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October 27, 2009

Construction Corner | Korky Koroluk

‘Green Footstep’ software shows a building’s carbon usage

As more and more buyers of construction become concerned about sustainable development, software developers are developing tools to help design professionals meet buyers’ demands.

But it’s not only software developers who are trying to fill a need. So, too, are some environmental groups.

Now the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) has come up with something called Green Footstep. It’s an online tool to help people understand how their buildings use carbon and what they can do to reduce emissions from building projects.

RMI is a Colorado-based organization that describes itself as “an independent, entrepreneurial, non-profit think-and-do tank.”

Construction Corner

Korky Koroluk

Because the construction and operation of buildings represents a large chunk of North American energy use and carbon emissions, it’s a sector that presents a big target for improvement.

With that in mind, the institute developed a free tool that allows building professionals planning new structures or work on existing ones to examine the carbon footprint of the entire project, from site development, through construction, to operation. It can be applied to commercial and residential construction as well as projects involving both new and existing buildings — no matter what the size.

You can find the tool at www.greenfootstep.org

Once you are there, the introductory section provides a primer on goal-setting for building projects. This is important, the institute says, because very often, design teams adopt strategies and actions without first setting targets for building performance and total carbon emissions.

This can result in a building with many green features that don’t result in a significantly lowered emission level because they don’t benefit from synergies between systems — the sort of interactive effects of systems all working together.

Using the Green Footstep during the pre-design phase can help the owner set specific carbon goals, and help identify design principles that can lead to achievement of those goals.

Used periodically though the design process, the tool helps keep you on track, and helps, too, with spotting further opportunities for reducing emissions.

You can also use it in conjunction with financial models that evaluate capital and operating costs. By making back-and-forth changes it’s possible to arrive at an optimal cost while meeting emissions goals.

Perhaps the best way to get a feel for just what Green Footstep can do, take a look at the case studies posted on the website. There are only two so far, but the tool was just released to the public earlier this month.

One of the studies was done on the proposed construction of a new, high-performance headquarters building for Irving Oil, in Saint John, N.B. Irving is aiming at a LEED Platinum certification, and used Green Footprint to help identify specific goals, including specific things that will be required to achieve carbon neutrality for the building.

This is a relatively simple tool that could assist many design professionals.

Designers working on indoor environments might also be interested in another design tool the institute has come up with. It’s Chhaya 2.0. It helps designers optimize glazing size and orientation, shading and natural ventilation to extend the period during which the building can run passively.

Using weather data and a series of matrices, Chhaya allows users to see the effects of changing window sizes, shades and ventilation rates. It can do this because it is based on the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet program that seems to be on just about every computer. If you can use Excel, you can use Chhaya.

Like Green Footprint, Chhaya is a free tool with an easy learning curve.

To find it go to www.rmi.org and type Chhaya into the search box.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to editor@dailycommercialnews.com

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