Small-Scale Sustainability

LEED guidelines are a great measuring tool of a building’s performance. The process is rewarding but can be time consuming, expensive, and therefore, difficult to incorporate into a smaller scale project. Where does that leave the numerous smaller scale renovations that take place every day?

As architects and designers we are uniquely able to incorporate sustainable strategies into all of our projects, regardless of whether or not the project will be filed to achieve third-party certification. Sustainable strategies can be incorporated into any project through passive strategies, mechanical systems, and finish and furniture selection. The renovation by Peter Johnston Architect PC (PJA) of the Veterans Center underway at William Paterson University (WPU) in Wayne, NJ, is a case study in how to incorporate these universally applicable sustainable strategies into a progressive design solution.

The program includes 1,100 sq. ft. within an existing building, which must house an office, lounge area, entry vestibule, and call center. The space is being completely renovated, including mechanical and electrical systems.

Seeing the Light

Passive sustainable strategies include natural daylighting and ventilation. The entire south wall of the WPU Veterans Center is windowed; while beneficial in the winter, bringing natural light and warmth during the colder months, the window wall allows an unwanted amount of glare and heat gain in the summer. Operable shades will be installed to allow natural light to filter in while controlling unwanted heat gain. The installation of the shades will dramatically reduce the cooling load during the summer months and allow heat gain during the winter months, saving energy year round. Comprised of operable windows, the south wall will allow users to regulate passive cooling on temperate days. The introduction of outside air also creates a healthier environment by replacing stale air with fresh, allowing for additional air exchange during the day.

Careful selection of lighting fixtures and energy management controls will streamline the mechanical and electrical systems in the WPU Veterans Center. Light fixtures with both uplight and downlight components provide less eye strain for the user. In addition to being fluorescent, therefore reducing the cooling load, the fixtures will be carefully zoned based on the user groups’ needs, so only needed fixtures are operated at any given time.

Designed for Comfort

Energy management controls — such as programmable thermostats — will be installed to regulate energy requirements during the day. An energy-efficient HVAC unit was installed directly in the space in lieu of taking air from an older, less efficient unit placed far enough away to require reheating and cooling.

Material selection is, of course, vital to the sustainability of any project. Finishes that utilize recycled content, have low VOC off-gassing properties, carry a third-party certification relevant to the product category, and are locally sourced are the ideal.

At the WPU Veterans Center, PJA selected finishes that contribute sustainable attributes to the project, including:

  • Carpet that carries the CRI Green Label Plus certification, and is made in part of recycled content;
  • rubber flooring made largely of recycled content;
  • low-VOC paint to be applied to walls and ceiling; and
  • Kirei board, fabricated from sunflower seeds, will be used at the exterior walls of the office, creating a central focal element in the space.

Attention paid to furniture is also important; all upholstery fabrics will contain recycled polyester or high wool content, and carry a third-party certification.

It is up to us as industry professionals to incorporate sustainable strategies into all of our projects, regardless of size or if LEED certification is being sought. We must also educate our clients on the benefits of green design; the spaces that we create shape the way we live our lives, and it is our responsibility to create sustainable projects, big or small. 

Peter Johnston, RA, is the principal in Peter Johnston Architect, PC. Laura Nemerson is an interior designer and sustainability specialist at the firm’s Hoboken, NJ, office. Peter Johnston Architect, PC is a full-service architecture and design firm specializing in sustainable solutions in higher education.


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