health is priceless and when buying, renovating or building a new home or business, its ability to nurture health should be our top priority. As more consumers look to healthy, sustainable building materials, the costs have come more in line with conventional materials. Contrary to popular belief, often the healthier alternatives are no more expensive, or even more economical in the long run due to a longer lifecycle and greater durability, or by reducing energy costs.

We have the ability to shift industry if we persevere in either buying less of something, or in buying more of the sustainable alternatives. Many of us will spend additional money to buy natural, organic and fair trade food & clothing. Why not take these into consideration when buying building materials? History has shown that consumers’ have great power with their spending habits. Runaway consumerism, has played a significant role in the collapse the economy and of the ecosystem, given the energy, water, land and other resources required to produce all the “stuff” people buy and quickly dispose of. Exciting opportunities for sustainability lie in the beginnings of a revolution that replaces materials made using dirty, wasteful methods with those resulting from clean processes patterned after Nature’s cyclical patterns. Since the 1990s leading manufacturers have adopted sustainability standards that have increased revenue through risk management, increased competitive advantage, cost reduction and product differentiation. They have demonstrated that such sustainable practices not only work but are economically viable.

Equitable. Most of us are all familiar with this term in regards to Fair Trade practices, which is an important consideration in buying practices for building materials. It is important to look to manufacturers who ensure healthy working conditions, fair labor practices and fair compensation. But, do we consider how we can be more equitable to our children, our pets and the elderly that occupy our dwellings? They may not have much voice, if any, in the decisions made concerning building materials, and yet they are the ones whose health is most at risk. Children are more affected by indoor contaminants than adults because their respiratory, immune & neurological systems are still developing. And, their breathing zone is much closer to the ground where most contaminants originate.

The next value is Ecological. When considering materials for your built environment, think about the impact your decision has on the world at large. Fortunately, there is a current awareness that Building Operations… that is heating, cooling and lighting… is having a huge impact on our outside air quality. Surprisingly, when we compare sources of Co2 emissions, we see that the manufacturing of Building Materials alone is actually higher than the levels produced by Automobiles. The manufacturing of Portland Cement used in concrete, and the gypsum used in drywall are among the biggest polluters, but there are alternatives.

The destruction of global health is mirrored by a similar impact on our personal health. Tens of thousands of chemicals being used today in the home and elsewhere are known to be toxic. The alarming growth of diseases such as childhood asthma, autism, and fibromyalgia – have become cause for researchers to look for links between these chemicals and our health, and indeed many have been found. Both the EPA and American Lung Association urge us to not use materials with PVC or formaldehyde added which can include vinyl flooring, carpet pad & backing, plywoods and particleboards found in cabinets and furniture, textiles, paints, stains and sealers. Studies have shown that poor indoor air quality affects attendance and productivity in schools and the workplace.

Elegant and Sustainable go hand in hand. The dictionary defines Elegant as “of a high grade or quality”. With today’s selection of sustainable building materials, elegance does not need to be compromised. There are a wide variety of materials that are truly elegant not only because of their high grade or quality, but also because they are truly pleasing and sophisticated. Sustainable building no longer is limited to a rustic or industrial looks.

Today we are faced with a dazzling array of finishing products. It is a daunting task to make healthy, sustainable choices, especially when considering how little information is revealed on product labels, and how much knowledge is required to decipher them. Fortunately, there is now more information available to the consumer through the internet and television, through books, and through the increasing number of professional consultants available to help with inspections, analysis, design and procurement. When starting any type of building or remodeling project, we need to take time to plan. A hard thing for many of us in this society of immediate gratification, but we need to invest sufficient time into finding healthy, environmentally sound choices.

Our homes and business represent one of the biggest investments we will ever make of our time, energy and money; they are a life long focus of concern and can become a source of well being. The simple steps of creating a healthy home or workplace are some of the easiest ways we can live an ecologic life, doing our part to be stewards for the earth, and helping to create a truly sustainable economy.

Copyright 2009 Cynthia Grier. All rights reserved.

What is Green Building? Definitions and Concepts

We’ve all heard the term “green building”, but what exactly does it mean? Simply, green building is a method that uses efficient design, advanced technology, sustainable construction and maintenance elements that creates a building that has very little impact on the environment and a promotes a healthy atmosphere for those who live or work in the building. These environmentally-friendly buildings can be high-rise office buildings, apartments, residential homes or schools. Furthermore, they can be found all over the country, from the deep, hot South to the cold, snowy North.

One of the challenges of living in an eco-conscious society is making buildings and homes that already exist conform to greener standards. Buildings can be retrofitted to encompass efficient technology so their emission level and energy consumption is as minimal as possible. An easy way to start making your facility more energy-conscious is by purchasing energy-efficient appliances, which will save you a lot of money on your electricity bills. You can also begin to employ techniques that will reduce your total water consumption and winterize windows and doors to prevent heat loss.

Many green buildings use solar lighting and generate their own energy. Solar panels on buildings will not only provide your facility with all the energy it needs to function, but in many cases, you can sell the excess energy to the local power company. Solar powered heating and lighting are a great way to significantly reduce your building’s energy consumption and harmful emissions.

Green buildings can also use natural ventilation systems to help reduce indoor air pollution and allergens. This is especially beneficial for those with asthma, suffer from allergies or have other respiratory problems. Building materials that are free from chemicals and toxins, along with a natural ventilation system, will allow people to breath easy while inside the facility. It has been shown that people who work inside of buildings with modern ventilation systems are more productive and use fewer sick days than those who work in conventional office buildings.

