I recently sat down with Aliesa Adelman (AA), a Sustainable Design Coordinator at Wendel Companies, a full service architecture and engineering firm in Western New York. This discussion led to some insight on how planning a new building involves many green components, and how sustainable organizational culture needs to be both internal and external.
Grow: What does sustainability mean to you?
AA: Sustainability is really about making sure that we are conscious of how our actions and what we do today will play out in the future. So that takes into account, not only the details of what materials we’re using in our building, but also how we are planning our buildings and how we are planning our growth as communities. Taking a look at how we can promote efficiencies now and help lessen the impact on future generations. It’s not just materials, renewables, energy-efficient design, but how we live, how we design our communities, and how we improve our transportation and water infrastructure.
Grow: So what are your main roles and responsibilities?
AA: I am the Sustainable Design Coordinator at Wendel which is a full service architectural and engineering firm. Our headquarters is in Buffalo and we have 5 regional offices; in Minneapolis, Long Island, Richmond, Phoenix and Washington D.C. Our team includes architects, engineers, landscape architects, land-use planners, and construction management. Our energy engineers focus on energy improvement, performance contracting and commissioning, which evaluates the mechanical, electrical and life safety systems of new, existing or renovated building—and ensures that they are operating at optimal levels. I work with each of the different disciplines to incorporate sustainable design elements and principles into the projects that we do, no matter how big or small. If it is a LEED building, I work closely with the team from conceptual design through the end of construction. I will work with the client and team to identify the environmental and sustainable goals of the project; align the goals with the LEED rating system; benchmark and evaluate energy conservation measures. During construction, I work closely with the contractors to ensure project goals are achieved. If I’m working with our planning or transportation team, my work may include projects that promote Smart Growth principles and Complete Streets aspects, including green infrastructure. Much of this is aligning those goals with what’s happening regionally. It’s a great position and great to have such a wide range of projects to work with.
Grow: Can you please explain your accreditation of LEED AP BD-C?
AA: Sure. A LEED AP is a LEED Accredited Professional. It’s an accreditation program put out through the US Green Building Council. The BD-C stands for building, design and construction. Originally the program for accreditation was simply for individuals to become LEED APs. They changed it a few years ago so that it was LEED AP plus specialty, if you were going to continue on with the program. Otherwise, LEED APs who did not want to enroll in the new program, remain Legacy APs, they still work on LEED projects and they still have the knowledge of the system, but the new specialty designation demonstrates an individual’s expertise in one of 5 areas. So, my Building, Design and Construction (BD-C) is associated with new construction. And then there is also an accreditation for focusing more on existing buildings, neighborhood development, interior design, and homes.
Grow: What are some of the ways that Wendel is being sustainable, both in your projects, but also as an organization?
AA: Internally, we switched over about two years ago to a single stream recycling program. So we have quite a large reduction in the trash that’s being hauled [from our offices]. We’ve seen almost double the amount of recycling. We have different programs that we use as outreach for education. Our architects are a part of different programs for outreach and working with students. Our energy group works with students as well putting together programs on energy efficiency and audits. We have different events here to try and raise awareness. We worked with the building owner to incorporate different strategies here [at our office], as far as efficiencies with occupancy sensors and lighting reduction. When we work with our partners and clients, from our very beginning conversations whether it has to do with land-use or it has to do with a building, we giving them options & help to educate them in sustainable opportunities that are there. It’s not just about doing the right thing, but how it is going to positively impact their bottom line, and the benefits that exist.
Grow: Can you expand on your single stream recycling program?
AA: Sure. What we used to have was a program where every individual had a garbage can underneath their desk and then we had five recycling bins throughout the office. The recycling bins were primarily just for paper. So, for switching over to the single stream, now the garbage bins underneath the desks are for recycling. Everything recyclable goes in them from paper to plastic to tin and any kind of colored paper. The only items that can’t would be food items and tissues; those go into our garbage. We’ve reversed it; we have maybe five garbage bins around the office and all the individual ones are for recycling.. So in doing it this way we are recycling much, much more. It‘s a change in behavior.
Grow: What would be one tip you have for the everyday person on being sustainable?
AA: I think the most important thing is education. We’ve all seen campaigns on turn off the lights, how to weather strip and improve the performance of your house, and a lot of change comes from education. The more we can educate ourselves on the opportunities there are, and share them with others, the better we are able to get the word out on what to do and how we can do it. Much of what I’ve run in to is that it’s not that people don’t care about being more sustainable; they just don’t know how to go about it. So, helping people become more educated, that would be number one. That is over-arching with anything.
I think in looking for ways to improve today, let’s say with travel, try looking for carpooling opportunities. We have carpooling resources here in Buffalo, but a lot of times people don’t know about them. So it comes back to the education component. Or taking a look at some of the other programs out there let’s say for doing a recycling program like ours. There are a lot of resources available; it is just a matter of getting to know them.