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whole building design green building
This CMU elevator shaft at the LEED Silver-rated Merrill Hall at the University of Washington, serves as a natural ventilation stack.

Whole Building Design is a process that views the building as a system, rather than a collection of components. The latter perspective limits significantly how sustainable a design can be, as it really only allows for a process of substituting “green” features for conventional ones.

On the other hand, viewing the building as a system allows full integration of decision making. Not only does this approach get better performance out of a building overall, it is also the best way to avoid unnecessary costs. This cost-control is directly attributable to using a systems approach to the design. Opportunities for combining functions and multiplying the benefits achieved from a single strategy are much more available with this approach.


Concrete is a versatile material that can be used to provide many sustainable building benefits by functioning as thermal mass, acoustical barrier, durable structure. Looking at ways to combine the functions concrete is performing for a building is a way to do more with less. For example, from a wholistic point of view, an elevator shaft produced from concrete material (such as CMUs) might be viewed as ventilation shaft, a light well, and a means of controlling temperature. Besides providing integrated performance, this strategy saves money because it reduces the need for equipment.


Certification: The US Green Building Council (USGBC) has through consensus of its membership – primarily design and construction firms, government agencies, product suppliers, and environmental consultants – developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. The USGBC hopes through LEED to “promote integrated, whole-building design practices.” As noted above, using the integrated design approach, higher levels of creativity are tapped, better performance can be achieved, and costs can be controlled – all worthy goals. Also, as noted above, concrete because of its versatility, can play an important role in achieving these results.

Cost effectiveness: National research indicates that a sustainable design approach should not add more than 2% to the cost of a building, and may incur none if done thoughtfully. Research also indicates that the sooner sustainability is introduced into a project, the more likely it can be achieved cost-effectively.


Interdisciplinary teams use green design workshops, or eco-charrettes, to look at ways to integrate and optimize their design early in the process.

Whole Building Design requires a commitment on the part of the owner and design team to an interdisciplinary approach. Check-ins along the design path and during construction at regular intervals assures follow-through to this commitment. Design and construction contracts should reflect the project’s commitment to whole building design.

Whole Building Design generally means investing in design activities that increase the opportunity for integrated solutions, with an eye to better performance and life cycle savings. Integrated design activities generally include an eco-charette, life-cycle analysis, and modeling, testing, and evaluation studies.

Eco-Charettes are planning workshops that ideally occur early on in a project (no later than the schematic phase). They are the first step in an interdisciplinary design process and should include owner representatives, design consultants, and end users.
Life Cycle Cost Analysis. Typically, first cost is what designers and owners look at when analyzing whether to proceed with a specific strategy, sustainable or not. However, it is in the long period of operation that the given strategy will prove its worth. According to the Sustainable Building Technical Manual, operations and maintenance costs equal 6% of overall business costs, compared to only 2% for initial building costs (the large remainder is for personnel).

Modeling, Testing, Evaluation. An integrated design process assumes a number of building solutions will be considered and that some degree of analysis will take place to compare strategies and determine which ones are appropriate to achieve the desired performance. Modeling (simulation or physical) of daylight, energy use, water use, and air flow are methods that can be used to conduct this analysis. Costs vary with the complexity of the process used.

