Part 1 - Integrative Design & Tunnelling through the cost barrier

David Baggs, CEO and Technical Director


One of the first responses of many clients and building industry professionals who practice Business as Usual (BAU) development, design and construction when someone suggests that they should consider the benefits that green buildings deliver is 'But they cost more, why should I bother?'. The equation often proposed that Sustainability = Added Cost is actually in many instances a falsehood. There are many aspects of passive thermal design that are no net added costs and there are many examples of world leading eco-products and technologies that also do not come more expensively than business-as-usual products. Often 'best in class' products have near market costs and when viewed from a Whole-of-life-cycle cost point of view they are invariably significantly cheaper overall - often even in the short-term. Some products and technologies when combined with smart design and usage can even reduce initial capital cost. This paper introduces concepts as to how this might be done.

In this first part of a 2 part paper is included some of the distilled experiences  of experienced green development design teams from around the world in how to deliver green projects at no or low cost differential to conventional ones. Part 2 [ insert link] presents information from 4 different continents about recent discoveries in the benefits of green buildings to developers, occupants, society and living systems.

synergy.pngIn their 1997 book 'Factor Four: Doubling Wealth, Halving Resources', Amory Lovins and Ernst Weizsäcker first used the term, 'Tunnelling through the cost barrier' as an introduction to how to pursue a process of costing sustainability initiatives to ensure all costs and benefits are being captured and the true cost picture exposed. This is not the 'life cycle cost' argument that many developers decry as being of no interest to them because the benefits flow to the occupants when they sell, its about finding the actual lowest first cost.

Imagine two alternative scenarios. In the first an architect suggests to an unconvinced client that they should upgrade the quality of the windows and frames in their project from conventional aluminium frames and insulated glazing units (IGUs) or double glazing to thermally improved aluminium frames with high performance IGUs to reduce energy costs. With energy being so cheap the client is unsure and asks the builder who does a quick calculation and says 'that's going to cost an extra $20,000 at least- and it won't pay back for over 20 years'. So the client shrugs saying 'that's too expensive' and the architect doesn't pursue it any further effectively committing the client to high energy costs and greenhouse emissions for the life of the building.

In the second scenario, the architect suggests to a client very committed to sustainability that they should upgrade the quality of the windows and frames in their project to thermally improved aluminium frames with high performance IGUs externally shaded and upgrade the insulation to the whole building to reduce energy costs. Because the client is committed to wanting a truly green building he asks the architect, the other consultants and the builder to do a thorough calculation of all of the costs and related possible savings and report back on the total building costs that result from the changes.

The architect and the MEP Consultant/Energy modeller work with the builder and realize that with the upgraded window, shading and insulation specifications, they can massively reduce the air conditioning plant, reduce the size and overall length of ducting (as not as much conditioned air is needed) as well as reducing the size of the electrical conductors, wiring and backup generator. The properly designed external shading (the design relates to the solar aspect of the elevation and is different north/south and east/west) also means that there is no glare control needed. All in all, the up-front savings outweigh the extra costs to the extent that they will pay for interactive daylighting controls and lighting system.

Along the way the client asks the architect to pursue a green building rating. In the first scenario, the building barely rates a 'Certification' level, yet without even worrying about credits or points, when the architect tallies up the achievements of the second scenario, he is confident the project will easily achieve 'Gold' (just in this example ignoring all the other issues involved in green building).

The client is delighted and instructs the team to pursue the green approach effectively committing the building to massive long term energy and greenhouse emission savings for the life of the building. In the meanwhile the client/developer has the considerable benefits of a low energy, low cost building to market and corporately and personally gain great credence and respect for moving into the green building arena. In the end, it doesn't matter if the client is committed to green because it can all be justified on a cost basis and provides additional non-tangible and financial benefits as well.

These types of successes are being played out right now in many countries where enlightened clients and design teams are using similar approaches. In the USA several LEED Platinum rated buildings have been built at lower than average market rates using similar design processes.

