Identifying possibilities, discussing options and developing a list of sustainable features within a project, is important, but it’s also the “easy” part. The process of determining which features to select is what ultimately establishes what the project will be and where it will lead the agency in the long run. No item is inherently “good” or “bad;” each one will have advantages and disadvantages which can differ greatly depending on the project and its individual parameters. There are four key factors to evaluate in making final decisions on sustainable elements for a project.
1. Committed Client Leadership
Without a strong client, and particularly one serving in a project management role, sustainable design approaches may not succeed. The role of the design team is to develop solutions, educate the client and enable the client to push a project to its highest level. Integrated within that is sustainability. Transportation facilities typically involve multiple levels of approvals, and multiple departments with diverse user group needs. Within that structure, there are inevitably individuals that may need to be educated on the benefits of sustainability and the misconceptions of its costs and/or benefits. These individuals may also need assurances that a sustainable process need not disrupt their operational models or negatively alter the way they conduct business.
A strong client lead that believes in the principles of sustainable design can help educate other team members and assist in making the executive decisions needed to keep the project moving in the right direction.
2. Budget Constraints
In a “perfect world,” cost would not matter. However, this is a luxury transportation agencies simply cannot afford. The cost of implementing a good, sustainable practice can outweigh the benefits of the practice. Often, this can be true in renovations or additions to existing facilities, where new and old have to integrate with one another. Collecting and reusing storm water on site can save considerable utility costs year-over-year, but if the site is not large enough to do this without underground tanks, the cost of the tanks may be prohibitive. Likewise, recycling construction waste or performing additional building commissioning over the first year of the facility are good practices and can yield critical energy source information, but, they cost money to perform and those costs must be evaluated. Every project has a budget, and as the budget is approached and/or surpassed, it may simply not be feasible for the client to pay the initial costs associated with some items, regardless of their long-term benefits. An experienced design team can identify overall project savings to help find room for desired sustainable approaches without a critical loss to facility quality, size or effectiveness.
3. Lifecycle Cost Analysis
A key element of comprehensive decision-making is developing an understanding of facility life-cycle costs for design items. A simple comparison of first costs, or initial capital investment costs at the time of construction, may not provide a true picture of the “value” to the client for implementing a sustainable design solution. Using life-cycle costing allows the owner to evaluate costs from a more comprehensive viewpoint. There are three primary factors to consider in lifecycle costing.
A. Payback Period vs. First Cost- A good way to understand this is to think of purchasing a new family car. Car A may cost $20,000 initially, while Car B costs $25,000. But, over the 10 years you own the car, the maintenance costs for Car A may be $10,000, whereas the maintenance costs of Car B is only $2,000. Therefore, over the lifecycle of the car, Car B is a better value at $27,000 than Car A is at $30,000. This may be the best reason to use lifecycle cost comparisons in transit facilities, because they tend to be utilized for 30, 40, 50 years, or more by an agency. In some larger cities, there are maintenance and operations facilities that have been operating for 100 years! Sometimes sustainable design solutions are at essentially no additional first cost to the owner. But if the payback for installing, for example, a high-efficiency mechanical system is 3.5 years in comparison to the projected energy savings and a building is projected to operate for 30 years, that means the owner is saving considerable operating funds for 26.5 years. At Division 13, LA Metro chose to invest in a more robust HVAC system, and a storm-water reclamation system which could reclaim as much as 1.9M gallons of storm water per year, at the typical rainfall rates in Los Angeles. The bus wash system internally recycles 70 to 75 percent of its water, leaving an initial fresh water requirement of about 1.3M gallons per year. Whatever remains in the storage tanks could be used for irrigation or grey water needs, so, LA Metro has essentially eliminated the majority of the cost of municipal water to its facility for the lifetime of its use. This is a tangible monetary value to the agency.