The Power of Perception

By: Evan Hughes
Sustainable Building Associate

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s something we’re taught at an early age that reminds us to keep an open mind and try new things. It may be a trite phrase, but it’s still a valuable piece of advice.

Having said that, it can be difficult to avoid forming judgments based on a quick first impression. It’s why you refuse to try the weird appetizer your friend recommended (it’s actually delicious).  Or why you might assume that the guy in the coffee shop wearing a scarf in July is insufferable and pretentious (he’s actually really down to earth). Or why you might assume that the pretty girl in your marketing class is out of your league (she totally is, I’m sorry.) Research conducted in the United States and Africa has shown that similar negative assumptions can influence the materials people choose when building a new home. One such material is rammed earth, an earth-building technique that involves compressing a mixture of soil, lime, and other additives between large wooden molds to form monolithic walls. A survey distributed to construction professionals in Kansas found that, while the appearance and environmentally friendly nature of rammed earth was perceived positively, its adoption had been limited by the assumption that it was antiquated and structurally unsafe.

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In Africa, similar surveys have revealed an association between earthen homes, low social standing, and poverty. The same surveys also show that people associate modern materials like concrete and steel with wealth and high performance. These associations create a vicious cycle where only the poor build with earth. Many of these people have no training in earth building and no background in engineering, so their homes may be more susceptible to erosion or structural failure. When these problems inevitably arise, it simply fuels the preexisting bias against earth, and the cycle continues.

Overcoming these negative assumptions takes time. It also requires that people, particularly contractors and material suppliers, work to understand the advantages and disadvantages of non-conventional materials. Knowing when, where, and how to implement environmentally friendly materials and methods can help increase the public’s awareness of their economic and environmental benefits, particularly in the residential construction market. Effective marketing is also critical to increasing awareness and market penetration of non-conventional materials. Tell a client that they should build with a certain material because it’s “the right thing to do,” and you may end up in a debate and possibly a fist fight, depending on where you are. Tell a client that they should build with the same material because it will save them money, lower their energy bills, and will make their home a more pleasant place to live, work, or raise children, and their response will probably be less combative and more inquisitive. It’s easy to label another person’s opinion as stupid or inconsequential. It’s more difficult to argue with the financial and material savings that sustainable materials have to offer.

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No one material is perfect for all climates and agreeable to all tastes. But by increasing awareness of alternatives to concrete, timber, fired brick, and steel, contractors can go a long way toward reducing the environmental and ecological impact of the construction industry. By doing research of their own, the public can better understand the advantages and disadvantages of non-conventional materials and make informed decisions based on hard data, rather than assumptions and first impressions.

Kraus, C. (2012). On perceptions of rammed earth. Rammed Earth Conservation, 157-162

Zami, M. S., & Lee, A. (2011). Inhibitors of Adopting Stabilised Earth Construction to Address Urban Low Cost Housing Crisis: An understanding by construction professionals. Journal of Building Appraisal, 6(3), 227-240.

Gooding, D. E., & Thomas, T. H. (1995). The potential of cement-stabilised building blocks as an urban building material in developing countries. ODA report, School of Engineering. UK: University of Warwick.


Using Biomimicry in Sustainable Design

By: Cassandra Kliewer
Sustainable Associate

Nature is the best learning tool. After generations and generations of improvement, nature has perfected itself to work best with its environment. Taking a closer look at an organism and the way it operates can inspire design. Janine Benyus, a biologist in the biomimicry world spoke about the innovative technologies inspired by nature: “learning about the natural world is one thing, learning from the natural world, that’s the switch.”

Biomimicry is designing technologies based upon natures’ sustainable strategies. When biomimicry is applied to design, efficiencies in energy, materials, and space are conserved. The people inventing these efficient designs range from professionals in the field, to students aiming to improve technology. In an effort to engage youth in the biomimicry community, Biomimicry 3.8 has created a competition for the best design inspired by nature.

Youth around the world have entered the challenge to design efficient technologies. The concepts in the challenge were inspired by their region-specific issues and applied natures’ efficiencies to create new technologies. Students from McGill University of Montreal, Canada addressed the problems related to cargo ships transporting organisms by inventing an air ballast system. Since cargo ships transport a lot of weight ballasting water was created to help a cargo boat stay afloat. Water is added when there is no cargo, and when there is cargo the water is released. The transfer of water to different bodies of water introduces non-region specific species. If the species is introduced to a region where it would thrive, it would become invasive and thus disrupt the ecosystem. The team from McGill proposed to replace the water with air. Filling the ballast tanks with air when the ship has cargo, and emptying the tanks when the ship is empty will replace the need for water. This design was inspired by the cuttlefishes’ ability to control buoyancy. Another team in Yucatan, Mexico designed a stable form of transportation. The alternative before this design was working tricycles which were unstable and inefficient. After study snakes movements, the team designed a quadricycle that operates via hand steering movements. At the Institute for the Built Environment (IBE) we strive to create efficiencies in construction to preserve the beauty of this planet. By using the U.S. Green Building Council rating system, IBE applies biomimicry technologies to construction projects. With construction comes options for implementation of new technologies. Everywhere you look in nature you can see efficiencies that have been improved over generations and generations. Some of the greatest inventions have been inspired by nature.

