The most impressive feature of Cannon Design’s new 60,000-square-foot LEED Platinum office, located high above the Chicago River overlooking Millennium Park and the Magnificent Mile, is not what’s in it, but how it was developed.
While many sustainable designs aim to reduce a building’s operational energy use, Cannon Design turned its focus to reducing the total amount of embodied energy in its new office. Embodied energy is loosely defined as the total amount of energy consumed through a product’s life-cycle. According to Architecture 2030, for example, the manufacturing and transportation of building materials account for about 6 percent of all energy used annually in the United States.
“As we drive down the energy use of buildings, we expect that embodied energy will become increasingly important,” notes Rand Ekman, AIA, LEED Fellow, director of sustainability for Cannon Design.
Important, but not always easy to understand, researchers at Cannon Design soon discovered. Embodied energy data for materials is typically only available when manufacturers release Life Cycle Analyses or Environmental Product Declarations—and even then comparisons with other materials can be time-consuming. Cannon Design’s researchers poured through reams of environmental documentation to determine the most effective options for reducing embodied energy.
Their findings led the team to specify regional materials (63 percent by value within 500 miles) and those with high amounts of recycled content (34 percent by value using LEED criteria). Designers were also pushed to reuse materials and furnishings from the firm’s previous office to reduce the total embodied energy of the project.
The research also led to the creation of Material LIFE, a material selection guide for designers that provides embodied energy information on a variety of common building products, and Mbod-E, an Excel-based interactive calculator that can calculate the embodied energy for quantities of materials and projects as a whole.