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Located at BookstoreConcrete Masonry & The LEED Program (2006)
National Concrete Masonry Association, #TEK 06-09
Available for $1.50. This brochure describes how concrete masonry contributes to obtaining the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building certification. This document is available for a fee from National Concrete Masonry Association
Download DocumentAn Engineers Guide to Building Green with Concrete. (2005)
Portland Cement Association, #IS312, 6 pages
This bulletin describes how concrete contributes to obtain the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building certification. It details what the requirements are, the number of points needed for the various levels of certification, how to earn the points, and how the use of concrete can increase the number of points awarded to a building under the LEED. This document is available as a free download from Portland Cement Association.
Download DocumentBuilding Better Outcomes (2004)
Portland Cement Association, #PL 296, 6 pages
This brochure includes 6 case studies highlighting various concrete attributes for construction and sustainability. This brochure is available as a free download from Portland Cement Association.
Download DocumentCement Manufacturing Sustainability Program (2004)
Portland Cement Association, #SP 401, 6 pages
Available for free. Introductory brochure describing the Manufacturing Improvement Program, production statistics, Health and Safety Awards, and Environment and Energy Awards programs. Available as a free download from the Portland Cement Association.
Download DocumentCement, Concrete and the Environment
Environmental Council of Concrete Organizations, #EV11, 2 pages
Available for free. This two-page bulletin gives an overview of some key environmental benefits to using concrete, and points out the difference between cement and concrete. This document is available as a free download from the Environmenatl Council of Concrete Organizations.
Download DocumentConcrete Builds the Sustainable Movement (2003)
PCA RP 417, 16 pages
Available for free. In partnership with Building Design & Construction magazine, this in-depth report features essential articles and case studies examining concrete’s role in green building design, LEED and concrete, green concrete building resources, and green building costs. (Nov 2003 issue) various articles.
Download DocumentExploring the Environmental Attributes of Concrete (2005)
Portland Cement Association, #RP 427, 16 pages
Available for free. This reprint from the September 2005 issue of Environmental Design and Construction Magazine contains 10 pages of articles that highlight concrete as a sustainable solution. Topics include: an overview of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Urban Infill case study, High Performance Wall Systems, Cement Plants Going Green, and Concrete Innovations for Sustainable Design. (Sept 2005 issue) various articles.
Download DocumentFrom Pasture to Parkland - Reclaimed Quarries Find new Life (1997)
Environmental Council of Concrete Organizations, #EV13, 4 pages
Available for free. This bulletin presents case histories of three spent quarries, in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan, describing how careful management and planning have successfully integrated the quarries back into their surrounding environment.
Download DocumentGuide to Sustainable Design with Concrete
Cement Association of Canada, 110 pages
Available for free. The Guide to Sustainable Design with Concrete is a tool developed to assist the design community in their drive toward sustainable design. Due to its widespread use, much of the content in the guide is based on the provisions of the LEED® assessment system. The specific requirements of the new LEED Canada-NC 1.0 version including the LEED Canada 2007 Addendum have been incorporated to reflect the most current Canadian practice. The Guide also contains project examples that illustrate how the sustainable benefits of concrete products have been realized in many real building projects.
Download DocumentResource Study Puts Concrete on Solid Ground
Enviornmental Council of Concrete Organizations, #EV09, 2 pages
Available for free. Research bulletin summarizes parts of a study conducted by the Canadian wood industry’s research arm, Forintek. The study examines the ecological carrying capacity of various building materials, and although intended as illustrative only, clearly shows the benefits of concrete as a resource-efficient material.
Download DocumentThe Surprising Environmental Benefits of Concrete
Environmental Council of Concrete Organizations, #EV 01, 2 pages
Available for free. This tri-fold brochure describes a range of sustainable solutions provided by cement based materials.
Located at External Web SiteA Sustainable Approach to Outdoor Lighting Utilizing Concrete Pavement
By Lawrence C. Novak, SE, SECB, LEED® AP David N. Bilow, PE, SE
Located at External Web SiteCement Association of Canada
Cement Association of Canada, Sustainability Section
Sustainable development support from the Cement Association of Canada is offered on this section of their website, and includes technical information, videos, links to green partners and events
Located at External Web SiteConcrete as a Carbon Sink
Liv Haselbach, Associate Professor Civil and Environmental Engineering Washington State University
Located at External Web SiteEven When It's Gray, Concrete is Green
National Ready Mixed Concrete Association
This webpage directs users to a variety of links for the sustainable applications of concrete construction, including green roofs, pervious paving and LEED.
Located at External Web SiteLEED and Concrete Masonry Powerpoint
The National Concrete Masonry Association
Call The National Concrete Masonry Association Technical Inquiry Response at 703-713-1900 for a copy of this presentation.
Located at External Web SiteLEED Case Studies
The National Concrete Masonry Association
Various industry case studies highlighting concrete masonry's contributions for sustainability. Call The National Concrete Masonry Association Technical Inquiry Response at 703-713-1900 for copies of these case studies.
Located at External Web SiteRelative Merits of Materials Brochure
The on-line article highlights information and tools for architects to use in the search for reliable information about green materials.
Located at External Web SiteU.S. Green Building Council Website
The official LEED(R) website
Located at External Web SiteWhole Building Design Guide (2006)
National Institute of Building Sciences
Up-to-date information on integrated 'whole building' design techniques and technologies