Why Is Sustainable Design Important – Co-written by DANIEL MADRU, AIA Associate, LEED AP | Director, Ci Design, Inc. and BETHANY ROBERTSON, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP | Architect/Lab Planner, Ci Design, Inc.

Sustainability in building design and construction has been a major focus of the A/E/C industry for many years, and laboratories are no exception. As environmental, social, and governance (ESG) conscious design has become more important in the workplace and for the world, laboratory designers are faced with the challenge of designing spaces that are both functional and sustainable.

Why Is Sustainable Design Important

To reduce the environmental impact and improve the sustainability of a laboratory, it is important to consider strategies such as conscious design, LEED certification, and WELL requirements. However, obstacles such as production process requirements, material sensitivities, and budget constraints can make sustainable practices especially difficult to achieve in a laboratory setting.

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Read on to learn about some of the major concepts of conscious design and how they can be applied to a lab design project.

Some of the most well-known elements of conscious design are LEED and WELL. In a simple comparison, LEED focuses on the sustainability of a building and its components, whereas WELL focuses on creating an environment in which a building’s users can thrive. For example, LEED is concerned with the amount of water a building uses, while the WELL standard considers the quality of water being consumed.

Another key difference between the LEED and WELL guidelines is that LEED focuses on the United States and follows American building regulations, while WELL has global implications.

Both LEED and WELL offer guidance on building location, water, air, materials, and indoor environmental quality. LEED also focuses on a building’s energy consumption, while WELL has standards for nutrition, spirit, and community.

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One of the biggest challenges in achieving a sustainability assessment in a laboratory is its energy requirements. Laboratories use a significant amount of energy, making it difficult to reach the lower threshold of energy use.

One solution to improve energy performance is to incorporate alternative energy generation methods into the facility. These could include photovoltaic, wind, geothermal, and solar-thermal energy, which allow buildings to function more independently and are more sustainable than traditional types of energy. Although a true net-zero energy source may not be possible in most situations, alternative energy solutions can be great choices for standby power.

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These alternative energy generation techniques, however, come with a price. In addition to adding to the bottom line of a project, they need more space—internal and external—to accommodate them. For example, a designer must plan where a solar or wind farm can be located on a site and allocate appropriate interior space for power storage, equipment, and related gear.

In conjunction with incorporating alternative energy generation into a facility, it is important to consider how internal practices may affect energy use. Can install occupancy and vacancy sensors to control air, lighting, and even power outlets. Similarly, Building Management Systems (BMS) can also monitor and adjust power throughout a facility.

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Finally, facility managers may be some of the best resources for building energy management. To ensure that sustainability measures can be successfully implemented, facility managers should be interviewed early and involved throughout the design process.

A building’s energy consumption can also be affected by how air is conditioned. Laboratories require very specific environmental conditions, which, when implemented, can increase energy demand. Using heat exchangers, geothermal air-conditioning filters, and incorporating outside air are all solutions to reduce energy consumption in HVAC systems.

Ventilation strategies are important to the WELL standards. In most environments, installing indoor and outdoor sensors can help facility managers choose ventilation options that optimize air quality and energy efficiency. However, because a laboratory is a controlled environment and air quality changes can affect the results, natural ventilation is often impossible to implement in a laboratory environment. Laboratory designers should pay close attention to this balance and strategically locate laboratory areas and office seating areas to meet sustainable standards.

Meeting sustainable water use standards can be more easily achieved. From a WELL perspective, labs are already paying attention to water quality and are usually trying to minimize pollutants to avoid contaminating products and sterile materials.

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Water consumption can also be reduced by choosing appliances that limit or use less water. Some companies even repurpose treated water as gray water, which could then be used to water gardens, fill toilets, feed chillers, etc. before being discharged.

When choosing or designing a site, it is important to consider the needs of tenants and employees. With conscious design in mind, a site should be accessible by road, public transportation, and bicycle. It should also provide adequate parking for its users and take precautions to reduce light and noise pollution. This may mean limiting the use of parking lights or using special devices that do not emit light in parking lanes.

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From an ESG perspective, architects often incorporate more health-related items—such as walking paths, physical amenities and obstacles, and green spaces—into the site design.

In addition, to separate chillers and compressors from the environment, fences and screens can be used as visual barriers, and sound-blocking materials can be incorporated to limit noise pollution.

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Lab designers are well versed in handling many layers of information and requirements. When choosing building materials and striving for sustainability, it is important to remember what the materials are made of and their possible effects, especially if they are potentially hazardous. Designers often review the Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) of each building material to understand its environmental and sustainability attributes before making their selection.

Another way to make conscious material choices is to select materials locally or incorporate recycled content into the building.

Laboratory designers consider a wide range of factors in the design process; even if they initially specify the use of certain sustainable materials, these selections could change in subsequent design stages. A good designer will ensure that the final material selection is consistent with—if not the same as—the original intent.

When considering the design of a laboratory facility, it is important to make conscious decisions about the placement of light and acoustics early in the design process. Natural light, although often desirable in office spaces, often needs to be avoided in a controlled laboratory environment. Similarly, noise and vibration can impact animals housed in a laboratory. Therefore, a lab designer might choose to place labs on the interior of a building and reserve exterior-facing spaces—with more natural light and noise—for functions such as offices, conference rooms, cafeterias, and other communal spaces.

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The WELL standard for movement encourages designers to provide opportunities for facility users to move. A motion plan should be considered early in the design process because it can affect everything from the site to interior circulation, desk type, and seating arrangements.

On the interior, designing the facility so that the stairs are more visible than the elevators encourages people to use the stairs more often. Designers can also provide adjustable sit-stand desks or various types of seating for employees. On the exterior, there should be access to bike trails, hiking trails, or other spaces for movement.

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Another important movement-related concept is the WELL’s “free address,” which describes a standard of not having assigned seats for employees. This allows people to move freely and choose where to sit according to any criteria, such as preferred temperature, breeze from air vents, lighting (natural vs. artificial), noise, etc. With its flexibility and efficiency, free address integrated with many post-. Design trends in the COVID workplace and work-from-home policies.

While the controlled environment and energy needs of laboratories can often make it difficult for a facility to achieve WELL or LEED status, designers can use these standards to take a more sustainable approach to facility design.

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WELL also describes additional standards for policies related to mental health and leave. Facility managers can learn about these standards to help create an environment where employees thrive.

Finally, as more investors are interested in businesses that support environmental and social initiatives, architects and facility managers are increasingly considering other conscious design principles such as ESG in facility design.

Interested in incorporating WELL or LEED standards into a lab project? Ci Design is a leader in laboratory design—we bring our team’s unparalleled expertise to every project. Contact our principals to learn how we can help. Sustainable building design plays a key role in helping business owners reduce resources while maintaining a higher quality indoor environment for their employees or tenants. Many of the factors that lead to unnecessary energy and water use (which causes waste) can affect our health and comfort. Buildings are one of the easiest ways to tackle climate change and the least expensive way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The most efficient sustainable designs should have minimal harmful impact on the surrounding environment, promote health and productivity, bonus when these buildings are beautiful and inspiring.)

What Is Sustainable Architecture

According to the EPA, green building is the practice of creating structures and using environmentally responsible and resource efficient processes throughout a building’s life cycle from site to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction. This practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort.

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