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Catch It Early – Sustainability Timing in Biopharma Design

Veera Ronalter, RA, LEED AP BC+D

Catch It Early – Sustainability Timing in Biopharma Design

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

Why do the ideas that would sustainability in facility design often get removed from the scope?

With the traditional design approach, small and dedicated design teams make decisions that end up having a large impact on energy consumption and the environment. They have their hands full converting client data of desired production numbers to program, and finally into building shape and conceptual systems selections for the facility.

Once a rough concept of what the facility could be is established, the cost is estimated to establish the project schedule and budget. If sustainability has not been seriously considered by that time, it’s too late.

From this point onward, the window of opportunity for incorporating sustainability diminishes drastically due to the fact that it becomes ineffective. True sustainable design integrates multiple disciplines. Making a difference in water and energy conservation in a process-heavy facility is likely to require consideration of process water reuse, and studies to test feasibility of energy recovery.

The building may be able to use rejected heat for space heating or final rinse process water for flushing plumbing fixtures. But, in order to prove the economic feasibility of these strategies, time needs to be allocated to research what the benefits can be realized.

After the project schedule is set, there is typically no extra time to perform these studies. Studies to test systems that to reveal hybrid benefits in water and energy use during detail design would have a negative effect on multiple disciplines, add cost and delay the schedule. There are a few easy solutions to reduce utility consumption, but they need time and resources to be proven as beneficial to the project.

I have been on projects where the client has asked about pursuing LEED certification at 50% design or at 75% design (and even later). The design team assessed the available strategies and presented options to the owner, however, at that late stage, no cost-effective strategies were feasible. Some greening of specifications and construction methods, or adding features to increase the employee well-being may be possible at the later stages of design, and all of that can be considered to benefit the project. However, if the goal is to get economic benefits from the energy and water conservation, the big impact items are out of the question beyond the conclusion of concept design.

Letting go of green building certification and abandoning sustainability goals happens all too often when brought in as an afterthought. Learning from and understanding these mistakes makes it clear that being early is the best solution to achieve these goals.

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