Building Design for the New Economy

“Our goal is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy and just world with clean air, water, soil and power… economically, equitably, ecologically and elegantly enjoyed.” This is a beautiful quote from William McDonough. Professor of Architecture, Designer, Environmental Consultant to world leaders in manufacturing, and inspired soul. He addresses here the same principles of The New Economy, and supports the knowledge that there is a direct relationship between life, the living environment and the built environment. Have you ever been in a built environment that gave you a sense of calm and nourishment, that awakened your senses and gave you a feeling of deep rest and recuperation? We feel calm, nourished, awakened and alert when the air quality in a space is healthy… when form follows function… when space, light, color, and texture combine in an economy and elegance of design.

Nature is the gold standard against which our built environments should be measured. On its own, Nature has a finely tuned balance, but problems occur for both people and the environment when synthetic or man-made materials are introduced and the essential balance is lost. Ecological, sustainable building means not just sustaining our ecosystems, but human health as well. Mind, body and soul are affected in a myriad of ways by a dwelling. And it is clear that the once finely tuned relationship between humankind and nature is out of balance.

Let’s take a look at the 4 values that William McDonough mentioned in his quote and how they relate to sustainable building.

Economical, Equitable, Ecological, Elegant.

First let’s look at Economical… A quote from local Environmental Inspector & Building Consultant Jon Cotham… “It’s important to remember that with the rising cost of health care and lost productivity from illness, that anything we can do to maintain our good health is financially beneficial”. Our health is priceless and when buying, renovating or building a new home or business, its ability to nurture health should be our top priority. As more consumers look to healthy, sustainable building materials, the costs have come more in line with conventional materials. Contrary to popular belief, often the healthier alternatives are no more expensive, or even more economical in the long run due to a longer lifecycle and greater durability, or by reducing energy costs.

We have the ability to shift industry if we persevere in either buying less of something, or in buying more of the sustainable alternatives. Many of us will spend additional money to buy natural, organic and fair trade food & clothing. Why not take these into consideration when buying building materials? History has shown that consumers’ have great power with their spending habits. Runaway consumerism, has played a significant role in the collapse the economy and of the ecosystem, given the energy, water, land and other resources required to produce all the “stuff” people buy and quickly dispose of. Exciting opportunities for sustainability lie in the beginnings of a revolution that replaces materials made using dirty, wasteful methods with those resulting from clean processes patterned after Nature’s cyclical patterns. Since the 1990s leading manufacturers have adopted sustainability standards that have increased revenue through risk management, increased competitive advantage, cost reduction and product differentiation. They have demonstrated that such sustainable practices not only work but are economically viable.

Equitable. Most of us are all familiar with this term in regards to Fair Trade practices, which is an important consideration in buying practices for building materials. It is important to look to manufacturers who ensure healthy working conditions, fair labor practices and fair compensation. But, do we consider how we can be more equitable to our children, our pets and the elderly that occupy our dwellings? They may not have much voice, if any, in the decisions made concerning building materials, and yet they are the ones whose health is most at risk. Children are more affected by indoor contaminants than adults because their respiratory, immune & neurological systems are still developing. And, their breathing zone is much closer to the ground where most contaminants originate.

The next value is Ecological. When considering materials for your built environment, think about the impact your decision has on the world at large. Fortunately, there is a current awareness that Building Operations… that is heating, cooling and lighting… is having a huge impact on our outside air quality. Surprisingly, when we compare sources of Co2 emissions, we see that the manufacturing of Building Materials alone is actually higher than the levels produced by Automobiles. The manufacturing of Portland Cement used in concrete, and the gypsum used in drywall are among the biggest polluters, but there are alternatives.

The destruction of global health is mirrored by a similar impact on our personal health. Tens of thousands of chemicals being used today in the home and elsewhere are known to be toxic. The alarming growth of diseases such as childhood asthma, autism, and fibromyalgia – have become cause for researchers to look for links between these chemicals and our health, and indeed many have been found. Both the EPA and American Lung Association urge us to not use materials with PVC or formaldehyde added which can include vinyl flooring, carpet pad & backing, plywoods and particleboards found in cabinets and furniture, textiles, paints, stains and sealers. Studies have shown that poor indoor air quality affects attendance and productivity in schools and the workplace.

Elegant and Sustainable go hand in hand. The dictionary defines Elegant as “of a high grade or quality”. With today’s selection of sustainable building materials, elegance does not need to be compromised. There are a wide variety of materials that are truly elegant not only because of their high grade or quality, but also because they are truly pleasing and sophisticated. Sustainable building no longer is limited to a rustic or industrial looks.

Today we are faced with a dazzling array of finishing products. It is a daunting task to make healthy, sustainable choices, especially when considering how little information is revealed on product labels, and how much knowledge is required to decipher them. Fortunately, there is now more information available to the consumer through the internet and television, through books, and through the increasing number of professional consultants available to help with inspections, analysis, design and procurement. When starting any type of building or remodeling project, we need to take time to plan. A hard thing for many of us in this society of immediate gratification, but we need to invest sufficient time into finding healthy, environmentally sound choices.

Our homes and business represent one of the biggest investments we will ever make of our time, energy and money; they are a life long focus of concern and can become a source of well being. The simple steps of creating a healthy home or workplace are some of the easiest ways we can live an ecologic life, doing our part to be stewards for the earth, and helping to create a truly sustainable economy.

