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New Construction: Can a Sustainable Approach Save You Money?

Stephen Silverstein, Principal and Managing Director, U.S. Studio, Project & Construction Management and Tracey Kasper, LEED AP, NCIDQ, Principal, Project Management

New Construction: Can a Sustainable Approach Save You Money?

Posted: October 28, 2022 | Project Management

By Stephen Silverstein, Principal and Managing Director, U.S. Studio, Project & Construction Management and Tracey Kasper, LEED AP, NCIDQ, Principal, Project Management

In the race to reach net zero by 2050, the real estate sector will need to reduce emissions up to 50% by 2030. Those responsible for development face a choice: to deliver new, net-zero carbon buildings now, or wait until forced to do so by regulations and market demands.

Forward-thinking investors and developers are already seeing how the landscape is changing, responding to tenant and user trends, and looking for opportunities to deliver environmental and social benefits in ways that provide a commercially attractive return and save money in the long term.

Government and regulatory agencies are also keeping pace with the demand and the urgency of the sustainability challenge, taking both a carrot and stick approach to sustainable construction and operations.

Project teams have a unique opportunity and responsibility to challenge and change perceptions around the cost of sustainable development, and some solutions may be simpler than you think.

All Together Now

Define a robust “Project Charter” to capture the project goals and objectives, including how to reach the sustainability values desired with the best method to deliver on time and on budget.

Assemble a team that is sensitive to the project goals and is collaborative in nature, focusing on intentional innovation to achieve sustainable outcomes and open communication channels.

Secure regulatory and municipal participation for the project by identifying and engaging key stakeholders. 

Identify the right vendors and partners who align with the sustainable objectives and have proven track records in delivery.

Think about state and federal incentives and communicate them early in the process to take advantage of any cost savings or rebates.

Soak Up the Sun

Position your building on site to maximize daylight and provide seasonal shading for that geographical location. This can save you money and lower energy costs by:

• Reducing the size and cost of mechanical systems to meet heating and cooling requirements
• Reducing glare and improving the quality of light while reducing the number of fixtures required to meet artificial lighting requirements

Build energy efficient buildings — and not just for cold climates. Solutions like incorporating white roofs to reflect heat, dynamic glazing to provide shade, and incorporating building envelopes into designs that enhance thermal comfort in warmer locations to reduce cooling loads.

Seek out regional opportunities and features like local plant species which can be cost-neutral, create a pleasing long lasting green space with reduced maintenance costs over time, reduce water use, and help manage storm water.

Plan for possible weather events. If your site is at risk for flooding, consider simple landscaping details that allow for on-site water retention away from your building (also called bioswales). This approach employs vegetation and intentional site grading and retention ponds to manage storm water and directs it away from buildings and into green spaces and stormwater drains.

Waste Not

Reduce project costs through efficient project and site logistics.

Right-size material orders to reduce material damage prior to install and reduce offcut waste, all while lowering the initial capital investment and cost of recycling and waste disposal.

Consider ordering materials with less packaging to reduce additional recycling bins and waste management costs.

Be creative and reuse/repurpose existing materials.

Support locally sourced products to reduce transportation costs and associated carbon emissions.

Prioritize fast-growing, wood and fiber board options that are third-party-certified to support well-managed forest principals.

Powering Toward Net-Zero

Require Energy Star-certified equipment.

Get paid to go green: check out renewable power partners to reduce the up-front cost and leverage state and federal incentives.

Consider Smart Buildings Technologies for more efficient operations, improved space utilization, excellent occupant health and data-informed continuous improvement opportunities.

Get advice on energy-efficient HVAC designs: The MEP engineer is a key partner to provide the best options for consideration, like economizers, energy recovery ventilation and demand control ventilation.

Projects that use any combustion for space heating or hot water should consider alternatives and prepare a zerocarbon transition plan.

Making Places for People

Buildings play a central role in the surrounding neighborhoods and help advance the economic, environmental, and social well-being of our communities. Invest where it counts. There is a greater element of belief that investment in making communities and cities sustainable will pay dividends for generations to come.

The desire for sustainable places to live and work are in demand. What is your story to attract trades for construction and align with future occupant needs?

Actively engage local communities:
• Invite input to the project
• Virtual forums make this more accessible than ever
• Engage local labor
• Don’t just take up space, provide spaces to share with the community.

Be a good neighbor: Identify and alleviate any negative impacts to the community during construction, like prioritizing low-noise equipment and enhanced dust control.

Consider walkability, bike access, and connectivity to public transit, providing various transportation options to reduce future traffic burdens.

Leave Nothing but (Small) Carbon Footprints

Roughly 80% of the buildings that will exist in 2050 have already been constructed. This represents a risk, but also presents an opportunity for mass retrofit and regeneration. After benchmarking your current footprint, agree to a carbon reduction goal and evaluate the strategies to get there:
• Design: Concrete, aluminium, steel, glass, and foam insulation are often the highest in “embodied carbon.” Smart designers are having great success with low embodied carbon alternatives. Introduce these options early in the design process.
• Construction: Before a building even turns the lights on and opens its doors there has already been significant on-site carbon emitted throughout construction. Many construction companies are tracking the emissions related to the electricity and fuel used on-site. Ask your construction partners if this is possible before making your final selection.
• Occupancy: Engaging with tenants to understand how the building will be used is a key piece to ensure the long-term optimization of building systems. Insights from tenant surveys, real time smart systems coupled with occupancy sensors can empower building managers to make informed, actionable decisions to further reduce a building’s energy use.

The road to sustainability doesn’t have to be daunting! As more companies, governments, and individuals recognize the value in mitigating the global climate crisis, things are getting easier. Solutions are becoming more accessible and cost effective and the needle is moving from a nice-tohave to must-have. Here are a few key takeaways:

1. There is a revolution in new materials, systems, and technologies to meet ambitious goals of stakeholders in reducing energy consumption, carbon footprint, and waste in the built environment.
2. Your consulting partners have the experience to lead the process and to provide effective solutions.
3. Regulatory and code requirements continue to demand better performance to help us all achieve better environments, the more you learn the more competitive you’ll be.

We are on this journey together. Collaboration at all stages of the real estate lifecycle is increasingly important if we are to demonstrate impactful progress for both people and the planet and reach our net-zero goals. For more information, visit