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Attitude Needed - Injecting Sustainability to Facility Design


Attitude Needed - Injecting Sustainability to Facility Design

By: Veera Ronalter, RA, LEED AP BD+C

Greening the Public Image

Biopharmaceutical companies are waking up to consumers questioning their environmental responsibility and are becoming sensitive to their environmental impact. Greening the public image of the company is now widely considered beneficial; sustainability in designing and constructing biopharmaceutical facilities will support that goal.

The pharma and biotech industries are inherently large energy consumers and require immediate return on investment. These two factors have historically put sustainability low on their priority list. But if their processes are such an energy hog, would a building that enhances efficiency a modest percentage make a difference?

The answer is, YES! Even small changes in energy- and water-heavy systems can make a big difference over the life of the facility, so it is worth a second look. Will it need a gargantuan effort to decrease environmental impact? No. What is needed is a design team that has the right attitude to bring sustainability into the discussion.

Document the Process

When the team makes a list of suggestions to include sustainability into the facility design, it is important to document the process well and consider its presentation carefully. From a consultant’s point of view, it is sometimes fascinating to follow the paths that this documentation can take on the client’s side. With the large manufacturing projects, the project lead has an immediate goal of running the project smoothly and sustainability studies may seem to sidetrack the design. However, the resulting suggestions may fit well to the client’s corporate goals. Once the documentation is reviewed in the context of corporate benefits, it may give a different angle to justifying the additional first cost that would otherwise not be part of the project. This process may seem stubborn at times, but persistence is needed for change.

Challenge the Standard

Even within the same corporation, design guidelines can vary drastically. For example, air change rates in the clean rooms are not always based on risk assessment and may be based on the values that have kept the site and building maintenance out of trouble – which may mean it may is unnecessarily high. The process technology may have developed since the standards were established, and the risk that used to drive the air change rates is not there anymore. Challenging the “it’s always been done this way” mentality with the team requires the right attitude and willingness to the extra mile.

Motive Reality Check

In order to inject sustainability into the manufacturing world, we need to be able to sell it through the same avenues as any other design feature. Within the business environment, the approach is most likely to stick if it is based on well-studied facts and makes financial sense. Solutions have to be cost effective – if you cannot engineer a design that costs the same as traditional or less, it will be value engineered. Another possibility is to provide back-up calculations for the payback period of the investment to sustainability.

Sustainability Is Today’s Safety

In general, sustainability should be peppered everywhere in the facility design in order to start the change. It follows a similar path that employee safety and accessibility took almost 30 years ago. These concepts were not widely considered at that time, but are now an integral part of every design that goes into construction. Sustainability is not there yet; pioneers and changes in general thinking are needed for sustainability to step up to the same line in required criteria in facility design for biopharma.

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