Building Belief in Sustainable Design

The Austin Company recently nominated Judi Szabo-Stull, Manager of Facilities Development in our Cleveland Operations office, for a Green Building & Design 2015 Women in Sustainability Leadership Award. For Judi, this is a much-deserved recognition – internally to Austin and more broadly within the industry. Good luck in the process Judi!

Being involved in the nominating process got me thinking about the growth of LEED® and its impact on the thought process of designing a project. Ten years ago, I was not convinced it was a movement that would catch hold, especially in industry. Clearly, government buildings, institutional structures and commercial office spaces were reasonable candidates. Green design was not just a solution looking for a problem for those built environments. Sick building syndrome was not an uncommon result of air-tight buildings with all new furniture, carpet, paint and the VOCs that came with them.

Among other things, focus on green design resulted in fewer VOCs, fresher air, a healthier work environment and a lower carbon footprint. All good stuff. But green design in a manufacturing environment with ovens, furnaces and sanitary design standards, and durable finishes seemed unlikely. These are clearly different types of buildings with different demands and challenges. And the investment of Owners to first do what is necessary in the design and construction to achieve a certifiable sustainable design result, and then, to invest in the application process to earn the Certification, was money that was not going toward new production capacity. 

Or was it?

“Green buildings” typically feature better ventilation, lighting, and fewer irritants and contaminants in the air, creating a healthier and more positive environment, which has been shown to improve morale and productivity. In general, one could assume that a day in the average “green” facility is better for the employee than a day in the average “non-green” facility.

The strength of LEED® Certification is the discipline of thought that must go into the planning of the design and construction of the project. It forces new considerations into the design and requires those considerations to be formalized. It requires the planners, architects and engineers to get serious about the impact of their design solutions, not only on the environment in general, but also on the human experience in the facility. 

Indeed, it also forces the construction teams to be more diligent about the environment – more diligent about run-off, recycling and chemicals used. It increases awareness and raises standards. When I was a kid in the 70s, I recall a public service announcement on TV that raised the awareness against littering on the highway. Back then, it was not uncommon, and therefore not unacceptable, to throw trash out the window of your car on the highway. Many people just didn’t think twice about it. In much the same way, construction debris just went to landfills. It is likely that in the future, the common practice will be to recycle as much debris as possible; where not recycling will be the exception rather than the rule.

So the move to LEED® and green design in our work is clearly a trend and, to use a recycled term from years back, a paradigm shift. We are beginning to think differently about how we work, how we design, and how we build. In the span of a career, it has been another lesson in change. That change takes place all around us. And sometimes, change benefits everyone – well beyond our immediate spheres of influence.

When you are in the business of creating a built environment, that is the essence of our profession.


The productivity of a work group seems to depend on how the group members see their own goals in relation to the goals of the organization.”

Ken Blanchard

The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”

Nathaniel Branden

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

George Bernard Shaw

There aren't many things that are universally cool, and it's cool not to litter. I'd never do it.”

Matthew McConaughey