colin_colorBy: Colin Day | Urban Lab Coordinator

The City of Fort Collins recently adopted Climate Action Plan (CAP) goals to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2030 and attain carbon neutrality by 2050. As cities go, these are ambitious goals that only Sacramento, CA, has stepped up to match (and surpass) with a newly adopted plan. To meet the proposed time frame, Fort Collins must adopt a mix of highly innovative and large-scale programs that decrease carbon emissions across all sectors. IBE is assisting with the city’s goals by leading development of a variety of research-based approaches to district-scale sustainability projects.


To spearhead this effort, IBE has adopted a framework called EcoDistricts, which is supported by a national organization of the same name. EcoDistricts offers a “new model of urban regeneration and community development rooted in a relentless commitment to authentic collaboration and social, economic, and ecological innovation.” Fort Collins was selected as just one of 11 cities to participate in the 2015 EcoDistricts Incubator, an invitation-only, three-day, project-based workshop. With seed funding from CSU’s Office of the Vice President of Research early this year, applying the EcoDistricts model to Fort Collins became a reality. Working with university researchers, industry partners, and the City, IBE is leveraging the EcoDistrict imperatives of equity, resilience, and climate change to maximize the City’s CAP goals.

IBE’s Urban Lab (which focuses on placemakers and vibrant urban settings) and the Built Environment Working Group (part of the CanDo coalition for public health focusing on the health outcomes of design) have helped bring focus to the EcoDistricts Initiative. But the team isn’t stopping there; it’s initiating new district-scale projects to improve building efficiency, resource use, air and water quality, social capital and wellness, and economic returns. One example is a new, collaborative project with CSU’s Energy Institute and Sociology, Psychology, and Construction Management Departments to research the efficacy of DC power systems through studying micro-grid systems, and both real and perceived barriers to deployment.

IBE has convened teams from all eight colleges at CSU to identify gaps and opportunities for research on district-scale impacts to climate change. New research will lead to collaborative projects that test innovative strategies. Successful approaches will demand leveraging new technologies by cultivating industry, university, and city collaboration; programming natural systems and vibrant urban settings into our city; and documenting environmental and social patterns.

Through continued capacity building, IBE will partner with public, private, and institutional teams to develop district-scale solutions, supporting metrics that quantify impact and contribute to the larger global dialogue on designing, building, and operating thriving neighborhoods. Given that IBE and CSU will be co-sponsoring the inaugural EcoDistricts Research Summit in Denver next year, this is only the beginning to how Fort Collins will serve as a national model for other cities.


Social Networks and Innovation

By Reanna Putnam

Sustainable Behavior Associate

Social networks can tell us a lot about how organizational structure promotes innovation. And don’t worry, this post is not about optimizing Facebook and Twitter to boost creativity. The term social network can be used to describe the relationships between any collection of two or more people, groups or organizations with common goals or interests(1).

Figure 1: Structural Holes(6)

There are different theories as to what produces innovation in social networks. One common explanation is that the presence of structural holes, defined as places of disconnection in the network, promote creativity in the individuals nearest to the structural hole(2, 3,4). Individuals who are near structural holes are more likely to have access to diverse, often contradictory, information and interpretations because they are able to draw on information from outside of their immediate connections(2). Encouraging indirect ties that bridge structural holes is a cost effective way for organizations to access diverse knowledge and contribute to innovation without adding to project expenses(5).

Another, perhaps conflicting, way to increase innovation in a network, is through strengthening relationships among members of a design team and creating a more densely connected network. This is important because it can increase performance(7,8,9), reduce conflict among team members(10), and increase in the duration of group membership(11).
Figure 2: Core Periphery Structure (12)

So how do we bridge these two contradictory concepts? One way is through promoting a core-periphery structure. A strong project team will consist of a densely connected core of key decision makers who are loosely connected to a peripheral network form which they draw ideas and information into the network. These loose connections to the periphery network allows for the network to be larger, bringing in new and diverse ideas. Because not all members of the core are connected to the periphery, innovation producing structural holes are formed.

Integrative design teams often take on this core-periphery structure. They do so by having a densely connected decision making core who are loosely connected to a diverse periphery of building users, facilities and operation staff, design specialists and construction professionals. The core-periphery structure allow for integrative design teams to come up with innovative design solutions that produce efficient buildings and increase occupant satisfaction.

(1) Anklam, P. (2007). Net work: a practical guide to creating and sustaining networks at work and in the world. Routledge.

(2) Burt, R. S. (2004). Structural holes and good ideas1. American journal of sociology, 110(2), 349-399.

(3) Walker, G., Kogut, B., & Shan, W. (1997). Social capital, structural holes and the formation of an industry network. Organization science, 8(2), 109-125.

(4) Powell, W. W., Koput, K. W., & Smith-Doerr, L. (1996). Interorganizational collaboration and the locus of innovation: Networks of learning in biotechnology. Administrative science quarterly, 116-145.

