When "Green" ideals argue with the budget!

Nancy Anderson
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When to Green, and when not to Green, that is the engineer’s question!

Many professional engineers recall when “green” represented a color. There was a green crayon, a green traffic signal and favorite green shirt. Green meant the color of the spring grass, the place on the golf course where that little tin cup lives, and the color of money.

To the engineering community designing building systems, the word encompasses an entirely different definition. The “Green Movement”, “Green Design”, “LEED Certified” building, and now they want me to join the USGBC and take the test to become a LEED AP so I can work on “Green” Buildings!

For clarity, I am all about protecting and improving the environment. I think we all should be. I was a very active member of the 1970’s “Ecology Movement” (I still have my green striped theta flag), and I have been recycling and repurposing since I was seven years old! My point is . . . I GET IT!

Designing HVAC and Electrical systems to support the client’s LEED Certified building dream often conflicts with that edgy little secret that it costs more initial capital outlay to build an energy efficient and sustainable commercial building.

Professionals need to educate and advise owners that solar collector hot water systems, wind turbine generators, photovoltaic arrays, the geothermal and heat pump system, deep water wells, gray water storage tanks, and the low VOC post consumer waste recycled products . . . all cost slightly more than the building structure itself. The xeriscaping, bio-swales and permeable paving are pretty cheap though, and she was planning on indoor bicycle parking with shower rooms for employees who will pedal their way to work instead of using mass transit to the new on-site bus stop anyway, right?

To which she responds “We are going to manufacture binders, portfolios, and report covers then package them to ship out. What is my ROI for these LEED components compared to my business’ bottom line?” Hmmm . . . good question. The answer in many cases is tenuous at best.

Matt Beaton of Beaton Construction says “Money is the first thing that turns people off about going green. They don’t want to spend on a feel-good sort of thing. If it’s something that has environmental benefit AND has the financial benefits as well, it’s much more palatable.” Peter Michelson suggests we “Leave our agenda at the door. Even if going green is a political statement for you personally, it doesn’t have to be for the client. If they want to go green just to cut their energy bills, then they’re still going green.”

Listen to what the client wants, and the “why”. Provide documentation on the choices you recommend, and make the owner part of the process. Become the resource that the client trusts to walk through each option and advise them, while balancing priorities within the budget. A LEED award would be very prestigious for you, but your client’s priority is to open an efficient building while getting cases of binders out the door ASAP!

You can do this!

By K.B. Elliott

K. B. Elliott is a freelance writer for Engineer-Jobs.com. Working many related positions in the Detroit area for over 30 years gives him a unique perspective on the process. To read more of his blogs, please go to Engineer-Jobsblog.com, and be sure to check out the postings for jobs in nearly any industry at Nexxt

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