(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 339: A Compass for Sustainability
This week we’re joined by Mark Perepelitza, Director of Sustainability at SERA Architects. Mark chats with us about the meaning of sustainability, the company’s sustainability action plan, and their colorful project compass.
For the full unedited transcript, click below:
Jeff Wood (1m 26s):
Well, mark, Perepelitza welcome to the Talking Headways podcast.
Mark Perepelitza (1m 53s):
Yes. Hi Jeff. Thanks so much for having me
Jeff Wood (1m 55s):
Well, thanks for joining us before we get started. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Mark Perepelitza (1m 58s):
Yeah, sure. So I’m the Director of Sustainability at SERA Architects in Portland, Oregon. And I’ve been living in working in Portland for almost 30 years. The last nine years I’ve been here at Sarah and I’m an architect. I love making buildings and have a great appreciation for a cities and neighborhoods. So I really love Portland. I have to say, obviously this past year has been a rough year for, I mean, globally and especially I think at an urban areas. I mean, it’s really been a struggle and you know, Portland’s got a lot of press or not very good press on the last year or so. I’m really eager to see us, you know, hopefully make changes and improvements and come back, you know, a stronger and better than ever.
Mark Perepelitza (2m 44s):
I’ve been mostly working from home, I’m down at the office today. And I have to say, I just, I love so much walking around the city and, you know, grabbing coffee and lunch and just seeing things. It, it definitely puts you face-to-face with the issues and problems, you know, I think really healthy. Yeah. Yeah. So
Jeff Wood (3m 2s):
Have you been going back to the office more frequently now or like, you know, how’s that been treating
Mark Perepelitza (3m 5s):
You? It’s been very infrequent so far. So I would say it’s so far, it’s only been once or twice a month. Our policy is evolving. I think it’s going to be a very flexible throughout the summer. So people will get together for meetings as needed and as the need for technology. But I think we will fall into more of a regular pattern in the autumn, but I think I may come back a lot more regularly starting in July.
Jeff Wood (3m 30s):
That makes sense. You know, there’s been a lot of discussion over, you know, whether a remote work is more beneficial or a weather or working in the office is more beneficial. I think they both have their pros and cons, but I’m curious like what your office kind of is floating towards. You mentioned kind of going back to that previous, you know, pre pandemic kind of situation, but how has working outside of an office worked for you all
Mark Perepelitza (3m 51s):
Remarkably? Well, I think that, you know, we do a lot of video conferencing, distance communication already with clients and consultant teams, but it’s so valuable to be face-to-face and to cultivate relationships and all that sort of nonverbal communication that happens when meeting in person. So I really hated the phrase, the new normal when people were using a, during the pandemic year, because it’s just like, no, don’t, this is not any, this is not normal. I mean, we really don’t want this to become normal, but it truly, we will evolve, I think, into a new normal post pandemic, as we figure out the right balance of like making the best of flexible work options, you know, that’s beneficial for families and for individuals that need to be in various locations.
Mark Perepelitza (4m 35s):
So we will fall into some pattern. I think it will be somewhat like before, but definitely there will certainly be more flexibility and more remote working happening. Yeah. That makes sense.
Jeff Wood (4m 47s):
How did you get into architecture? Was it something that you kind of fell into when you you’re a kid that’s like, this is what I want to do, or was it something that came about later on? Oh yeah, that’s
Mark Perepelitza (4m 56s):
An interesting question. And I’ll try not to go too long on the answer to this because I did not, as long as he was a, it is not something that I always dreamed of doing. And I think that it was interesting because I actually started as an art student in college and I was very interested in design, not so much fine art, but I was interested in doing design and maybe commercial art, but as I got into it for a number of reasons, I shifted to engineering. Cause there was a part of my sort of brain that was not being as utilized as I wanted too. I did not want it to be an engineer or the school I was at had a very good engineering program. And I, at some point realized like, oh, maybe architecture, that might be a nice combination of art and engineering, but I have to say the one thing that’s, I think really interesting and exciting about it is because I didn’t sort of dream and think about this as growing up when I did start architecture school, the whole notion of spacial quality and seen the world as not just objects, but spaces, negative spaces, three-dimensional negative spaces and not just interior rooms, but exterior rooms.
Mark Perepelitza (6m 5s):
It was just, it was mind blowing. It was such a, a, a Tiffany. And I think even to this day, I, I really love, you know, hiking in canyons or being out in natural spaces that have this great spacial quality and also the urban spaces. We have some good examples in American cities, obviously in other parts of the world, even stronger examples of beautiful urban spaces.
Jeff Wood (6m 26s):
I just read a piece in the dirt, the American, I think it’s the American landscape architects have a blog called the dirt. And they’re talking about kind of the mental and physical kind of health benefits of urban spaces if they’re a design correctly. And then also the negative aspects of the, if they’re not designed correctly, I imagine that kind of feeds into that discussion of negative space and the spatial quality of places and even nature. If nature feels like a place that’s comfortable, that’s kind of soothing than a place that can be designed like that would maybe have the same qualities for humans.
Mark Perepelitza (6m 55s):
Yeah, no, I, I definitely agree. There are things about scale and materials, but also threat and a sense of being secure or not secure, which can happen in either place. So yeah, it’s, it’s super fascinating. I have not gone too deeply into this as like a formal study, but it’s just kind of more of a passion that kind of runs through. And I think as an architect, kind of seeing the world through those eyes and also just sharing that with people, right. I’ve really enjoyed. Yeah.
