A site plan takes into account the impact of the building on the surrounding environment and it’s intended occupants.

In an ideal case, design projects will start in one of two ways:

  1. Either the team starts with a site and considers the best functions and uses for that particular location, or
  2. The team starts with a function and determines the best location for that land use.

When selecting a site, one must consider many attributes of the overall system:

  • What is the local climate of the project?
  • Has the site been previously developed?
  • Is it connected to local infrastructure and public transportation?
  • What species in the area might use the site as habitat and be affected?
  • What is the nature of the street life in the area, and how can the project contribute to community?
  • Where do people in the area live and work, and how do they get back and forth?
sustainable build site off-grid

The location of a building is as important as how it is built. Its connection and linkage to the local bioregion, watershed, and community will help determine how a project can contribute to a sustainable environment. A sustainable project serves more than the immediate function of the building. It must also meet the needs of the local community, support active street life, promote healthy lifestyles, provide ecosystem services, and create a sense of place.

Site selection and design play important roles in both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping projects adapt to the effects of climate change. If people can use public transportation, ride bicycles, or walk to the building, the project helps reduce the carbon emissions associated with commuting. A project that is connected to the community by pedestrian paths and bicycle lanes encourages people to walk or bike instead of drive, not only helping to reduce air pollution, but also promoting physical activity.

Building construction and operations can have extensive direct and indirect impacts on the environment, on society, and the economy, which are commonly referred to as the 3 P’s (‘People’, ‘Planet’, ‘Pocketbook’). The field of sustainable design seeks to balance the needs of these areas by using an integrated approach to create “win-win-win” design solutions.

The main objectives of sustainable design are to reduce, or completely avoid, depletion of critical resources like energy, water, land, and raw materials; prevent environmental degradation caused by facilities and infrastructure throughout their life cycle; and create built environments that are livable, comfortable, safe, and productive.

Buildings use resources (energy, water, raw materials, etc.), generate waste (occupant, construction, and demolition), emit potentially harmful atmospheric emissions, and fundamentally change the function of land, and the ability of that land to absorb and capture water into the ground. Building owners, designers, and builders each face unique challenges to meet demands for new and renovated facilities that are accessible, secure, healthy and productive, while minimizing any negative impacts upon society, the environment, and the economy.

In addition to including sustainable design concepts in new construction, sustainable design advocates commonly encourage retrofitting existing buildings rather than building anew. Retrofitting an existing building can often be more cost-effective than building a new facility. Designing major renovations and retrofits for existing buildings to include sustainable design attributes reduces operation costs and environmental impacts, and can increase building resiliency. The “embodied energy” of the existing building (a term expressing the cost of resources in both human labor and materials consumed during the building’s construction and use) is squandered when the building is allowed to decay or to be demolished.

Optimize Site Potential
Creating sustainable buildings starts with proper site selection, including consideration of the reuse or rehabilitation of existing buildings. The location, orientation, and landscaping of a building affect local ecosystems, transportation methods, and energy use. Incorporating smart growth principles into the project development process is important whether a project is a single building, a campus, or a large complex such as a military base. Siting for physical security is a critical issue in optimizing site design, including locations of access roads, parking, vehicle barriers, and perimeter lighting. Whether designing a new building or retrofitting an existing building, site design must integrate with sustainable design to achieve a successful project. The site of a sustainable building should reduce, control, and/or treat storm-water runoff. If possible, strive to support native flora and fauna of the region in the landscape design.

Optimize Energy Use
With ever-increasing demand on fossil fuel resources and growing concerns about energy independence and security, and impacts of global climate change becoming more evident, it is essential to find ways to reduce energy load, increase efficiency, and maximize the use of renewable energy sources in federal facilities. Improving the energy performance of existing buildings is important to increasing our energy independence. Government and private sector organizations are increasingly committing to building and operating net zero energy buildings to significantly reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Protect and Conserve Water
In many parts of the United States, fresh water is an increasingly scarce resource. Since building fundamentally changes the ecological and hydrological function of non-built land, a sustainable building should seek to minimize the impervious cover created through practices that can reduce those impacts while using water efficiently, and reusing or recycling water for on-site use, when feasible. The effort to bring drinkable water to our household faucets consumes enormous energy resources in pumping, transport, and treatment. Often potentially toxic chemicals are used to make water potable. The environmental and financial costs of sewage treatment are significant.

Optimize Building Space and Material Use
While the world population continues to grow (to more than 9 billion by 2050), consumption of natural resources will continue to increase and the demand for additional goods and services will continue to stress available resources. It is critical to achieve an integrated and intelligent use of materials that maximizes their value, prevents ‘upstream’ pollution, and conserves resources. A sustainable building is designed and operated to use and reuse materials in the most productive and sustainable way across its entire life cycle, and is adaptable for reuse during its life cycle. The materials used in a sustainable building minimize life-cycle environmental impacts such as global warming, resource depletion, and toxicity. Environmentally preferable materials reduce impacts on human health and the environment, and contribute to improved worker safety and health, reduced liabilities, and reduced disposal costs.

Optimize Operational and Maintenance Practices
Consideration of a building’s operating and maintenance issues during the preliminary design phase of a facility will contribute to improved working environments, higher productivity, reduced energy and resource costs, and prevention of system failures. Encourage building operators and maintenance personnel to participate in the design and development phases, to ensure optimal operations and maintenance of the building and the features such as stormwater facilities designed to reduce the impact of the building on the land. Recruit, develop, and train highly skilled maintenance personnel to operate increasingly sophisticated high-performance buildings. Designers can specify materials and systems that simplify and reduce maintenance requirements; require less water, energy, and toxic chemicals / cleaners to maintain; and are cost-effective and reduce life-cycle costs. Also design facilities to include metering, to track the progress of sustainability initiatives, including reductions in energy and water use and waste generation, in the facility and on-site.