Copyright 2009 Cynthia Grier. All rights reserved.

A Successful Consultant – Multitasking, Having All the Answers, and Working Long Hours

Many corporations as well as individuals of every type of career go to a consultant when in need of solutions. Whether a specialist or a generalist consultant, the career path of being a consultant may be a trying one but it is quite rewarding. From the networking to the resume building, consulting can strengthen your personal skills as well as make you even more marketable to future prospects.

To be a successful consultant, one must possess certain qualities in order to handle such a fast paced job. First, a consultant has to be able to multitask. You will need to juggle multiple tasks while still finding time to please everyone that looks to you for something. A consultant will have to wear a variety hats and change the direction of actions at any given moment, while controlling chaos at the same time. Organization is crucial for this career choice and also requires for one to take blame for failure. No one is perfect, yet if a task was not done correctly it is up to the consultant to be mature and take responsibility while fixing the problem or offering a solution.

Second, a consultant should expect to work long hours. All the multitasking expected of a consultant cannot be completed in a short day at the office. One may be needed to stay after hours, take work home, or even take time out of the weekend to complete tasks. Deadlines as well as customer expectations must be met quickly and completed correctly. Along with working long hours, a consultant must also possess time management skills. A job cannot be completed without setting priorities first and having different methods to handle the other tasks. Completing tasks in a timely manner will come more naturally to an experienced consultant and will be conquered with ease.

Lastly, every prospect and customer will come to their consultant looking for answers to all questions and needs. A consultant must be able to notice when there is a question or a problem and immediately offer a solution to fix the issue at hand. Advice and information is sought after to aid a customer in decision making and a customer will always look to their consultant for the answers. These answers come from motivation and hard work by a consultant’s experience. The goal of a consultant is to help their customer’s to fulfill challenges and to accept new ideas in the company or organization which will benefit the company is some way. Yet with trying to change views of the customer comes many questions, which the customer will look to the consultant for answers and guidance through the journey of growth. All customers want an employee that is an expert in his or her chosen field, and this also applies to consulting. A customer wants a consultant that is an expert and can answer questions or face any problems that may be encountered.

These aspects of a consulting career may seem dreadful, yet the rewards of being a consultant are worth the long nights and chaotic days. Being a consultant is a great way to build not only your resume but your personal skills. Consulting increases skills in networking, being able to work in a team, and leadership. Offering quality service to customers leads to referrals, and therefore networking as a consultant leads to amazing job opportunities and a chance to continue to learn ways of perfecting one’s skills. Not only are the financial earnings of consulting great, but the experience is also beneficial to a consultant and always leads to personal growth.

Team Building Consultant – Consultant, Trainer And Facilitator

Team Building consultants generally use three overlapping, but distinct roles. Each of the roles mentioned below keeps the learning and Team training meaningful, self-reflective, team-reflective, and most importantly fun!

The overlapping of roles are best summarized in the explanation below:

o Consultant. In this role, he establishes and maintains contact with the client, jointly assesses the client’s situation, elicits information, designs programs, serves as confidant and adviser to the primary client contact.

o Trainer. In this role, he sets the tone of the training, then communicates, educates and improvises as he orchestrates and delivers the content through a sequence of activities and facilitated group discussion

o Facilitator. In this role, he leads the debriefings [processing], engaging and challenging participants to dig for deeper meaning, mediating disagreements and pushing for ever-greater clarity and understanding.

Each of these roles is inter-dependent upon each other. For example if the training lacks the full “buy-in” or approval of the primary client contact, (usually Human Resources, a Team Leader, or a Supervisor in some capacity), the program will fail to reach a higher level of success and fail to have a long term effect on the team and the participants within the team.

It is imperative that a discussion takes place between the Team Building Consultant and the client contact. All parties need to reach an agreement on how the program will progress, what objectives and goals are going to be reached as well as how to follow up the Team training program. What if the client contact is unclear about what objectives and goals to be reached? That is where the Team Building Consultant should meet, process and enable the client contact to better see and understand what it is that really needs to be addressed in the training session. If the Team Building Consultant can not facilitate a discussion to lead to clarity on goals and objectives both parties, the consultant and the client, should agree to go elsewhere.

Additionally during the training new evidence of inter-behavioral barriers may present themselves and the program takes an unexpected turn. This is when the true test of a trainer’s ability becomes evident. Does the trainer choose to stay the course and work on the pre-defined objectives? Does the trainer choose to go in a different direction and follow what has just arisen? Does the trainer have the skills, knowledge and abilities to in a synergistic fashion meld both together? Experienced Team Building Consultants have been in all three situations and the answer really is “YES”. It all depends on the situation at hand. That is why when choosing a team building consultant or team building company an organization must research and feel comfortable with the qualifications of the facilitator.

Some questions to ask team building companies are as simple as, who are your facilitators? Can you tell me an example of a program you have lead that is like our situation? Can you supply me with a list of sample questions you ask during the debrief [processing]? Give us a specific example of a program you have created that was a success? A failure? Can you provide my organization with a written proposal or agenda of what will be accomplished during our team training?

An effective team building consultant has the ability to move seamlessly through the consultant; trainer; and facilitator role. This comes from experience and Team Building consultants who are well educated and trained, in several fields. Choose the right consultant and always ask for and check references.