MENU

Healthy Buildings, Healthy Humans with Sarah Nugent

We think a lot about high-performance buildings – but what about the high-performance humans in those buildings?

As the future of office-dwelling is on everyone’s mind, there are a lot of questions surrounding how buildings can help or hinder human health and wellbeing. Tenants may be wondering what questions to ask building owners and building owners may be curious about what steps to take and which of the various healthy building toolkits to employ.

In this episode, Kelly chats with Sarah, Sustainability Director at SWA, about the intersection of health, wellness, and sustainability – or the “triple bottom line” in buildings, and why projects need to take a proactive, holistic approach to all three.

(more…)

Finding Your Way: Third-Party Assurances for Your Properties

Over the last several months, experts in sustainable design related to human health and interior wellness have developed guidelines, protocols, and toolkits to adapt existing buildings to the ‘new normal’ caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. These tools can be leveraged by building owners and property managers to enhance their healthy building strategies, ensuring their properties are mitigating risk with building wellness and safe building protocols. And, once implemented, building teams can earn recognition for their hard work with industry recognized organizations, which will build confidence for tenants and employees.

We’ll be highlighting three programs that complement your ESG and/or wellness goals across any portfolio or building typology. All three were created to be scalable, flexible, easily implemented, and cost-effective. Let’s get started.

(more…)

Integrating Social Equity into Green Building – Part 2: Pre-Design Phase

*Click here to read Part 1 of this blog!

The social and environmental context can vary greatly from one project to the next. To achieve social equity goals, a well-constructed plan for all project phases must be created and tracked. And, although the measures are not generally complicated, they can be numerous. In order to promote social equity, SWA has compiled this series of blog posts that teams can refer to as a guide to help facilitate the process. The goal is to help project teams understand, identify, and incorporate social and environmental goals and strategies into projects in a holistic and integrated way.

 

Image depicting equity vs equality

Image 1: – Credit: https://www.usgbc.org/resources/leed-project-team-checklist-social-impact

The following outline provides an overview of steps the design team can take in evaluating projects during Pre-Design. Throughout, references to LEED credits are cited.

(more…)

‘Back to the Basics’ of Affordable Housing with Les Bluestone

In a city as crowded and expensive as New York City, there is a growing need for access to safe and affordable housing. With this demand comes great innovation, as well as roadblocks and challenges between construction, financing, and policy.

In this month’s Buildings + Beyond episode, Robb sits down with Les Bluestone, co-founder of Blue Sea Development. Les has been leading the way in affordable, green building in New York City since the 80’s. He gives us a brief history lesson on affordable housing in NYC, and provides us with his outlook of what development and construction will look like in 5 years and beyond.

(more…)

AeroBarrier: A New Tool for Gut Rehabs?

Image of AeroBarrier eventAeroBarrier is touted as the best route to never fail another blower door test. The technology, which involves pressurizing a space with a blower door fan while misting a water-based glue into the air from multiple points throughout the space, is most often being used on new multifamily buildings after drywall is installed. SWA first experimented with the technique on the Cornell Tech high-rise building. Back in March, I reached out to Yudah Schwartz at SuperSeal Insulation, Inc. about a personal project, the gut rehab of a 2,500 SF detached single family home. While renovations aren’t something they normally do, Yudah and his team agreed to try a demo. Here’s what happened.

(more…)

Leveraging LEED for New Construction Post-COVID Part 2

LEED: Toolkit for a Healthy and Resilient Post-COVID Built Environment

At SWA, we have used LEED across a wide range of projects and contexts. We have seen firsthand its strength as an adaptable toolkit for guiding high performance building design, construction, and operation. The intent of each LEED credit category takes on a particular meaning, both locally and globally, in response to the emergence of such factors as global climate change and its associated consequences—including pandemics. In the post-COVID context, these intents will take on new meaning and new urgency. Read Part 1 of this blog here!

