How NRDC Is Making Green Building Accessible

By 2060 the current number of buildings in the world is expected to double. This equates to adding an additional New York City-worth of buildings every month. It is an opportunity to improve the environment and increase financial return. Green buildings bring many advantages: energy, waste and water savings, and increased occupant productivity and health. Achieving these also plays a pivotal role in reducing the built environment's annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which accounts for 40 percent of total global emissions.

To support this movement, we created the NRDC Design and Construction Protocols as an open educational resource that puts green building in reach for all construction projects. The Protocols integrate best practices similar to LEED, Living Building Challenge, and other comparable certifications. Early integration is key in order to derive the largest social, environmental, and financial benefits from these practices.

NRDC Santa Monica Office Initial Drawings

The six categories in the NRDC Design and Construction Protocols are each dedicated to a different aspect of environmental sustainability and occupant health within the built environment:

  1. Energy efficiency. By increasing energy efficiency we reduce GHG emissions. To help meet this goal, we developed energy reduction strategies that are scalable to all building sizes. We found that if similar decarbonizing solutions were scaled to every building of the same typology in New York City, it could reduce the City’s carbon footprint by 2.75 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. After prioritizing reduction, we strive to meet our remaining energy needs by sourcing onsite and offsite renewable energy.

  2. Water conservation. There are many strategies to reduce water consumption. In all of our offices, we track our water usage and select the most water-efficient faucets, shower heads, and toilets available. Additionally, the toilets in our Santa Monica office are flushed using greywater.

  3. Resource management. Waste is reduced in every aspect of construction and design through developing a Construction Waste Management Plan, prioritizing salvaged materials, and incorporating design features that support operational zero waste. A few of these features can be found in our Washington, D.C. office where waste disposal stations are easily accessible, waste bins are appropriately sized to discourage use of the landfill, and the number of waste transfer points is minimized.

  4. Materials and procurement. Product manufacturers must meet the Protocols' requirements for carbon reduction, responsible sourcing, and third-party certification. Materials cannot contain hazardous ingredients (such as formaldehyde), are made of recycled or natural content, and/or have an Environmental Product Declaration or similar certification. In our San Francisco office, we used upcycled materials—such previously used office chairs that were reupholstered with scrap material—and prioritized locally sourced products.

  5. Active design features. Work-stations and spatial planning are designed to promote an active lifestyle for occupants. At our offices with multiple floors, stairs are conveniently located to reduce elevator use. At all our offices, locker rooms and bike storage encourage occupants to choose healthier—and more sustainable—transportation.

  6. Engagement and education. Signage educates occupants on the sustainability and wellness features of a building, and publicly shared information—online or through in-person tours—inspires others to incorporate green design. At the onset of a renovation project, we also seek to hire architectural and engineering firms that have limited experience with green building and would like to learn more.

NRDC San Francisco Office

Every construction project, whether a home or a high-rise, is a chance to create a healthy space, reduce your environmental footprint, and achieve cost savings. In the spirit of collaborating for a healthier future, we encourage you to reach out to us for material, design, and wellness recommendations. Together, we can construct a livable future for our planet.

About the Authors

Maria McCain

Senior Sustainability Coordinator, Facilities
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Biophilic design has been found to support cognitive function, physical health, and psychological well-being.

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Landfills and incinerators pose a significant threat to public health and the environment. The NRDC Zero Waste Directive gives a framework for integrating zero waste.

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While NRDC continues to make progress towards their sustainability goals they purchase carbon offsets and Water Restoration Certificates® using strict criteria.

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