The Benefits of Building Small

By: Evan  Hughes
Sustainable Building Associate

Americans like big stuff.  We have the biggest companies, the biggest cars, and, it turns out, the biggest houses.  According to a study of 18 countries conducted by Shrink That Footprint, an independent carbon-footprint research group, the United States was second only to Australia in average new home size and average floor space per person.  Home ownership, however, has become increasingly difficult in the post-recession economy.  This is especially true for recent college graduates, who may be saddled with debt or can’t afford a down payment.  For a prospective homeowner, or for anyone who wants to build their own home, small houses (under 1,000 square feet) present a number of advantages.


Small houses are cheaper

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Small houses require less material and time to build, and allow more money for higher quality interior finishes.  Small houses also require less energy to heat and cool, making them cheaper to own and occupy.  In extreme cases, money can also be saved when applying for a building permit.  For instance, in Chatham County, North Carolina, if the walls of a structure are no longer than 12’ on any side, a building permit isn’t required at all.

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Small houses are better for the environment

Many of these cost savings directly benefit the environment.  Building a small house uses less lumber and energy-intensive materials like concrete and brick.  Building small often means that more money can be spent on energy-efficient doors, windows, and HVAC equipment.  These features, combined with a smaller footprint, mean that small houses consume substantially less electricity than conventional homes, thereby reducing their contribution to the air and water pollution created by the coal-fired power plants.  Small houses also serve as a good platform for solar photo-voltaic systems, and can often use solar power and solar-hot-water systems for most, if not all, of their power requirements.

Small houses are easier to build

A first-time owner-builder or general contractor can get easily overwhelmed by the complexity of a residential construction project.  While building a house is rarely an easy, painless process, a small house is a much easier project to tackle than a conventional 2,000-4,000 ft.² suburban home.  Small houses don’t typically feature complicated mechanical systems, plumbing arrangements, or electrical wiring, and small house construction does not typically call for large structural beams and columns that require heavy equipment to put in place.
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Houses are a lot like cars.  Both serve basic needs.  Both are often seen as extensions of their owners.  Whether buying a car or a house, many consumers believe bigger is better.  However, just as a smaller car can be an equally fulfilling and eminently more practical choice for most car buyers, a small house (under 1000 ft.²) uses less energy, requires less material to build, and, if a bit of creativity is exercised during the design phase, can be just as practical and beautiful as a house twice its size.  In short, by reducing the size of their house, an owner-builder reduces the complexity, the expense, and the environmental impact of their project.

A Personal Small Step to Sustainability

By: Anderson Lewis

When someone makes a conscious decision to live more sustainably, it is easy to get discouraged by the mindset of “I’m just one person. What difference can I really make?” But when it comes to being sustainable, the Axiom “ the little things make the biggest difference” can certainly hold true.  Don’t get me wrong; I still think much has to be done before humanity can reach a state of benign or regenerative interaction with our natural environment. However, it is dangerous for us to assume that our seemingly small actions do not have a meaningful, positive impact.  For example, it is easy to equate turning the lights off when you leave the room to saving a few cents. No big deal, right?  However, when you factor in the process energy used to harvest and transport the raw material used to create your energy, the transmission losses from power lines, and all the carbon emissions associated with this overall process, it makes turning off the light seem more important.
Having the ability to measure the positive impacts of your sustainable actions and track your progress is a great motivator to continue being more sustainable.  Knowing where you started from (your initial energy usage, water usage, etc.) gives you a baseline to compare improvements against (aka benchmarking).  This allows you to see if your changes (actions, energy retrofits, etc.) are indeed positive and can help guide your decisions on where to focus future actions to make the largest impacts.  Lastly, associating your sustainable accomplishments (energy saving, water savings, etc.) with an easily comprehensible reference can make them more palpable and rewarding.  For example, it is hard to know if saving 1 kWh is good or not, but when you consider that 1 kWh could power a T8 fluorescent lamp for 31 hours and 15 minutes, it gives greater context to your accomplishments.
At IBE, we have been diligent about tracking information from the projects we have worked on.  This historic data is helpful to us in multiple ways.   First, it allows us to compare and contrast different project types and their performance and to monitor how the sustainability of our projects has progressed over the years. This helps us know that we are on the right track to higher levels of sustainability. Second, this historic data acts as a marketing tool for the IBE, allowing for us to more easily convey the benefits of our services to clients and more accurately predict what type of performance and savings our clients should expect. Lastly, when this historical data is put in easily understandable terms or comparisons, it can really act as a motivator for IBE staff/project stakeholders and affirm the fact we are making a meaningful positive impact.  For example, in total, projects that the IBE has been involved on have diverted over 15,000 tons of waste material from the landfill (the equivalent weight of 60 statue of liberties).  These materials were recycled and reused in various ways and reduced the amount of raw materials that would have been harvested to meet the needs that this recycled material filled. In addition, the aggregate of IBE projects on average save approximately 95 million gallons of water a year (enough to fill 143 Olympic sized swimming pools (assuming a 2 m depth).
If these aforementioned accomplishments seem large, well, it’s because they are! And this is before considering the added energy/carbon savings that come from not having to harvest, transport raw materials to produce new materials or to treat and transport the water saved.  At IBE we are proud of our accomplishments but recognize that there is still so more to be done.  We will not rest on our laurels and encourage you to do the same.
In the global scheme of things the changes we have helped instate might be small but they are far from insignificant. If everyone were to view their own actions in this way then all these small actions will add up to one big change.