image of coal plant

Credit: Arnold Paul

The overall goal of the LEED rating system is to reduce the negative impacts of the built environment on environmental and human health. Ideally, this focus contributes to our general, overall resilience to public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic by reducing and mitigating various factors that make us more vulnerable to diseases. For example, we know that long-term exposure to air pollution and poor air quality dramatically increases the chances of dying from COVID-19 and that most of the same pre-existing conditions that increase the risk of death for COVID-19 are the same diseases exacerbated by exposure to air pollution. Anything we can do to improve air quality will also improve our resilience to disease. Most significantly, we need to move away from fossil fuel-based energy and toward clean, renewable energy—and a large portion of LEED is focused on doing just that.

As researchers have noted, many of the root causes behind climate change also contribute to a greater risk of pandemics. An example is deforestation and associated habitat loss, which forces wildlife to migrate, bringing novel viruses into closer contact with livestock and humans, and increasing the odds of disease transmission. On top of that, by altering temperature and rainfall patterns, climate change has created conditions that are more conducive to the spread of disease in general. So, the strategies we need to enact now to address the climate crisis—many of which are addressed in LEED credits—can also mitigate the occurrence, scale, and impacts of future disease outbreaks.

(more…)

Leveraging LEED for New Construction Post-COVID Part 1

In the post-COVID world, there needs to be a greater awareness that the built environment can protect and promote human and environmental health. Buildings can, and must, play a critical role in delivering a stronger, more resilient public health infrastructure that can help prevent and mitigate crises such as the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. The good news is that we already have effective tools for designing, constructing, and operating such buildings—chief among them LEED and the WELL Building Standard.

We believe people are now more conscious of how the built environment affects their health. As a result, we’re likely to see an increase in investment in sustainable building design, construction, and operation and a corresponding increase in demand for green building rating systems such as LEED and WELL. We may also see the green and healthy building concepts that are included in these systems increasingly integrated into building codes.

USGBC plaque

[Credit: Blanchethouse (username) / Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org]

Certification programs (e.g., LEED and WELL) have been developed though collective effort. They are extremely effective and adaptable tools that project teams can use to ensure that their buildings achieve the best possible performance in terms of protecting environmental and human health. Importantly, these programs continue to evolve, offering ever more effective strategies for improving the built environment, ensuring that buildings adapt to whatever circumstances may arise in uncertain times. But right now, project teams can make immediate use of LEED and WELL, and similar tools, to start preparing for the new reality ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic.

How can project teams leverage LEED now? In this series, we’ve highlighted the LEED credits that can be used to guide efforts to make our buildings safe, healthy, and resilient. (In a follow-up series we’ll discuss the WELL features that can be used to guide our post-COVID building work.)

(more…)

Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) are Coming to D.C., Are You Ready?

In January of this year, the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 was signed into law, establishing minimum Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) for existing buildings. The law requires all private buildings over 50,000 square feet to benchmark energy use and demonstrate energy performance above a median baseline beginning January 1, 2021. If a building does not score above the median performance, it has five years to demonstrate improvement or face financial penalties.

While quite a few of the details on enforcement are still being worked out, the median scores will be based on 2019 building performance and there are actions you can take today to get ready for BEPS.

(more…)

Climate Week NYC: Seven Days of Climate Action and Discussion

 

Climate Week logoLast week, as I was writing this blog, I came across a New York Times article: “The Amazon, Siberia, Indonesia: a World of Fire.” By now, I’m sure most of us are aware that the Amazon Rainforest has been burning for weeks, but this deliberate act of environmental destruction will contribute to a feedback loop. These fires release carbon dioxide and kill the trees and species that not only remove greenhouse gasses from the air but are part of vital fragile ecosystems. As more climate-warming gasses fill the air, extreme weather patterns, drought, species loss, and global warming are exacerbated. These effects then accelerate the spread of infectious disease, global poverty, and human health defects. Overall, climate change and environmental degradation negatively affect both humans and the planet, which makes us less resilient and allows for climate change to accelerate even more aggressively. And the cycle continues.

