Let’s Not Be Meretricious About Metrics

I understand and strongly encourage the gathering of metrics to quantify work. Metrics are how we and our clients know the value of our efforts. Some things, like energy savings, are easy to quantify:  kWh and dollars saved, CO2 reductions, even economic development. Other things, like improved indoor environmental quality and productivity, do not lend themselves to obvious quantification. This doesn’t make them a waste of time and money, it simply means that we need to find other ways to measure their value.

As many people in the green building industry (I use green building and sustainability synonymously, but understand the difference between them) know, if we could quantify productivity improvements, green buildings would have a much larger share of the market and we would have an easier time selling environmentally responsible design, construction, operation, maintenance, and reuse.

We all know that green building design can have a positive impact on productivity, but it’s hard to quantify in metrics as readily understood as energy savings. As a society, we need to accept this challenge and keep searching for metrics, rather than allowing decision-makers to maintain the “if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count” mentality.

I’ll talk about how I addressed the issue of measuring the value of productivity in a future post.

Metrics Establish Green Building Value

At NYSERDA, if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count. So, I spent hours poring over computer modeling print outs looking for metrics. I developed a spreadsheet that enabled me to determine that a building could be designed to exceed the energy code by 35% for less than a 1% increase in first cost and a 3-4 year simple pay back. These numbers applied to big and small, upstate and downstate, public and private sector buildings. These figures formed the basis of the energy requirement in the country’s first Green Building Tax Credit. Rob Watson took these metrics to China. Years later Greg Kats confirmed them in his seminal studies on the cost and benefits of green buildings.

Innovation Through Collaboration

I met Hillary Brown, then at the NYC Department of Design and Construction. She had green building projects but no money to make them happen. I had the EPA money, but not the technical knowledge needed to design green buildings. Adrian Tuluca, with whom I had worked for years on energy efficiency, had a group of people working for him who were getting smart on green building issues. It was a great combination and we did great things.

Early Interest in Green Building

My introduction to green buildings came in 1994, at a USGBC conference in Gaithersburg, MD. The concepts and the people presenting them impressed me so much that I started formulating ideas for bringing green buildings to New York State. After helping to secure EPA funding, I spent two years traveling from one end of New York State to the other trying to convince people to design green buildings. When the Dursts built 4 Times Square, my world changed. They turned a concept into reality. People became interested in green buildings.

Building Green Means Breathing Clean

Years earlier I had persuaded my supervisor at the New York State Energy Office (SEO) that it was important for us to be addressing indoor air quality because of its strong connection to energy efficiency. The deal we worked out was that I wouldn’t spend more on IAQ than I did on energy. That had worked well for SEO and its customers, so I asked for the same deal with green buildings. He agreed, thus I was able to add materials’ analysis to the energy modeling we had been offering for years. When LEED came along, I expanded the green building services to include all LEED categories.