A building’s sustainable longevity is only as good as the performance metrics used by its designers and later, its occupants. But until recently, neither group was diligently tracking the performance of their structures during and after construction. That’s now changing, as the development and more-widespread adoption of information modeling technology is helping to move sustainability beyond a project’s design-development stat and into schematic design. In response, firms are creating ways to take stock of their own progress and provide lessons learned to communicate sustainable practices internally and to clients, while allocating funds to green features from a project’s start.

Ecobuilding Pulse checked in with three global practices that have developed digital tools for managing their sustainable design initiatives—Baltimore–based RTKL, which launched Dart in April; Seattle-based Callison, which earlier this year released Matrix; and HOK, which has been using its internal Sustainable Analysis Tool for a year and a half. The goal of all three platforms is to give designers proven strategies and tactics for sustainable design. Read on to learn more about each tool:

Credit: RTKL

Dart, RTKL
The global architecture and design studio built its Dart tool as part of an effort to hone and standardize its approach to green building across its 13 offices on four continents. The tool comprises a matrix (shown) of 12 sustainability considerations divided among the so-called triple bottom line—social, economic, and environmental contributions—with the goal of defining strategies to pursue a project’s sustainability goals and translating their costs and benefits for clients. Dart, which is available for public use, joins RTKL’s internal Toolbox for Performance-Driven Design—a process-driven approach to green building that also includes intra-firm tools for developing project goals and documenting results.

“We wanted to lay out baseline knowledge of sustainability that could become a stepping stone for the future,” says Heather Nelson, Assoc. AIA, a research associate at RTKL and the tool’s developer. “Currently, all the values and strategies listed are generalized enough to apply to a wide variety of scales and projects. Moving forward, we want to continue to make the Dart more specific to different types of projects in different regions.” That could include a hospital in the Middle East or a shopping mall in northern China, she says.

Credit: RTKL

How it works: The considerations, which RTKL calls values, include a project’s first costs, local climate, market value, and the ways in which it can contribute to public health. From there, users of the tool can break down each value by strategy, of which there are up to 18 that each address one or more of the triple-bottom-line categories. For example, a user seeking strategies to help her project improve public health can drill down to Material Sourcing as one approach (above), for which the tool advises on three areas—material extraction, embodied energy, and transportation—where the project can make the biggest impact. The tool then assigns that strategy a value-impact-rating within the matrix (that is, the number of values out of the total 12 to which the strategy relates). Currently, the tool also provides case studies for 29 related RTKL projects.


Credit: HOK

Sustainable Analysis Tool, HOK
Sustainable analysis software isn’t all-encompassing, requiring firms to use a handful of platforms to fully develop a design. HOK wasn’t looking to find a single replacement for those programs when it built its internal Sustainable Analysis Tool, however. Rather, the firm wanted a resource to guide the design team at the start of its projects, says Colin Rohlfing, Assoc. AIA, HOK’s vice president and sustainable design leader. “Multiple platforms and various analysis tools were taking 20 to 40 hours to execute, manipulate, and format,” he says. “Our projects move at an extremely fast pace and we have found that it is best to give sustainable design direction within the first few hours, before pen is put to paper.”

How it works: Based in MicrosoftExcel, the Sustainable Analysis Tool prompts users to input project data for analysis based on a six-step process that evaluates topics such as climate, energy loads, systems, and occupancy. Designed to offer feedback quickly and efficiently, the tool provides its analysis and suggested strategies via a PDF report. Shown below is the page of the report dedicated to the tool's third step, Load Reduction. “We wanted a universal process that every [HOK] office would recognize and follow,” Rohlfing says. “It’s important for us to benchmark and understand the climate and place before we perform any massing and orientation.”

Credit: HOK

So far, the tool’s feedback focuses on passive design strategies and preliminary HVAC and renewable system suggestions, Rohlfing says, including massing, orientation, floor-plate size, window-to-wall ratio, insulation values, and water cycles. Other features include automated calculation of ASHRAE climate zone requirements and an AIA 2030 target calculator.

Subsequent iterations of the software will offer more detailed feedback, he says. Still, Rohlfing emphasizes that the considerations are just suggestions and that life-cycle benefits should be derived from whole-building energy modeling.

HOK is in the process of moving the program from Excel to a Web-based platform and is working to refine the tool before releasing it to the public.


Credit: Callison

Matrix by Callison, Callison
Callison developed and used its Matrix tool internally for more than six years before releasing it to the public in March. The Web-based platform lists more than 80 sustainability best practices among the categories of energy, water, waste, materials, and tools and is designed for use by both new and seasoned project team members.

“For experienced designers, this resource offers the ability to deep-dive, select, evaluate and prioritize sustainable strategies,” says Matthias Olt, director of sustainable design at Callison. “For new designers, the big-picture overview makes it easy to review dozens of sustainable design tactics."

Credit: Callison

How it works: Each best-practice strategy includes tactical approaches, anticipated benefits, a general cost assessment, a list of complementary design strategies, and links to relevant resources. For example, a project team looking to improve sustainability through site selection (above) is advised to consider sun and wind exposures, proximity to transportation and community services, and to collect municipal data on mass transit, utilities, density, and land-use. While Matrix is designed for projects spanning single family to large-scale commercial, it offers a filter for retail projects. Through the tool, users can save multiple strategies into a single PDF that is free to download.