Each RATIO studio has a sustainability integration leader as well as many LEED- and WELL-certified professionals. As the Indianapolis Sustainability Integration Leader, I started seeing a clear shift in client interest a couple years ago. More companies are asking about a building’s energy use and the quality of life it delivers. Part of this is financial as investment firms have begun placing a high value on companies’ ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) criteria. Whatever the reason, it’s exciting because we love helping clients meet and exceed these standards—not just today’s, but also the ones on the horizon. Here are a few ways we approach sustainability now.
The most sustainable building is the one that has already been built. The next best thing is a resilient one that will last. At RATIO Design, resiliency is one of our core values and a primary reason why we have become a sustainability leader in several markets. Sustainability is inherent in our design process because it aligns with
Sustainability means human wellness.
The idea of sustainability has shifted beyond just energy savings to encompass the health and wellness of people in a building or community. It is becoming increasingly understood that those two things are tied together. And often, what’s good for a building’s performance is also healthy for those inside, like ample daylight and natural ventilation.
A resilient building is one that makes workers happy and more productive, which leads to a high level of retention. A company’s energy use is about 1 percent of its business, and its staff expense is about 90 percent. If you want to make an impact on your bottom line, design for retention. For example, consider the “monumental stairs,” a centrally located, visually powerful focal point that employees are drawn to. They want to walk these stairs and skip the elevator. Active circulation paths are trending to combat sedentary office life.
Climate change response isn’t one size fits all.
When you think about climate change, you think about rising sea levels and wildfires. The Midwest is known for its hot and humid summers, and climate change risks elevating these conditions for a few days each summer to the point that the human body can no longer cool itself through perspiration. In the mid-Atlantic, higher temperatures may threaten crop yields, creating challenges for agriculture-based economies. And should extreme weather conditions render coastlines uninhabitable, non-coastal markets could become climate destinations, and these interior cities will need to plan their infrastructure for resilience and growth. At RATIO, we are aware of these geographically specific challenges and are working diligently to prepare our cities to respond.
We have to focus on embodied carbon.
With embodied carbon analysis tools, we can determine how much energy certain materials and construction processes will use or save over their lifecycle and immediately reduce our emissions upfront before global warming gets worse. One technology that’s coming to the forefront is mass timber, which is a thick structure formed by layers of lumber laminated together. Wood is a renewable resource that absorbs carbon from the atmosphere when it’s encapsulated within a building’s structure. By contrast, manufacturing steel and concrete generates large amounts of carbon.
Recent building code updates recognize the enhanced fire-resistance properties of mass timber and allow for taller buildings in mass timber without having to use concrete. This has unique value as an infill solution in mid-market cities with a small but established skyline. For us, it’s an exciting new medium that opens up dynamic design possibilities. We studied a mass timber option for a private development in Raleigh, and in addition to realizing significant savings in the construction schedule thanks to mass timber’s modular nature, it would allow the project to avoid 39,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
We must rise to the occasion.
Even as our power grid is rapidly transitioning to renewables, there is a long way to go, and I expect that designing to reduce our energy use will be a challenge for the rest of my career. But it’s equally important to design for the health and resilience of our communities, ensuring that people have access to the essentials like shade and water, as well as opportunities to be active, get together, and be happy.
Get in Touch
Get in touch with Joe Yount, LEED AP, BD+C, WELL AP,
Senior Associate / Architect & Sustainability Integration Leader