This week, Musings welcomes Cindy Frewen Wuellner, PhD, FAIA, architect, urban analyst, and founder of Frewen Architects Inc. Cindy teaches at the University of Houston Futures Studies Graduate Program. She is currently writing a book on the influence of social technologies on the design, construction, and use of 21st century cities. She can be reached at 913-961-1702 or on twitter as @urbanverse.
The Noisette Rose – A Triple Bottom Line Approach
For the Noisette Development in North Charleston, SC, via a collaboration of BNIM and Burt Hill Architects, we created a framework called the Noisette Rose. Based on the Triple Bottom Line concept, project goals combined concerns for Prosperity and People as well as the Planet. The Rose signifies the qualifications and rates the success in meeting those criteria as radial arms around the circle.
The Noisette Rose effectively illustrates the complexity of sustainable design. While LEED and other models establish minimum standards for energy use, waste management, and so on, many experts consider sustainability environmental criteria along will not achieve sustainable development. The Noisette Rose and Triple Bottom Line method describe that larger vision.
What is Sustainable Design?
Several organizations have defined sustainability in the spirit of the Triple Bottom Line,
- United Nations: Development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” They added the three mutually reinforcing pillars of economic development, social development, and environmental protection.
- US Office of Federal Environmental Executive: “The practice of 1) increasing the efficiency with which buildings and their sites use energy, water, and materials, and 2) reducing building impacts on human health and the environment, through better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal — the complete building life cycle.”
- USGBC: Certification defines “green building” as primarily environmental components and identifies five areas – site, water, energy, materials, and indoor environmental quality.
- Cascadia Green Building Council: “A built environment that is socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative.”
In other words, while USGBC has focused on environmental “green building,” several other organizations embrace social and economic terms as well. Consequently, it seems likely that sustainable development in coming years will extend beyond strictly environmental concerns and include all three areas of the Triple Bottom Line.
What Will That Mean to Our Practices?
The broadened goals warrant even greater clarity and precision in metrics, and ultimately establishing appropriate jurisdictions for compliance. Like the Noisette Rose, the value of each goal will be judged by how carefully we define excellence and track performance, and how effectively the combined criteria create true sustainability.
If environmental performance, being the most readily measured, is covered by building codes and regulations, it removes the question of the short-term marketplace. Similar to other life safety mandates that are the foundation of building codes, everyone plays to the same minimum standards. While individual heroics suffice for pushing knowledge during innovation, only mass adoption creates true environmental change. Voluntary efforts will always fall short.
As building owners, design professionals and users are discovering, we no longer can imagine sustainable design is achieved at occupancy.
The built environment no longer sits passively as a collection of boxes for shelter; experts, owners, and users collaborate with buildings and cities everyday to achieve environmental, social, and economic goals. The aggregation of individual choices determines performance.
Based my sustainable design work, research, and analysis, I am writing a series called True Green. A number of public challenges highlight the shortcomings of our current practices. Those questions range from inadequate energy performance and design conflicts to green washing and user complaints. These reactions are healthy so long as we respond and improve our practices. In particular, a lack of well documented, shared data and user education emerge as weaknesses.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.” It’s our collective job to make certain the well remains full. If we can do it forever, it’s sustainable.