So, for the sake of our (really wonderful) natural planet, and humankind, it is crucial that we try to hinder this feedback loop and make climate action a priority around the world. And, although individually we can try to have a more reciprocal relationship with the planet, our actions and voices carry more weight collectively, which is where Climate Week NYC comes in.

What is Climate Week NYC?

Organized by The Climate Group, Climate Week NYC is an annual week-long gathering for citizens and global leaders to join forces and take action to mitigate environmental harm caused by human activity. There will be a number of public events each day from September 23-29, including tours, film screenings, conferences, and more.

Fun fact: Swedish teenager and activist Greta Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic all the way from England to meet with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and to attend the United Nations Climate Action Summit, scheduled on the first day of Climate Week NYC!

(more…)

20 Years of Wintergreen!

A lot has happened since the start of the WinterGreen newsletter, which was first distributed 20 years ago via fax machine. From the inception of LEED, to the Climate Mobilization Act, WinterGreen has covered it all.

In honor of its anniversary, we are looking back at the milestones that occurred along the way and making predictions for the future…WinterGreen Banner circa 1999

1999 – Steven Winter Becomes Chairman of the US Green Building Council

Image of Steven Winter as USGBC ChairmanAs Chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council from 1999 to 2003, Steven Winter helped guide the organization through a period of immense growth. This included the launch of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, also known as the LEED® Rating System, and Greenbuild, the nation’s largest green building conference and expo.

 

2000 – SWA Receives NYSERDA Pioneer Award

Image of Steven Winter with NYSERDA AwardAt a gala event celebrating the 25th anniversary of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Steven Winter Associates (SWA) was presented with the NYSERDA Pioneer Award for their extensive contributions to making buildings more energy efficient and sustainable.

 

2001 – Green Building Guidelines Book Published for Home Builders

Image of Green Building Guidelines bookIn conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), and the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council (SBIC), SWA staff collaborated to create “Green Building Guidelines: Meeting the Demand for Low-Energy, Resource-Efficient Homes.” The book provided green building techniques and strategies for home builders and residential construction professionals.

 

2002 – SWA Helps DEC Become New York State’s First Ever LEED Certified Building

Image of New York DEC Headquarters in AlbanyWorking with NYSERDA, Picotte Companies and WCGS Architects, SWA provided certification support to the design team, earning the project LEED V2.0 Silver. SWA’s services included initial LEED tabulations and goal setting, detailed LEED V2.0 evaluation reporting, and completion of the final documentation package, which led to the certification of New York State’s first ever LEED building.

 

2003 – The Solaire Declared Nation’s First “Green” Residential High-rise

Image of The SolaireNew York Governor George Pataki dedicated The Solaire as the country’s first “green” residential high-rise building, calling it “a benchmark for urban sustainable development and for green buildings worldwide.” SWA supported the design team on this project from conceptual design phase through construction administration. The Solaire, located in New York’s Battery Park City, was the first residential building to be completed in downtown Manhattan after the terrorist attacks of September 2001, and was the first beneficiary of Governor Pataki’s green building tax credit.

 

2004 – SWA Joins Project Team for Oculus Terminal at World Trade Center

Image of World Trade Center PATH TerminalLed by the joint venture of DMJM+Harris and STV, as well as the internationally renowned architect, Santiago Calatrava, SWA was invited to join the project team to provide energy efficiency and sustainable design consulting services for the new World Trade Center station, also known as the the Oculus. The rebuilt PATH terminal is incorporated into the design.

 

2005 – USGBC Announces LEED for Homes Pilot Program

Image of home under constructionExcited to announce the first ever LEED program for residential construction, the USGBC immediately began seeking applicants to test the effectiveness of the all new LEED for Homes through a Pilot Program. LEED for Homes, which is considered a green building milestone, was made possible by a passionate committee of industry professionals co-chaired by Steven Winter.

(more…)