Key Factors in Tunnelling through the cost barrier

There are several key factors in the success illustrated by scenario 2 and the lower than market average cost '6 Star' or 'Platinum' buildings:

  1. the clients and the teams were committed to finding high level sustainability and by doing this they found synergistic benefits that drove costs down. This is 'Tunnelling  through the Cost barrier' because  SYNERGY = $AVINGS;
  2. the team used SYSTEMS THINKING to look at the building as an integrated whole, not elements in isolation or a collection of individual systems to find and drive synergy; and
  3. they used an INTEGRATIVE DESIGN PROCESS (IDP) to work together to find ALL the benefits and drivers of SYNERGY, amend the design of the building and systems to realize the benefits of the synergy in all relevant systems and fully cost them as a whole.

The benefits of an Integrated Design Process

Indeed the whole approach used in scenario 2 is an example of an IDP. IDP is the only way to drive costs down while delivering additional sustainability benefits. While some clients, developers or builders might be tempted to take the savings and not commit to the extra costs, they will quickly realize the benefits only flow from an integrated package of initiatives.

An IDP is best started right up the front of a project even before pen is put to paper for a design. The further down the design and documentation path IDP is engaged, the fewer options are available and the higher eventual costs will be. One thing can be guaranteed, if you follow a BAU approach to delivering LEED, Estidama or any other type of rated green building and just 'chase the points' by buying green technology 'add ons', your built costs WILL be higher, considerably higher.

The use on IDP is the best way to find and drive synergy between materials, design, technologies, practices and policy.

The 10 key characteristics of an Integrative Design Process

  1. The whole team share their respective roles as joint 'Designer': An interdisciplinary team who drop their roles as 'discipline experts' and become co-learners, co-researchers and co-testers before the architect even puts pen to paper;
  2. Develop up-front a shared project vision and set goals: Goals that are indeed 'Commitments' things that will be done. They also set aspirational or 'stretch goals', things they would like to achieve if possible economically and practically within timeframes. It is important for the team to have a shared mental model of what they are trying to achieve and a 'Vision setting' workshop or 'charette' (as it is sometimes called) delivers what is needed.  In my experience as sustainability facilitator to 10 of the Sydney 2000 Green Olympic Games venues, 80% of the stretch goals that were set by individual project teams were met on time and on or under budget, just because the whole team focused on trying to delivering them;
  3. Meet early and often: At least 3 -5 key sustainability focused meetings/workshops/charettes (depending on the size of the project) should be held with no design taking place before the second or the third meeting and once all of the energy, water and other key testing and research is available to the team. Regular meetings should be held following these to continue the process as much as possible;
  4. Involve the whole team: An IDP should involve all members of design team including client and, in particular, the financial decision maker. Everyone has some impact on most ecological impacts of development and many affect healthy indoor environment conditions. They all bring different pieces of the puzzle to the table and to work without some in key processes might result in missing important synergy and cost savings;
  5. 'Tunnel  through the cost barrier': don't  lightly 'try' and end up retreating by:
    • costing sustainability initiatives fully, ensuring that all implications for all changes are fully considered  by the  relevant consultants and whole project (including life cycle cost) benefits reported also;
    • Using whole-building and/or whole site energy modeling and water balance models to test different scenarios and optimise the building design progressively throughout the research and design processes from very first pre-design stages and then redefine and refine strategies adding increasing detail as more information becomes available during progressive stages. It is important to use simple 'box' or 'massing' based energy model simulation to multi-scenario test different window/wall ratios, window and wall types, insulation levels, orientation options (if the site is large enough) building shape etc. All can be done before concept design to inform the architects design and building image.
    • Use systems thinking to look at options, look 'outside the box' to consider whole systems benefits and options rather than looking only at the obvious.
  6. Use wise or SEE2R consultants: Consultants who drive to find Synergy, are Enthusiastic, Educated, Experienced with direct Expertise about and in sustainability and who are willing Risk managers not risk avoiders;
  7. Commit to a SEE2R sustainability consultant: ensure that all major decisions pass through the 'sustainability screen' to ensure that green commitments are not being adversely affected when key consultants 'Don't know what they don't know' and make decisions unaware of the sustainability ramifications;
  8. Don't be afraid of Innovation: innovative products, technologies and systems can often be your winning synergy edge and result in major whole-project cost benefits that are worth the risk;
  9. Manage don't avoid risk: Experienced project and construction managers know how to manage or externalise risk. In doing this it is possible to use innovative technologies that drive synergy and costs down to offset other increased costs and make high performance green buildings a low or no cost option;
  10. Experience is needed: to achieve these outcomes with IPD, don't expect to do it in one project- unless your team is already experienced in IDP. BUT if not, at least make a start. Start small and work up to larger projects with experienced team members moving from smaller to larger projects.

