The changing image of sustainability

We can look back as early as the 1800s to find examples of innovations that were used to harness natural energy and lessen the impact of structures on the environment. Solar, wind and building system designs were explored, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that our modern approach to sustainability came about. Glass skyscrapers, increased consumption and escalating energy costs caused architects, environmentalists and ecologists to start a formal green building movement.

The first Earth Day was celebrated in April 1970, and since then, support for green building has grown and become more mainstream.

In construction, we’ve seen a shift in focus from talking about reduce, reuse and recycle to talking about energy efficiency, life cycle costs and healthy materials. We’re looking beyond the present to how the building will perform over time and impact future generations.

Stepping up

We spend most of our lives inside so it’s important that we make our buildings as healthy and resilient as possible. What does that mean?

At Pepper, we’ve been talking about sustainability in terms of high performance. We’ve broadening the context to include how we work, the materials we use, the space we turn over and ultimately how it serves the building occupants.

Resiliency takes that concern to the next level. It considers the performance over the long term and factors in how people and buildings will respond to expected future events, like natural disasters, as our climate changes.

Why should you care?

Resiliency isn’t just a term for those of us most passionate about being green. It’s already finding its way into the core of our businesses, whether we realize it or not.

At Pepper, we’re in the process of completing resiliency plans for each of our offices. While it’s the responsible thing to do, it’s also an insurance requirement. So what does a resiliency plan include? Crisis management and communications, information technology disaster recovery, business continuity and succession planning, and an employee emergency responders program, to name a few.

From a business perspective, we look at potential life threats so we can determine ahead of time how we respond effectively, communicate, recover and stay afloat in the process. It’s planning to sustain the least amount of damage and bounce back faster.

How does it affect our day-to-day?

High Wind Watch_ResiliencyThe same principles of resiliency apply to our jobsites. Last week the city of Chicago Department of Buildings issued a series of High Wind alerts that were distributed throughout our company and to our jobsites. Reminders were sent out to make sure our jobsites were prepared by securing loose materials, signage, debris and barricades, to prevent damage or possible injury caused by windblown materials.

In our daily reports, we track the weather. Safety Directors Dan Ruane, Mark Sheehan and Dave Murphy are proactive to include weather-related updates in their weekly Toolbox Talks that are distributed to everyone in our company and working on our jobsites – so everyone goes home safely at night. Anticipating these conditions and being prepared to respond and bounce back quickly is part of resiliency.

Toolbox Talks are a good stop-gap, but resiliency planning begins during the design phase, when we incorporate measures like temporary protection, crisis communication and emergency response procedures into the project plan. We review the designs for deflection, offer ideas for cost-efficient, healthier materials or suggest healthier means and methods of installing the work. Our Nothing Hits the Floor program also helps with resiliency by keeping the site clear and clean at all times – so little last-minute disaster preparation is needed.  

It’s about our collective future

I’m excited to share that on April 20, we’re holding the first ever Chicago Thrives! Resilience Symposium. The day is dedicated to learning about resiliency in action around our Chicago community. Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the program features two representatives from the 100 Resilient Cities program, along with Representative Bill Foster, the only scientist in Congress right now.

I hope you’ll consider joining us and learn how the city is planning for future events, like crime, terrorism, flooding and natural disasters, by thinking about our agriculture systems and infrastructure. We’ll talk about how to protect our quality of life, from our data to our health.

The conversation is changing. Smart companies aren’t limiting their horizon to the here and now. They’re looking ahead at how our buildings, communities and people will adapt over the long term and how we can be prepared for more extreme events.

Authors

Susan Heinking
Director of High Performance and Sustainable Construction

A licensed architect and LEED Fellow with a specialty in existing buildings, Susan has nearly a decade of experience designing and managing sustainability programs and initiatives. She serves as a resource for Pepper's sustainable projects in progress and is also an active advocate for sustainability. Her many areas of involvement include Chicago's Energy Benchmarking Ordinance, the AIA2030 Chicago Working Group, co-chairing Chicago's AIA COTE knowledge group, participating in RETROFIT Chicago and working with the Chicago Biomimicry Group. In addition, Susan serves on the USGBC Illinois Board of Directors. Most recently, Susan was named to ENR's 20 under 40 list.

Prior to joining Pepper, Susan was Vice President and Sustainability Leader for VOA Associates in their Chicago office. Among her accomplishments, she founded VOA’s first sustainability market, +IMPACT, which is focused on advancing green theory and firm-wide sustainability services. She guided the building certification process under various rating systems including Living Building Challenge, the various LEED Rating Systems and the Well Building Standard.

Susan's current vision for Pepper includes expanding the company's sustainability efforts to fully embrace the high performance aspects of both building performance and human performance. This includes enhancing existing efforts with energy modeling, ROI analysis and local utility incentives, as well as building on Pepper's "Nothing Hits the Floor" program and promoting the use of healthy materials.

 Susan holds a Master of Architecture from the University of Oregon and is an active presenter at industry conventions.

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