Steps to Selecting a Sustainability Professional

Oct. 1, 2011
The integrated design approach requires close teamwork, so choose wisely

Selecting the right design professionals and builders is an essential step in undertaking a successful sustainability project. Experienced sustainability professionals will help you realize your sustainability goals and help ensure a project is a financial and environmental success.

The process of designing and building green is fundamentally different from traditional approaches. Its integrated, collaborative approach requires early and ongoing involvement by all parties, including owners, architects, engineers, builders, operators, and occupants. This level of collaboration provides an atmosphere conducive to discussing goals, brainstorming innovations, increasing design synergies, and minimizing obstacles.

Getting Up To Speed
Identifying skilled and experienced design professionals means being able to communicate your wants and needs. This requires some basic knowledge of green design.

Research the subject of sustainable design, construction, and facility operations. Start by investigating and compiling information from print and electronic media sources. Organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) offer advice and seminars on building green. Explore the overall concepts first, then research the specific elements of green building that most interest you.

Design checklists and software tools exist and are valuable resources for building your knowledge base. One regional example is the City of Boulder's Green Points Program ( It features a checklist-based rating system that encourages cost-effective and sustainable building methods, conservation of natural resources, recycling of construction materials, reduction of solid waste, and improvements in indoor air quality. The program offers ideas for building a green project, while allowing flexibility to tailor selections to specific designs or buyer preferences.

Good computer software programs will recommend strategies specific to the user’s project and will communicate benefits and drawbacks of implementing each strategy.

One example is the Green Building Advisor (, a program created for architects, designers, planners, students, and educators who want to evaluate the environmental opportunities of specific projects or learn about the many elements of green-building design.

Finding Sustainability Professionals
Once you have established a comfort level with the concepts of sustainable design and the general philosophy of your project, build a list of professionals. Speak with friends and colleagues who have been through the process. Identify projects you like and find out who designed them.

Within the general category of sustainability, each firm has its field of specialization, such as commissioning, energy efficiency, site sustainability, or sustainable materials. Furthermore, a firm also may have building-sector specialization, such as office, mixed use, or industrial. Search the USGBC Website ( for members and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-accredited professionals. Review project case studies. Narrow the list down to three or four firms, and contact each to set up an interview.

Choosing the Right Professional
Look for demonstrated experience in stainable design. Ask firms to provide specific examples that are similar to your project, including references you can contact. Look for applied experience in the areas you wish to incorporate into your project and individuals who share the main principles of your philosophy.

Look for evidence of commitment to and involvement in sustainable building. Visit the professional’s office. Does the professional/firm have sustainable design literature, software, product data, or material samples in the office? Ask for a tour of the library, and look for subscriptions to sustainable-design magazines and journals or fee-based online resources. Does the firm have a set of specifications tailored to the construction of sustainable buildings?

Make sure professionals practice what they preach. Is a recycling program in place for office waste? Are green office products purchased and sustainable building technologies implemented? Do they purchase green power? Are alternative transportation options encouraged? When interviewing prospective contractors, ask what programs to ensure worker health and safety exist, and if the contractor recycles on the job site.

How busy is the firm? Does it have the capacity to take on your project? Is the firm licensed and bonded? What is the fee structure?

Consider the Interpersonal Element
Do you like the person(s) you will be working with? Look for individuals with whom you feel comfortable. The integrated design approach requires interaction between team members consistently throughout the process. This does not require you to be friends, but there should be fundamental, mutual respect and honesty within the business relationship. Do all parties communicate well? Are your ideas, wishes, and requirements incorporated into the project?

Finding the right sustainable-design and construction professionals will ensure a project fills your needs and the process is as smooth—and enjoyable—as possible.

The newest member of HPAC Engineering’s Editorial Advisory Board, Peter C. D'Antonio, PE, CEM, LEED AP, is president of PCD Engineering Services Inc., an award-winning provider of building-energy-analysis, mechanical/electrical-design, and commissioning services. His work has been recognized with design and service awards from organizations such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Green Building Council, the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office, and the Colorado Renewable Energy Society. He is a member of American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers Technical Committee 7.6, Building Energy Performance.

Did you find this article useful? Send comments and suggestions to Senior Editor Ron Rajecki at ron.rajecki@