Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Value of Value Engineering - Part 2

Recap Part 1
Last week, in Part 1 of The Value of Value Engineering, I talked about easy buttons and paradigm shifts. This week I am going to start to look at value engineering with a different spin, that is, not just through the lens of first costs. And for the sake of clarity, I am going to follow the credit categories of the LEED Rating System, which is divided into five categories: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources and Indoor Environmental Quality.

When LEED® emerged in the late 1990’s, it filled a huge void. The building industry in this country was trying to understand how to effectively define ‘green building’ and measure it in a consistent way. To date, LEED has done more for the national green building movement than anything previously conceived, its main focus of to make green building mainstream and to move the bulk of buildings being built towards higher standards.

It's Not Easy Being Green
But there is still hesitation with green building in any form, that is LEED or not LEED. Some arguments you may be familiar with are “it costs too much money” or “the process is cumbersome” or “the payback isn’t viable.” There of course papers and responses to these arguments, showing that green does cost the same as conventional building and that it increases productivity, saves energy, but I feel we must go beyond these arguments; in my view, they are often too focused on the economic viability of changing the marketplace, that is, baby steps. And I agree that baby steps are needed. However, I also contend that bold strides are needed.

The Value of Value Engineering Place
So let me jump in and look at Sustainable Sites. Generally when we start a project, we don’t think much about the site beyond it’s this sq footage or acreage, here are the utilities, these are the zoning issues, what environmental permits are needed, the buildable area, and so forth. We may go out and look at the site for a bit, take some pictures, but it is rare to really spend time there, walking the site, learning about the site, being with the site. So we view the site as an isolated entity, more an object in a field persay than something connected to a much larger whole.

But let’s look at a typical site for a minute. Any site is a part of a greater watershed, the watershed itself being a critical component of a healthy hydrologic cycle. Within any watershed there is infiltration of water back into the groundwater, which in turn replenishes underground streams and aquifers, runoff which replenishes above ground creeks, streams, lakes, rivers and so forth, and a healthy cycle of evapo-transpiration that occurs from grass and trees and other plant life.

There is also a flourishing ecosystem –or systems, above and below ground, water-based and non-
water-based, consisting of plants, animals and micro-organisms and more. All of them work in concert to maintain a balance –both at night and during the day; nocturnal animals are just as important as non-nocturnal.

Each site is also a unique and distinct place, place not being a destination, as in “we are going to that place” but place as in each place having a spirit “symbolizing the living ecological relationship between a particular location and the persons who have derived from it and added to it the various aspects of their humanness over time” (the latter eloquently stated by RenĂ© Dubos). Being a part of place though, is necessary to being human and indeed, we all have a place or places which we connect to.

But of all of these, the watershed or the ecosystems or the place, how much do we generally know? Usually nothing. And so for years and years we have been developing land, divorced from a connection with it. We have filled in streams, viewed wetlands as a nuisance, cut down mature trees and replaced them with saplings –a token measure almost in comparison, introduced non-native and invasive species, forced animals from their natural habitats, built unattractive, inaccessible and artificially aerated retention basins, lit up sites at night so that nocturnal environments are severely impacted, allowed water to run off sites into storm systems, instead of re-infiltrating it on site, thought little about who and what might have been on the site before, and so much more.

Now, some of you might say to me, these things must happen for progress to occur. Perhaps this is true in the conventional sense. But I also know that we have drastically changed watersheds, eroded and destroyed habitats, developed sites in inappropriate ways, created large heat islands with our cities and freeways, to list a few examples. We have also increased insurance rates, changed flood plain patterns, caused litigation and lawsuits, and more.

Where is the value in any of this?

Next week, water, our most precious resource.

No comments: