Materials and methods for designing sustainable, healthy facilities.
By Jason Brubaker
The need for health-focused building products is quickly merging with the need for green building. In the next 5 years, considering the health of both building occupants and the environment will no longer be a pioneering business approach, but become the standard for commercial facilities. As marketplace demand for sustainable, healthy buildings continues to grow, what can facility managers do to stay ahead of the curve?
Experts across industries have embraced that sustainability and health go hand-in-hand, calling wellness-minded spaces the “next wave of design.” Driven by younger generations who value healthier environments in their workplaces and homes, residential and corporate office designers were the first to adopt this growing philosophy of holistic, healthy buildings.
As more builders and designers grow sensitive to environmental and health concerns, more green solutions have become accessible. Understanding which materials and methods achieve a healthier space is the first — and perhaps most crucial — step towards the ideal indoor environment for customers and employees.
By merging the mission of people, planet and profits, facility decision-makers can go beyond following the green trend to create a lasting impact in the restaurant and retail space. These recommended sustainable materials and methods minimize future repair and replacement costs, maximize use of space and products and contribute to a better, healthier future for your business.
People + Planet
Sustainability features in buildings share overlapping characteristics with health and wellness features, making it simple to incorporate strategies that prioritize both people and planet. Many of the core features of healthy, green design date back to the days before HVAC systems and elevators, placing emphasis on natural light, natural ventilation and central courtyards. Although it’s not possible to go completely back to the basics in modern facilities, there are viable options to improve indoor air quality, maintain thermal levels and maximize use of natural light. These solutions mainly center on sourcing proper materials.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air pollution is among the top five environmental health risks and therefore, is one of the greatest indicators of an unhealthy building. While regular cleaning and maintenance can improve problems, air quality is less likely to deteriorate over time with proper flooring selection. Even with proper care, some flooring types can trap bacteria and dust, triggering allergic reactions and illness among building occupants. Smooth surfaces — such as hardwood flooring — are often a more hypoallergenic choice, as they minimize lingering dander, mold and dust.
Maintaining proper indoor thermal levels is a triple-threat solution: providing comfort to occupants, decreased emissions and savings on electric and gas bills. The goal here is to choose materials that, depending on the season, keep hot or cold air out while letting sunlight in. This can be accomplished by installing flooring with high thermal mass –– hard materials are best for conducting heat — and then insulate the building’s exterior through the walls, roof and windows. Retrofitting windows and other innovative window films can achieve approximately 50% heat rejection, keeping heat in during cold winter months.
Thermal levels can also be regulated, in part, by considering natural light. Behind faulty air conditioning, lack of natural daylight is the second largest cause of sick building syndrome. Further, recent studies suggest that indoor lighting may harm a building’s Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) and be detrimental to workers’ daily productivity and health. Letting the light in creates a healthier, more productive environment for building occupants, while significantly cutting energy costs. Technologies like daylight sensors help balance the intensity of artificial lighting and reduce energy usage, but more basic design elements are also valuable. For new facilities, incorporate more windows or skylights, if possible. A fresh coat of light-colored paint, updated ceiling tiles or a light stain on hardwood flooring can help brighten up an older space. Any combination of these methods will improve daylighting and make employees, customers and guests feel better about the space in which business happens.
When considering materials, it is important to pay attention to chemicals used in the manufacturing and installation processes. Often, flooring installations utilize glues and hard adhesives that can negatively affect both the environment and indoor air quality due to harmful, airborne emissions. Conscious builders and designers specify products from companies that carefully select each material to create the best product for the environment and its inhabitants, such as a hardwood flooring manufacturer known for its low emitting, sustainable products. It is important to be cautious of “greenwashing” — some manufacturers misrepresent their products to appear greener than they actually are. Thankfully, a growing number of third-party certification programs are available to help authenticate these claims, such as: the Greenguard Certification Program, a testing program for low-emitting products and materials; the Carpet and Rug Institute’s “Green Label Plus” program; and the Forest Stewardship Council Certified Wood program.
Ideally, more professionals would use products with these certifications, which are manufactured without harmful chemicals and therefore eliminate dangerous emissions. Toxic chemicals and materials can not only affect occupants’ health, but their flammability can compromise safety. Additionally, FSC-certified hardwood passes the sustainability test, meaning a healthier and safer floor for the workplace. Transparency, above all, is of utmost importance. Restaurant and retail owners should work closely with architects and designers to gain full awareness of the materials used. Sustainable products, by design, should benefit the planet and the people who use them; the two work in tandem.
In the business of providing customers with products and services, providing a green facility as the backdrop is often overlooked as a method of increasing profits. However, Millennials and other demographics who have come to expect healthier workplaces and homes are beginning to prefer the same standards in other social environments.
“Greener, healthier retail stores — those which typically have good levels of daylight, fresh air and greenery — are becoming more attractive to consumers and potentially more profitable for retailers,” the World Green Building Council reported in 2016.
For example, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings average a 28% savings in energy costs, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. If LEED certification is planned prior to construction, facilities can achieve the first and second levels of certification with no additional first construction cost. Certified buildings incorporate common-sense ideas that are intrinsic to the design, not additional cost.
Once an optional “gold star,” LEED has become the standard for modern, sustainable facilities, providing a rating system that requires minimal negative health effects on occupants from the materials and processes utilized in a building’s design. Points for certification are earned by meeting requirements in six categories, which include Indoor Environmental Quality, materials and resources.
Results from third-party certifications like LEED prove that the impact of sourcing sustainable products can be both profitable and quantifiable. Whether constructing an entirely new facility or renovating an existing one, retail and restaurant owners should begin by identifying the tools, criteria and resources needed to begin the certification process, then select a team of architects and designers to execute on deadline and ensure materials specified are compliant.
For example, in Atlanta, special, proprietary hardwood planks were specified for AT&T’s The Perch in Mercedes-Benz Stadium due to their ability to meet sustainability guidelines from a quality standard — as each plank is 300% more durable than standard hardwood flooring, allowing it to stand up to such a high-traffic area — and adhere to the facility’s LEED requirements. Because of this durability, the flooring will maintain its beautiful finish for much longer than standard hardwood, decreasing life-cycle costs while providing guests a warmer, more inviting environment.
To join the growing movement of green building, retail and restaurant owners should consider what must be done both as an individual and a business owner to create a standard for green practices. Through networking with other professionals in the industry, facility managers may be surprised at the number of people who already involved and the amount of online resources available about certifications. If cost is a concern, individuals should remember that sustainability is synonymous with durability. Despite higher initial investment, the most sustainable, cost-effective practice in managing a facility is to eliminate the need for repair and replacement, selecting the right materials and methods for a space to stand the test of time.
— Jason Brubaker is the vice president of sales and marketing with Nydree Flooring, a Forest, Virginia-based manufacturer known for producing sustainable acrylic-infused engineered wood flooring. For more information, visit www.nydreeflooring.com.