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Sustainable construction considers the role and potential interface of ecosystems in providing services in a synergistic fashion. Integration of ecosystems with the built environment can play an important role in resource-conscious design. Such integra- tion can supplant conventional manufactured systems and complex technologies in controlling external building loads, processing waste, absorbing stormwater, grow- ing food, and providing natural beauty, sometimes referred to as environmental amenity. For example, the Lewis Environmental Center at Oberlin College in Ober- lin, Ohio, uses a built-in natural system, referred to as a “Living Machine,” to break down waste from the building’s occupants; the effluent then flows into a recon- structed wetland (see Figure 1.4). The wetland also functions as a stormwater reten- tion system, allowing pulses of stormwater to be stored, reducing the burden on stormwater infrastructure. The restored wetland also provides environmental amenity in the form of native Ohio plants and wildlife.15


The term green building refers to the quality and characteristics of the actual struc- ture created using the principles and methodologies of sustainable construction. Green buildings can be defined as “healthy facilities designed and built in a resource- efficient manner, using ecologically based principles.” Similarly, ecological design, ecologically sustainable design, and green design are terms that describe the applica- tion of sustainability principles to building design. Despite the prevalent use of these terms, truly sustainable green commercial buildings with renewable energy systems, closed materials loops, and full integration into the landscape are rare to nonexistent. Most existing green buildings feature incremental improvement over, rather than rad- ical departure from, traditional construction methods. Nonetheless, this process of trial and error, along with the gradual incorporation of sustainability principles, con- tinues to advance the industry’s evolution toward the ultimate goal of achieving com- plete sustainability throughout all phases of the built environment’s life cycle.


The term high-performance building has recently become popular as a synonym for green building in the United States. According to the U.S. Office of Energy Effi- ciency and Renewable Energy (EERE), a high-performance commercial building “. . . uses whole-building design to achieve energy, economic, and environmental performance that is substantially better than standard practice.”16 This requires that the design team fully collaborate from the project’s inception in a process often referred to as integrated design.

Whole building, or integrated, design considers site, energy, materials, indoor air quality, acoustics, and natural resources, as well as their interrelation with one another. In this process, a collaborative team of architects, engineers, building occu- pants, owners, and specialists in indoor air quality, materials, and energy and water efficiency utilizes systems thinking to consider the building structure and systems holistically, examining how they best work together to save energy and reduce the environmental impact. A common example of systems thinking is advanced day- lighting strategy, which reduces the use of lighting fixtures during daylight, thereby reducing daytime peak cooling loads and justifying a reduction in the size of the mechanical cooling system. This, in turn, results in reduced capital outlay and lower energy costs over the building’s life cycle.

According to the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), a well-respected nonprofit organization specializing in energy and building issues, whole-systems thinking is

Chapter 1

Introduction and Overview


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