(5) Ahuja, G. (2000). Collaboration networks, structural holes, and innovation: A longitudinal study. Administrative science quarterly, 45(3), 425-455.

(6) Farral, Kenneth. (2004) Web Graph Analysis in Perspective: Description and Evaluation in terms of Krippendorff’s Conceptual Framework for Content Analysis (version 1.0). Retrieved from: http://farrall.org/papers/webgraph_as_content.html.

(7) de Montjoye, Y. A., Stopczynski, A., Shmueli, E., Pentland, A., & Lehmann, S. (2014). The strength of the strongest ties in collaborative problem solving. Scientific reports, 4.

(8) Balkundi, P., & Harrison, D. A. (2006). Ties, leaders, and time in teams: Strong inference about network structure’s effects on team viability and performance. Academy of Management Journal, 49(1), 49-68Lazega 2002

(9) Nelson, R. E. (1989). The strength of strong ties: Social networks and intergroup conflict in organizations. Academy of Management Journal, 32(2), 377-401.

(10) McPherson, J. M., Popielarz, P. A., & Drobnic, S. (1992). Social networks and organizational dynamics. American Sociological Review, 153-170.

(11) Borgatti, S. P., & Everett, M. G. (2000). Models of core/periphery structures.Social networks, 21(4), 375-395.

New CSU Research Study: The Impact of Charrettes on LEED Certification

Author:  Michael Knox, Graduate Student in the Department of Construction Management at CSU

Charrettes have gained in popularity in recent years as a tool to increase collaboration and communication among building stakeholders, and to efficiently focus the time and attention of design team members in order to achieve greater synergy and sustainability.  However, little research exists documenting outcomes of the charrette process and its role in the overall success of sustainable building projects. To learn more about this relationship, we conducted a research study surveying LEED-NC 2009 project contacts and asked what characteristics were present during the charrette process.


The study’s results showed that implementing charrettes in LEED projects increased the amount of points a project received by 7 on average compared to projects that did not use charrettes. 

In addition to this finding, three separate characteristics were found to negatively impact the the number of LEED points a building received. We consider these three characteristics constraining factors, since they limit what happens during a charrette. The characteristics which were found to negatively impact LEED achievement included:

  • using a charrette as a LEED strategy or checklist meeting,
  • having a defined structured agenda, and
  • having pre-defined project goals before the charrettes take place.

Results of the study suggest the charrette process has the potential to provide significant benefits, regardless of what characteristics are implemented.  But to fully realize these benefits, a charrette should not include factors that limit a group’s ability to produce creative ideas, goals and innovative solutions. Thus, charrettes are best conducted to encourage open-ended dialogue, brainstorming and creative solutions to problems as vetted thoroughly and rapidly among many people with interdisciplinary backgrounds.

This research project was conducted as part of the Masters thesis of Michael Knox, graduate student in the department of Construction Management at Colorado State University.  Michael’s thesis committee included, Caroline Clevenger, Ph.D., Brian Dunbar, and Katharine Leigh, Ph.D.  To learn more about this research project, please download the full research document here. You can also contact the author on LinkedIn.

Study by Institute for the Built Environment Reveals Cost Effectiveness, Energy Efficiency, and Positive Human Impact of Green Schools

A report released today by the Institute for the Built Environment details a research study conducted on a national sample of 12 green schools and illustrates the positive impacts of green school design.  The schools participating in the study were designed with sustainability in mind, but had not been evaluated for the design effectiveness or the long-term impact on operations.  Cost and utility data were collected for each sample school and compared to national and regional benchmarks.  In addition, teachers and maintenance staff at each school were questioned to identify common perceptions and observations.  Key results included:

  • Responses to the occupant survey indicate that green school facilities have a positive impact on occupants. Respondents were enthusiastic about their green school with the majority perceiving positive effects on student health, achievement, and behavior.
  • Cost analysis rebuts the common perception that higher design and construction costs must be incurred to build green schools. The majority of green schools in the sample were built below the regional median cost for schools built in the same year.
  • In energy performance, the sample operated above the ENERGY STAR national median, with a sample mean score of 81. A rating of 81 indicates that a building is operating in the top 19th percentile, or better than 81% of similar buildings nationwide. In addition, eight of the schools met or exceeded the Architecture 2030 Challenge 2012 targets for Energy Use Intensity (EUI).
  • Finally, through interviews with facility managers, we confirmed that the buildings’ efficiency is also illustrated through perceived efficiencies in the daily operation and maintenance of the facilities.
The study was commissioned by DLR Group, an integrated design firm with offices across the United States.  This study was pursued in order to evaluate high performance building metrics and to measure the effectiveness of design. The execution of this study is part of a firm-wide effort to evaluate and advance the performance of their designs.

