To delve deeper into our coverage of the 2012 COTE Top Ten Awards, ECO-STRUCTURE asked the winning firms to detail their experiences with sustainable design. These offices didn’t just happen upon a winning scheme—rather, they’re all well-versed in making high-performance strategies an integral part of each project. Below we take a closer look at some of the core values that shape each firm’s ethos.

Location: Founded in Chicago. CEO is based in Atlanta. Multiple offices globally.
Principal: Bruce McEvoy, AIA, associate principal
Founded: 1935
Size: 1,600 employees
Little-known fact: "We were founded over 75 years ago by Lawrence B. Perkins and Philip Will Jr. on the belief that design has the power to transform lives and enhance society. We still believe it does."

What was the biggest lesson you learned from your 2012 COTE Top Ten Project, 1315 Peachtree Street?
Bruce McEvoy: Working on 1315 Peachtree Street demonstrated the benefits of using an integrated design approach. We were exploring the use of a unique HVAC system, the reuse of an existing building, and a completely new workplace strategy. If the entire team hadn't been involved in the process from the beginning, we would never have been able to accomplish what we did. For example, we liked the raw, strong character of the exposed concrete structure and wanted to have as much of it exposed as possible. The Integral Group, our MEP engineers, were concerned about having enough area for the radiant mats used for our HVAC system. By working closely together, down to the exact inches of exposed concrete, we were able to design a solution that supported both our architectural and engineering goals.

What insights from this and other sustainable projects would you share with other professionals?
Design and predicted performance are only a small part of the process. In order to really educate ourselves and push sustainable design forward, we have to measure and collect data on how these buildings are actually performing. For example, 1315 Peachtree Street has two microturbines which convert natural gas to heat and electricity. This is the source of our building hot water, our building heating, and our electricity. Unpredictable losses of gas pressure in the main supply line caused the turbines and adsorption chiller to periodically shut down and switch to a less-efficient system. If we hadn't been closely monitoring these systems, we wouldn't have known about the gas pressure issue and wouldn't have been able to correct the situation.

What is your firm's philosophy on sustainable design?
At Perkins+Will, sustainable design is good design. There's no separation between our "green" and "non-green" projects. This means that we have had to spend a great deal of effort in educating ourselves, our clients, and our communities about the value of integrated, sustainable buildings, and don't just "sprinkle on the green." We have moved away from the concept of having "green experts" and moved towards "green expertise" and a depth of knowledge and experience on all of our projects.

What kinds of sustainable solutions are non-negotiable for your firm? What are the baseline standards your firm aims to meet with every project?
We have internal goals at Perkins+Will for all of our projects. (Yes, there are even posters up for this.) Currently, those goals are a minimum of 20 percent reduction in energy use over ASHRAE 90.1, a minimum of 20 percent reduction in potable water used for nonpotable use, review of all building materials for alignment with our Precautionary List and reduction of toxins and finally, meeting the 2030 Challenge for reduced emissions. Not all projects meet all of these goals, but by collecting the data and reporting on all projects, we are able to identify where we have opportunities for improvement. As far as "non-negotiable," I'd say that identifying and avoiding those toxic building products is at the top of our list and one we're very passionate about. Of course we want to reduce energy and water use, but we also want the buildings we design to support the health and well-being of everyone who is connected with them.

How do you think these types of innovative green solutions might become standard?
As third-party rating systems continue to push the sustainable design industry forward, solutions that were previously considered "green" become mainstream or even code. We applaud the efforts of the International Living Future Institute, the USGBC, and the IGCC for helping us to continually raise the bar for sustainable buildings and communities. Trends towards reporting data, disclosing material contents and increasing transparency are all helping to build public awareness. That will make these practices become standard.

More information about 1315 Peachtree Street is available here.