While it might seem that all this process will take more time and cost more in fees, experience around the globe has shown, done properly, the extra up-front costs are easily saved in less re-doing and mistakes down the track and faster more efficient construction processes.

While it means changing the way things are typically done, leading edge projects and consultancies in countries such as USA, Australia, Canada, India, UK and Singapore have shown the biggest benefits of change can flow with integrative design.

The Emirate of Abu Dhabi in the UAE has taken these lessons to heart and in wanting to leapfrog the typical 10 year learning phase that the aforementioned countries have experienced, has introduced regulatory processes in the Development Application stages of project approval to ensure that all projects must demonstrate that an IDP process has not only been used, but by requiring demonstration that the IDP process has been successful in increasing the efficiency in water and energy efficiency at each of the 3 stages of the application, they ensure the process is properly undertaken and yields real outcomes in reducing the impacts/m2 of floorspace on the need for new infrastructure.

Integrated Design Process Standard

In July 2007 a public ballot approved the 'Whole Systems Integrated Process Guide' (WSIP) for Sustainable Buildings & Communities, [ANSI/MTS 1.0 Standard WSIP 2007]. While the standard was developed under the auspices of the Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability (MTS), it is also approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and sets out the form of an integrated design process.

The Document goes beyond a dry checklist of steps by not only explaining why this practice is important, but then describing how an integrated process differs from the standard linear process. It then suggests specific measures for each phase in a hypothetical design-construction-occupancy process.

The purpose of the Standard according to ANSI is:

This Standard Guide supports the building industry in the practice of integrative design. The purpose of Integrative Design is to effectively manage the optimization of complex systems while pursuing sustainable practices in design and construction. To achieve cost effective and increasingly more effective environmental performance, it is necessary to shift from conventional linear design and delivery processes to the practice of interrelated systems integration.

As at January 2011 the standard is under review and in draft comment for until February 2011.

Refer here for a copy of the Draft Integrative Process Standard: Design and Construction of sustainable buildings and communities, Draft ANSI Consensus Standard 2.0 - 31 December 2010

US Architect Bill Reed, chairman of the AIA committee that developed the Standard and his colleagues from 7group in the US have developed an IDP guide book to help set out and inform IDP processes: The integrative design guide to green building: Redefining the practice of sustainability. With integrative thinking that reframes what sustainability means, they provide a how-to guide for architects, designers, engineers, developers, builders, and other professionals on incorporating integrative design into every phase of a project.

Google Books summaries the Guide succinctly, it:

  • Explains the philosophy and underpinnings of effective integrative design, addressing systems thinking and building and community design from a whole-living system perspective
  • Details how to implement integrative design from the discovery phase to occupancy, supported by process outlines, itemized tasks, practice examples, case studies, and real-world stories illustrating the nature of this work
  • Explores the deeper understanding of integration that is required to transform architectural practice and our role on the planet

ecospecifier commends all green building owners, developers, architects and design team members and facilities managers to use IDP in their next project and using this highly detailed and informative Guide will make the process much easier and effective.

Further Information:

ecospecifier Technical Guide 8 - An Integrative Design Process Primer


  1. ANSI/MTS, (2007) ANSI/MTS 1.0 Whole Systems Integrated Process Guide (WSIP)-2007 for Sustainable Buildings & Communities, ANSI, Washington DC.
  2. Accessed 5.01.11 at
  3. Reed, W & The 7 Group, (2009), The Integrative Design Guide to Green Building: Redefining the Practice of Sustainability, John Wiley & Sons, NY.
  4. See