New Director of Research Joins Team at Institute for the Built Environment

The Institute for the Built Environment (IBE) is excited to announce the addition of Dr. Jeni Cross to their team, filling the role as Director of Research.  Jeni Cross is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Colorado State University.  Her expertise in energy conservation, community development, professional social networks, social norms, and behavior change align with the IBE’s five research focus areas and provide an applicable skill-set to our outreach and service-learning projects.

Jeni’s dedication to translating social science research into practice makes her an engaging speaker and a sought-after consultant on projects that seek to create meaningful, sustainable change.  Most recently, Jeni has focused her work on the utilization of social marketing strategies and network analysis in order to inform organizational transformation for sustainability, integrated design, and conservation behavior.

Brian Dunbar, Executive Director of the Institute for the Built Environment shared, “We are very excited to welcome Dr. Cross to IBE. Jeni’s social science focus is critical to our work – green building is ultimately about people.   Jeni’s ground-breaking work in identifying how notable schools and school districts create a culture of conservation and sustainability continues to receive acclaim from the leading green building researchers and sustainability managers.   Jeni will enhance the depth and breadth of our institute’s work in green schools, integrative design, and organizational sustainability and help us to connect with additional disciplines, faculty, and student.”

Jeni is stepping into the role held by Dr. Lenora Bohren for the past seven years.  Lenora made significant contributions to the Institute’s work in healthy indoor environments and advised countless graduate student interns of IBE.  Her new advisory role at IBE will allow her to dedicate more time to advising graduate students and to her position as President of the National Association for Practicing Anthropology. “We appreciate Lenora’s research leadership and are thrilled that she will continue to help IBE as she transitions to semi-retirement.” said Brian Dunbar.

Jeni has already begun her work as Director of Research at IBE, working closely with Stephanie Barr, IBE’s Green School Research Associate, on several projects related to green school design and operation.

Jeni Cross commented, “I have been working with IBE on a variety of projects over the past several years. This new position gives me the opportunity to work more closely with staff and to develop new projects. I look forward to the opportunities I’ll have to expand my own research on sustainability as well as to help IBE expand its research agenda.”

The Institute for the Built Environment, housed in the College of Health and Human Sciences at Colorado State University, fosters stewardship and sustainability of built and natural environments through interdisciplinary research and outreach.

Institute for the Built Environment received $50,000 grant

By: Dell Rae Moellenberg

The General Services Administration has selected Colorado State University’s Institute for the Built Environment as a partner in a collaborative research effort to further develop its Knowledge Network.

Through the $50,000 grant, IBE will identify and summarize published, peer-reviewed, field-tested original research related to high performance building technologies and practices for operations, building, energy and asset management in the federal government and private sectors. The summary information will create an educational foundation to help building operators and users optimize facility efficiencies.

The General Services Administration’s hopes the project will provide education and increase adoption of proven high performance green building technologies and strategies and best practices. Target audiences include facility, energy and project managers, and procurement and budget personnel.

“We are honored to be selected by GSA to perform this important sustainable operations work. All of us in the green building world are searching for methods to assure that our green buildings continue to operate sustainably long after they are built,” said Brian Dunbar, executive director of the IBE.

Knowledge Network focuses on education

The Knowledge Network establishes a multi-channel education and communication platform about energy research. This platform will disseminate information about best practices, guidelines, standards, decision tools and educational content focused on sustainable and cost-effective facility to targeted audiences within GSA, and federal and private sectors.

The Institute for the Built Environment, a research center based in the College of Applied Human Sciences since 1994, has a mission to foster built and natural environment stewardship and sustainability through an interdisciplinary, research-based educational forums. IBE brings together faculty, students and off-campus professionals to collaborate on applied green building, sustainable development and organizational sustainability projects.

*This article was originally published in Today at Colorado State

Chrisna du Plessis: Your Role in a Regenerative World (Video)

Colorado State University hosted the presentation, Your Role in a Regenerative World,  by renowned built environment expert, Chrisna du Plessis on Wednesday, September 12th in the LEED certified Lory Student Center Theater.
Chrisna du Plessis is Associate Professor in Sustainable Construction at the Department of Construction Economics of the University of Pretoria, and was formerly Principal Researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa. She is known internationally for her work on the policy and research strategy for sustainable building within developing countries and is currently concentrating on urban sustainability science at both theoretical and technical levels.
“Chrisna is an inspirational leader in the sustainability movement – her compelling messages help all of us to envision healthy, thriving environments and cities and to understand our potential roles in places and economies that regenerate just as nature does,” said Brian Dunbar, Director at the Institute for the Built Environment.
Dr. du Plessis’ presentation, co-hosted by Colorado State University’s Institute for the Built Environment and School of Global Environmental Sustainability was made possible through regional event sponsors including: City of Fort Collins Office of Sustainability, U.S. Green Building Council- Colorado Chapter, Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, Lory Student Center, CSU Public Lands History Center, CSU Department of Design & Merchandising, CSU Department of History,  Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Enterprise, and the Sustainable Living Association.