Guiding the Environmental Design Dialogue

Guiding the Environmental Design Dialogue

In a year of diving deeper into our values at OPX, this month we’re focusing on one of our core values, Protect the Planet. Earth Day occurs every April as a call for continuing the effort to protect our planet in various ways. It’s a reminder of how far we’ve come, and how much further we have to go to ensure we leave our planet better off for the next generation.

The environment. It can be a discussion, especially in Washington DC, that can become politically divided, right down the line. The mention of climate change can send the political parties into a boxing match. As such, and as far as I could go down the path of defending the existence of climate change; I’ll focus my attention on the impact it’s had on the building industry and the workplace.

In March of 2014, Washington DC, along with many other jurisdictions, adopted the 2013 Green Construction Code. This code integrated the International Green Construction Code, as well as a few local additions and modifications. With this adoption, the District is requiring the building industry to step up its game to lessen the impact of building on the environment. This has been a largely welcome regulation, as it underscores the importance of a more environmentally friendly building approach to clients and developers.

When congress passed the first draft of the American with Disabilities Act in 1990, it helped to create a new dialogue on the importance of “everyone has the right to…” The regulations provided us all with insight into the daily lives of those who have physical challenges. Yes, we all deserve to have the ability to open a door, we all deserve the ability to go from one sidewalk to another, we all deserve the ability to use the sink, and so on. The ADA has helped to provide a more level playing field for everyone.

Similarly, environmental building regulations help level the green playing field.

Level the green playing field? Yes! So, we have to lower the lighting energy by 20%. Why? The client asks. Because it’s code. See? This exchange helps to create a dialogue with the design team and the client on the need to lower lighting energy, its impact on the design project, and the environmental reasons for doing so. With these regulations, it creates a conversation with the client on environmental design, which may have been a non-starter otherwise. These codes and regulations help the design team, the client, and other constituents have a discussion on how their project can now contribute to a more environmentally responsible future and create a healthier interior environment. And with this new dialogue, the client may have an expanded view and excitement about further steps to take. And isn’t that we all want? More informed clients and clients who feel better about their space.

At OPX, we make good companies work better. We help our clients understand the impact of materials, indoor air quality, energy efficiency, and recycling, to name a few. We encourage the LEED process, as we feel it’s a great way to help manage the process and expectations of an interior renovation that leads to a more environmentally friendly design. Despite some of LEED’s shortcomings, it has transformed the way the building industry has set aspirational goals of being more “green.”

As we continue to explore Protect the Planet at OPX, we hope to continue to have these discussions with our clients, whether formal regulations are in place or not. We want to encourage and excite our clients about greening their space. And isn’t that our jobs as designers? To provide enthusiasm around bettering our clients’ work environment?

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