How Miami Is Moving from Building Green to Building Resilient

Presented at CREW-Miami’s Luncheon Meeting, August 16, 2017

Moderator Brett Moss, LEED AP, Managing Principal, Moss Architecture & Design Group; Panelists: Kimberly Bombery Smith, LEED AP, Senior Director of Workplace Strategy, Knoll; Martin Grohman, LEED AP, Director of Sustainability, GAF Materials Corporation; Rebecca Greier Horton, Human Factors and Ergonomics Consultant/Sustainability Advocate, Herman Miller

The terms resiliency and sustainability mean different things to architects, designers, planners, and users of commercial real estate today. Panelists each described how they view those concepts, while noting that green products and design elements are now widely used–even mandated in some cases–by government and industry regulations.

Kimberly Smith of Knoll connects sustainability with endurance, longevity, and non- obsolescence. “Knoll leans toward timeless instead of trendy products and designs, which means incorporating future-design.” Prohibited chemicals are banned from use within office buildings, and hospitals have their own sets of regulations, she said. Widespread environmental regulations have forced manufacturers of building materials and systems into compliance, and doing so keeps them competitive. She used product life-cycle to describe how long items or systems will last or endure. “Where do the raw materials come from, where can they go when the item is no longer needed? Can it be recycled?”

Smith said environmental considerations for many products are already “baked in,” but suppliers must be urged to improve. “Environmental compliance information is the latest push, like the nutritional information printed on food labels. This transparency is critical for educating the marketplace.” Her industry is challenged to satisfy building occupants who want more than a healthful, productive environment. “They want to be actually energized by their workplace, and expect it to deliver a work/live/play balance.“

For environmental health and safety expert Rebecca Greier Horton, sustainability also incorporates social and economic factors, including “how long you expect your company be around.” When designing workplaces, she said successful corporations must work hard to attract and hold the talent they need, and collaborate with architects and landlords to see that suitable environments are created. The concept of overall wellness is much broader than placing a gym in the building, and she said that the cost to businesses of sick days can be calculated in billions of dollars. She referred the audience to Fitwel (see below), a certification program that focuses on workplace productivity and health. A major trend seen by Horton is that today’s occupants respond differently to the environments where they work, placing greater value on air and water quality, noise, security, and autonomy. “Parking spaces and cars are much less important than they were to past generations.”

Marty Grohman of GAF said resiliencyis about more than strong buildings; it’s also about business continuity following a storm or other catastrophic event.” He finds that sustainable design is competitive in the marketplace, but planners have strategic choices to make. As project budgets become set, companies are forced to prioritize risks and benefits, perhaps trading environmentally-desirable systems. For example, they may have to choose between an efficient insulation plan and a flood control system. “At a certain point, the environmental and economic advantages of products overlap,” he said, citing GAF’s development of an excellent but high-priced shingle. A mid-priced version of that product has been widely received by the market, and he is pleased to see it in broad use.   

Hurricanes Irene and Sandy caused widespread business interruptions in the Northeast, but it was critical for GAF, a roofing provider, to be able to deliver materials immediately. Resilient design and contingency planning at the firm’s New Jersey headquarters include a command center with a daylight atrium and backup generators (precautions he believes many Miami firms have in place) and a contingency plan for mobilizing their own employees. Part of that plan is requiring staff to work from home regularly to ensure that remote systems function and workflow can continue uninterrupted.

Architect Brett Moss said his team is continually looking for design solutions that will better withstand and recover from calamities. In Miami, resiliency most often relates to predictable events like hurricanes or flooding. After Hurricane Andrew, Miami-Dade’s building codes addressed these concerns, to which architects and engineers in Florida and around the world have responded. To his question about new technologies panelists are using as they design for the human factor, they agreed that artificial intelligence (AI) and 3D printing are significant developments affecting their business processes. For GAF, AI is particularly valuable as it relates to manufacturing control systems, and Knoll uses 3D printing to develop and model new product designs.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a certification program of the non-profit US Green Building Council (USGBC) that includes rating systems for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of green buildings, homes, and neighborhoods.

A certification program that takes environmental stewardship to an individual human level is Fitwel (Facility Innovations Toward Wellness Environment Leadership). A collaboration between the Center for Active Design, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the GSA, Fitwel is intended to positively affect occupant health and productivity through workplace design and operations.

—Susan Cumins, CREW-Miami member since 1998