Why build a green building?

When you know the facts, the question really becomes more, ‘why would you not?’

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification connotes attentiveness to the impact the building has on the environment and on the people who inhabit the building. Buildings account for 72% of the U.S. electricity consumption each year. This number will rise to 75% by 2025. So creating green building is a powerful opportunity to affect the energy consumption levels of the country.

Green building represents and integrated approach to building that incorporates the following three areas in each project:

Environmental benefits

  • Enhance and protect biodiversity and ecosystems
  • Improve air and water quality
  • Reduce waste streams
  • Conserve and restore natural resources

Economic benefits

  • Reduce operating costs
  • Create, expand, and shape markets for green product and services
  • Improve occupant productivity
  • Optimize life-cycle economic performance

Social benefits

  • Enhance occupant comfort and health
  • Heighten aesthetic qualities
  • Minimize strain on local infrastructure
  • Improve overall quality of life

Do we need the big sprawl? Or, what’s broken in a ground breaking?

The FFL shelter is on reclaimed urban land. With regard to the impact of the building on the surrounding environment, we look at things like whether the site is reclaiming/reusing urban land or is it increasing urban sprawl by overtaking non-developed areas. The amount of non-developed land bulldozed and developed from 1997-2002 is 21 million acres. Urban land increased by a factor of 4 from 1945-2002. The increase is 2 times the population growth. In other words, we may not need to bulldoze all this space and sprawl out quite so widely. Any time you see a new building created with land clearing and bulldozers stop and think that there is often another choice. A “ground-breaking” is not necessarily a good thing!

Other factors considered by Friends For Life in this project include:

  • Installing energy efficient lighting, heating and cooling

    We have not only used extremely energy efficient light fixtures but have created openings via large picture windows, skylights and an open design to maximize the amount of natural light in the space. This doesn’t just save energy, but also has a very positive effect on the people and animals who inhabit the space.

    Keeping animals and people healthy in the space is a priority. Providing clean, fresh air is a quantum leap forward in that process. Our air handling system is truly the most sophisticated in any animal facility in Houston. It will provide 100% outside air to the building. That means the system will never pull air into the intake from one part of the shelter and blow it into another. Most shelters are simply redistributing contaminated air. This is one of the reasons that upper respiratory is so common in shelters.

    In our facility, the air in every space will be turned over completely 15 times every hour. Not only is this a streamlined and efficient system but we have entered into a multi-year partnership with Champion Energy to provide green electrical power to the facility free of charge!

    We engaged an acoustician from the beginning of the project to create sound sensitive spaces to minimize the stress on both people and animals who occupy the space.

  • Minimizing water use for the facility

    Buildings account for 12% of the total water consumption in the US. FFL has installed a system to clean the space that is cutting edge in both shelter management best practices and water consumption. The in wall wet vac cleaning system is installed throughout the shelter. You will not find any of the old school dangerous and impossible to clean floor drains in our animal spaces. You will not find any of the old the hose and drain systems carried over from the early days of kennel building that aerosolized fecal matter throughout the space.

  • Reusing / reclaiming parts of previous construction

    FFL bought the 7500 square foot building already constructed as a shell. It had been a warehouse previously so it was the perfect blank canvas for our project. We have kept/repurposed many of the materials originally used in the building. The original exposed structural steel lends the industrial effect we love. Beautiful ceramic brick was used in original construction. Everywhere we have cut openings our team has carefully removed the brick without damaging it and been able to reuse it in another part of the building. Thanks to our amazing architecture team at Gensler, we have even added another 1000 useable square feet to the building by creating a mezzanine!

  • Ensuring that roof coverings, materials used and paving around the building does not contribute excessively to the heating of the immediate surroundings in something called the “heat island” effect

    The temperature in developed areas can be as much as 8 degrees higher on average than non developed areas. Especially in a city like Houston where so much energy is spent trying to dissipate heat, the “cooler” the design of our buildings in terms of reflectivity of surfaces and other factors can make a difference. We use less energy per building to cool the inside when the outside is cooler. FFL has minimized the “heat island” contribution by using roofing material that accomplishes this purpose as well as other outside surfaces that contribute positively.

  • Managing construction in a way that requires separating all construction waste into recyclable construction waste and non-recyclable and properly disposing of each

    Construction debris equals 160 million tons a year. It makes an enormous difference when construction projects are attentive to recycling everything possible on a job. FFL has engaged a company from the start of our job that separates our construction debris into that which is recyclable/reusable that that which is not.

The nexus between a LEED shelter and a No Kill shelter: Respecting all life

The primary mission of Friends for Life rests upon our belief that every animal matters. Starting from there, it is logical to design a shelter that is attentive to the kind of experience that animals have while in our care. It makes sense to pay attention to the quality of life for them with regard to natural light, fresh air, a low stress sound level and plenty of opportunity to engage with each other and with humans. When we looked at how a shelter could incorporate sensitivity to the beings we are here to care for, a green shelter became the clear answer. The green method of building that integrates people, planet and profitability made sense. Human inhabitants and animals alike benefit from fresh air, natural light and acoustical management of their environment. The advances in the options for housing animals safely and comfortably have come light years from where we started. So why can one still walk into a tile room in which kennels of dogs face each other through wire and bark at a decibel level that makes it literally impossible to carry on a conversation in the room? The program benefits from energy efficient design and economical use of resources. The animals benefit from a smarter design. Ofcourse, less waste, less energy consumption and less urban sprawl are all ways the planet benefits as well.

The No Kill philosophy, as we see it, requires a more holistic approach to sheltering. We do not believe that it makes any sense for a shelter to value collies but kill pit bulls. It is insupportable to value a fluffy 3 pound kitten but kill a 1.5 lb kitten. By the same token, it does not make sense to value companion animals and bulldoze acres of wild animal habitat or waste finite resources. It boils down to a consistency of message and a respect for all life.

The weight that buildings place on the resource net is not lessened just because the building is an animal shelter. We are as responsible for stepping up as any corporation. There is a powerful argument that we have an even greater duty as we are built on the idea that life is sacred.