An Alternative to LEED: Green Globes

By: Allison Smith
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating systems have brought objective standards to the understanding of sustainable and regenerative design projects. But as the leading rating system in the US market, it’s easy to forget that LEED isn’t the only tool to create effective sustainable and regenerative designs, and “going for LEED” isn’t the only way to be “green”. Green Globes is increasingly in the news lately with support from the Government Services Association (GSA) and the change in Green Globes’ leadership: Jerry Yudelson.
Green Globes is an evolution of the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) the international leader in sustainable building certification and the standard for all new UK non-residential buildings. Green Globes was established in 2004 and is administered by the Green Building Initiative (GBI) in the U.S. and Building Owners & Managers Association (BOMA) in Canada.
Complaints of the LEED rating system range from cost to bureaucratic headaches to lack of flexibility to frustrations with LEED online, their online documentation and submittal submission format. Any LEED practitioner will admit the certification program is far from perfect, but still laud the system for promoting sustainable building and encouraging a whole systems approach to design. The US Federal Government, as well as many state and local governments, require sustainable building certification and since most people are only familiar with LEED they believe that is the only option. On the contrary, the GSA recommends either LEED or Green Globes for federal projects based on a recent research project studying the robustness of both rating systems. Many states and local governments allow other sustainable building certifications than LEED, however confirm the requirements of the presiding legislation.
Advantages to the Green Globes rating system are that there are no prerequisites, partial credit is allowed, there is flexibility for non-applicable criteria, it incorporates an ANSI-Accredited Standards Developing Organization (ANSI-GBI)Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA), and certification hinges on a third-party on-site assessment. A Green Globes project is assessed on a 1000-point scale, however, since some credits can be marked “non-applicable,” projects typically are assessed on fewer points. The program has four certification levels, similar to LEED, but is based on the percentage of points granted as opposed to points available. Furthermore, when evaluating a project’s energy performance, Green Globes uses regional performance data as the benchmark, rather than LEED’s use of a hypothetical building model.
Perhaps most exciting is the inclusion of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) process, an assessment that LEED lacks. LCA’s are a research-based evaluation of cradle-to-grave resource use and environmental impacts of materials, systems, and buildings.  Green Globes allows a prescriptive or performance path option for meeting this requirement. The prescriptive path is based on Environmental Product Declarations, third-party certifications, and upon ISO 14040 and 14044 Standards.  To meet the performance path, design teams use Athena Impact Estimator for Buildings software to compare alternate design scenarios. LCA’s are a foundation for sustainable building, yet this assessment remains excluded from LEED v4.
Criticism of Green Globes range from a perception of not being rigorous enough, a perception of Forest Certification bias, industry representation on the GBI board, and no required minimum performance. Furthermore, Green Globes certification criteria is not as transparent as LEED’s criteria.
A quick count of sustainable rating systems in the US returns a list of six alternates to LEED. When starting your next project, evaluate Green Globes and the other applicable sustainable buildings systems to select the one that best aligns with the projects’ goals and principles. LEED has its place in sustainable building certification systems, however keep in mind that it’s not the only option.
Now through April 15, GBI is offering “Green Globes Professional Training”, an online self-paced course for free. Completion of the course can count towards American Institute of Architects (AIA) Continuing Education Units (CEUs). Though Green Globes does not offer professional accreditation, this is an opportunity to learn more about Green Globes certification.
Bibliography and citations:
Kibert, C. J. Switching from LEED to Green Globes: A User’s Perspective (PDF).  Green Building Initiative. Retrieved February 7, 2014 from
Green Building Initiative. Retrieved February 7, 2014 from
LEED User. Retrieved February 7, 2014 from
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Green Globes icon:

Coors Field Sustainable Garden

By: Colin Day

The Institute for the Built Environment has finished its first growing season in the urban garden business. In collaboration with ARAMARK Food Services operating at Coors Field, our executive management and graduate student interns implemented the installation of the Coors Field Sustainable Garden, located at Gate A of the stadium in Denver, before the commencement of the 2013 baseball season. ARAMARK food services, an industry leader in public venue scale food service and facility maintenance, contracted IBE to assist in the creation of a pilot garden space, a first within major league sports venues. The goal was to realize the vision of on-site, sustainably produced food. The design mimics a baseball stadium with raised beds terracing upwards from the garden’s ‘infield’ to the ‘outfield’, to the ‘stands’. Ornamental flowers, followed by herbs and beneficial garden plants, followed by vegetables were on display for the ½ million fans that pass through Gate A over the course of the Rockies’ season.

The vision of ARAMARK to display and provide healthy, sustainably produced herbs and vegetables on-site as a part of their food operations is an example of a large company-wide commitment to sustainability. ARAMARK promotes sustainable practices in food purchasing, environmentally responsible consumer choices, greenhouse gas conscious building operations, energy and water conservation measures, green cleaning, greening their delivery fleet and ethically managing their waste products.

IBE facilitated design development, chose sustainable materials that would best suit the project ethos, contracted local, organic plant propagation, managed PR communication from conception to implementation and participated in the installation of the garden. During the 2013 growing season, the Coors Field Sustainable Garden provided 600 sq/ft of on-site, sustainably produced and managed vegetables, herbs, flowering ornaments, and plants that promote beneficial garden ecosystem functions to on-site chefs through the 2013 growing season. The harvest included heirloom varieties of tomatoes and peppers and a wide variety of herbs that were harvested by the IBE team and on-site kitchen staff during late August and early September of 2013.

IBE has successfully contracted to expand the scope of our involvement with ARAMARK in the 2014 growing season. This will include outreach to educational and city programs in the Denver area with an emphasis on community involvement and healthy, sustainable food choices for at-risk and under served youth communities. In order to realize these goals, our project team will pursue partnerships with programs such as and Denver Urban Gardens (DUG), as well as potential coalitions with governing bodies such as the Denver Public School System. Additionally, our crops selections will be expanded to lengthen the growing season and increase the variety of selection and nutrition within the beds.

Ultimately, IBE hopes to develop the ‘The GaRden’ as a component of ARAMARK’s Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) goals.  With outreach to other interested ARAMARK facilities with assistance from Denver ARAMARK management, the goal is an export of sets of guidelines and toolkits that assist in the establishment of sustainable gardens at other ARAMARK venues. Through the connection between relevant programs in higher education to nearby ARAMARK facilities, the potential ensuing collaboration would include regionally relevant outreach agendas.

Our experience at Coors Field in collaboration with ARAMARK corresponds with our ethos of sustainable design in the built environment, regionally relevant projects, and educational outreach that intends to spread understanding about sustainable activities and their impacts on health. IBE looks forward to breaking ground at Coors Field again during the 2014 growing season with our project partners at ARAMARK.

The New Integrated Sustainability Manager Certificate Program

By: Cole Schumacher

In an effort to further educate the business world on the positive impact of sustainable business practices, Institute for the Built Environment is launching a new professional certification in spring 2014. This certification, coined the Integrated Sustainability Manager Certificate Program, aims to deliver knowledge and practical applications to sustainability professionals.
In my time at Institute for the Built Environment I have been given the opportunity to work closely with the launch of this certificate and truly believe that it offers an innovative perspective and practice that similar certificates do not.
This certificate focuses on four emphasis areas: People and Behavior Change, Organizational Sustainability, The Built Environment, and Natural Resource Management.
People and Behavior Change: discover tools for engaging people in positive behaviors.
Organizational Sustainability: learn how to integrate sustainability into company culture and strategic goals to save money and create a thriving environment.
The Built Environment: learn to implement facility-based strategies for reducing the financial and environmental impact of the built environment.
Natural Resource Management: understand best practices for optimizing the flow and consumption of resources in your organization.
The development of this certificate addresses the tremendous growth sector that is sustainable business management. Many professionals are growing into this role of sustainable management without having much background in the industry. This professional certificate will be a tremendous resource for anyone transitioning into a sustainability management role or seeking such a career in the future.
Another aspect that speaks to the innovative nature of this certification is our diverse group of instructors. We have gathered instructors from academia and industry leaders.  Our instructor pool includes leaders from New Belgium Brewing and the Institute for the Built Environment, and the Colorado State Universities departments of Psychology, Sociology, and College of Business.
This program will be launching the first courses in early summer 2014.  Courses can be taken a la carte or can be combined for the full certification. Please reach out to IBE for more information or read more about the program.
Stay tuned for more details coming this February…