Do not be overwhelmed by the staggering amount of green technologies that can be applied to a building. You do not have to employ each one right away. You can start by making small changes and work your way up to a totally green, energy efficient facility. A green building consultant can help you focus your energy conservation goals and show you exactly how your building’s performance efficiency will change with each step you take. Also, this type of consultant can help your maintenance department implement CMMS software (or Computerized Maintenance Management Software), which helps a maintenance department run more effectively and efficiently.

Green buildings can save, on average, 40% of their total energy costs. This means more money in your pocket and less harmful emissions being sent out into our surrounding environment. This type of decrease in energy consumption means the burning of coal and oil is reduced, thereby helping lessen the impact of global climate change. The recycled materials used in the construction of green buildings help keep our ecosystem regulated.

Any small step you take to make your facility run more efficiently, or “green”, would be a wise decision. You’ll be saving money in the long run, promoting a healthier lifestyle and helping to conserve our delicate ecosystem.

Top 5 Reasons Why Team Building Games Fail, and How to Avoid Them

When a Californian home security company chose their team building games, little did they know that the program would end disastrously, not just for the employees but for the company as well.

In the fiercely competitive game, sales teams were pitted against each other. Throughout the game, the competitors’ name posts were fixed in strategic places to make the employees ‘fight the crap out of each other’. In the end, the winning team ridiculed the losing team by making them wear diapers, feeding them baby food and throwing pies at them.

After the event, employees sued the company and it had to pay out USD1.7 million as damages! So much for honorable intentions!

A huge number of team building games fails because they share at least a few – if not all – of the elements above. They think that the best team games are those that pit teams against each other through fierce contests and throw up clear winners and losers. This is ironic because most companies desire more cooperation between employees, not fierce competitiveness. They want an atmosphere where knowledge is shared and success is achieved together. Then, where is the sense in selecting team building games where the focus is on competition rather than cooperation?

Some of the main reasons why team building games fail are as follows:

  • No understanding of final goals and objectives: Many employers like to spring a surprise on their employees but this can be counterproductive. When participants do not know the end goals, there could be seriously hostility between them. Instead, companies should inform the team members of the teambuilding program. In fact, companies can go one step further and give team members the power to choose. By respecting the team’s views and decisions in the matter and by giving them what they want, companies take the first step towards effective team building.
  • Trying to scare employees into being a team: Facilitators sometimes push a huge challenge on the employees as the very first activity. Quite naturally, this makes more than 90% of the participants hold back from giving their best. Facilitators must design games so that there is proper sequencing of activities starting with games that address the group’s current state of being. Do the team members know each other well? Is there a conflict that must be resolved before the team can work as one? The level of complexity must go up slowly to ensure that everyone is able to contribute evenly.
  • Stiff competition = rivalry: Competition is not the basis for team work, cooperation is. According to studies, more than 87% of times, greater advantage goes to teams that took the cooperative approach instead of the competitive one. The reasons are not hard to find. When you try to make one team (or team member) win, everyone loses. If people get a feeling that they weren’t good enough, it lowers their performance. Often, competition uncovers the inner jerk in the participants and some people may even try unfair means just so they can win. Besides, people learn much less when they are fighting against each other. Therefore, team building games must focus on imparting lessons instead of finding and rewarding winners.
  • Lack of commitment: Sometimes, management makes the mistake of considering the program an exercise in futility, something that is done to keep the employees in good humor. This feeling gets conveyed to teams automatically and results are unsatisfactory. Team building is a value mission and there must be a belief at the highest level that the company thrives on the culture of team spirit.
  • Working with the wrong consultant: Finally, the quality of team building games is only as good as the quality of the team building Event Company you are working with. Experts in the field have the technical proficiency to guide management in choosing the best activities for their goals. When looking for a team building consultant, it is vital to find someone who is passionate about what they do and are ready to work with you for the success of your team.

If a company has had a bad experience with team building games in the past, the reasons are likely to be one or more of the above.

Hire Building Consultants to Handle Construction Disputes, Claims and Project Management Issues

Hiring building consultants is one thing that a small homebuilder and skyscraper construction company have in common. In both instances, issues arise that may require the services of a professional, particularly when you are juggling projects that handle mechanical, civil, structural, electrical and even process engineering aspects. The same problem solving principles apply whether you are spending a few thousand pounds or tens of millions of pounds.

Benefits of an Outside Consultant for the Building Process

What if you were half way through building your home and the actions of your contractors put your timeline for construction completion way behind? Building consultants could handle the resolution of your dispute through arbitration, mediation or negotiations. What if your company did their due diligence in applying for all the necessary building permits and then at the last minute, a neighboring property owner disputes the property boundaries? Again, a consultant acting on your behalf can get the matter solved so you do not lose time on your building project.

Individuals involved in building benefit from hiring a consultant to work for them as can smaller businesses who cannot afford to retain an expert in-house to deal with construction issues. It just makes sense to hire a professional who can mediate for you and “speak” the language of construction.

Fields of Consulting in the Building Business

Dispute resolution is one of the biggest tasks for building consultants; however, they also deal with a variety of other construction issues as well. For instance, a lot of contracts are drawn up and executed during the course of a construction project. How do you know that your interests are best represented in each and every case? You don’t, unless you hire a consultant to review the contracts and offer advice for amendments.

Claims defense and claims preparation against an entity for damages is another task for these consultants. Surveying aspects are addressed as well as management and training issues of construction staff. Project management is quite helpful for a construction site as consultants can help keep vendor deliveries and contract work well on task and within a set schedule. Debt recovery is another consulting issue too.

Why waste your money and time navigating through all the administrative stuff you don’t quite understand? While you may lead a construction project, it is nearly impossible to have an intimate and firm grasp on every aspect of the process. That is what building consultants are for – to serve as your advisors for each building process as needed.