Jeff Wood (7m 23s):
And then the other piece of the article was that they found that building’s with kind of more or facial qualities attract people too, which I found was really fascinating, like things that are kind of more anthropomorphic and to leave people at ease. Cause they were doing kind of a brain scan with people as they are walking down the street. And so you mentioned threats, what’s threatening what feels uneasy, but then also what feels familiar, what feels good and makes people happy. So I thought that was really fascinating and fun. It’s always fun to rethink the way that you look at your built investment.
Mark Perepelitza (7m 50s):
Yeah. They are sort of this whole realm of biophilia. That’s getting a lot of explicit attention and you know, it’s something that I think has been below the surface are in the background as humans, we have this innate need to be connected with nature. And in our firm, we’ve gone deep with this about really understanding the principles of that more clearly and, and being able to incorporate that explicitly in design. But that definitely also gets at aspects of that. Yeah.
Jeff Wood (8m 16s):
I feel like if I look out my window now I see a tree and it makes me happy. And previously there was a tree that got cut down and I was more sad. I think the connection is there. Yup. What does Sarah do? Mostly the organization that you work for the firm.
Mark Perepelitza (8m 30s):
Yeah. So we’re an architecture firm. That’s been in Portland for a little over 50 years and we are multi-disciplinary and that we have our architecture planning and interior’s, and we work in a range of market sectors that we’re organized basically in to five studios that focus on those market sectors. So we have office workspace studio, we have a housing studio that does both affordable housing and market rate. We have a public studio that does a whole range of projects in the public realm. We have a urban design and planning studio and then we have a hospitality studio that does mostly urban hotel work, both interior’s and new buildings.
Mark Perepelitza (9m 14s):
Oh, that’s cool.
Jeff Wood (9m 15s):
What does the one that you liked to focus on the most?
Mark Perepelitza (9m 18s):
Well, so my role is director of sustainability. And so I have the pleasure of touching everything. M sustainability has a really strong cultural driver at Sarah. And so obviously we have clients that come to us and explicitly wants to incorporate it into projects, but it’s something that we weave through all projects. I love working on a larger institutional projects because there are a larger scale. So they have more opportunities to, to sort of get into and do analysis, integrated design, but it’s also so important to find ways of incorporating the sustainability and make improvements to the performance of buildings, even if it has a very modest budget and aggressive schedule.
Mark Perepelitza (9m 60s):
So I love the challenge of that. And I really have to say, I do love collaborating with teams. So architecture kinda has a range from the artistic side and the collaborative teamwork side, and I really love collaborating. So that’s really how this gets done.
Jeff Wood (10m 14s):
Well, you collaborated on a big project that actually won an award. Can you tell us about the flourish project?
Mark Perepelitza (10m 18s):
Yes. So yeah, this was the competition for affordable housing or a couple of years ago in the bay area. And the intent was to be net zero housing. So we had a team of folks mostly from Sarah and then also engineers. And we kind of worked through a series of strategies to sort of use the performance goals of the project if, to becoming a net zero and by a net zero, I mean primarily energy, but also looking at a very efficient ways of using water, but at the same time, not letting the resource approach to a drive it, but thinking about the community needs and how the people would interact and use the building collectively a competition is a nice way to really kind of push and test ideas.
Mark Perepelitza (10m 60s):
If I could just add in one current project that we have on the boards, it’s a real project currently underway in San Jose. We have a 13 story mass timber project. That’s affordable housing for first community housing that we’ve been very excited about. We’ve been working with the team on that and they are lots of great aspects of it. I won’t go too deeply into that project, but there are some really great things around the performance and a minimizing climate impacts by using mass timber. And yeah, it’s just been a fantastic project. So that’s not under construction yet. It still on the board.
Jeff Wood (11m 35s):
How did you decide to do something that’s mass timber and maybe explain a little bit, I understand what a mass timber has, but maybe explain what that is that might not know. Yeah,
Mark Perepelitza (11m 43s):
Absolutely. So various forms of wood buildings have been around obviously for a very long time and heavy timber buildings is what we use to kind of refer to, you know, maybe three or four story are a smaller that we’re posting beam wood buildings. There’s been an evolution of the technology to allow mid to high rise buildings to be made out of wood and still have the same kind of safety requirements required to protect the occupants. So previously glue lams have been around for a long time where you basically have like a, to buy material that is glued up together and texted advantage of the strengths of that laminated would to make beams and columns. That technology has been expanded to make like planks that can be used for a floor of a structure that can be used for lateral Dodes.
Mark Perepelitza (12m 28s):
And that’s part of what allows the high rise construction. And one of the aspects of it that we’re really excited about is that wood construction, if it’s sustainably, harvested in particular can really have a huge reduction in the embodied carbon or the climate impacts. So in this case, I think the project overall is somewhere around 30 to 40% lower climate impact and body carbon impact, then a comparable, a steel building would have been, yeah, and
Jeff Wood (12m 55s):
Previously the standards for going high with wood buildings was like, you put the podium down on a concrete podium and that you can get it to like four, maybe five stories or so, and now you can do 13 stories, like you said, in some places I think, or even planning on going to twenty-five and higher. So it’s interesting to see the evolution of the technology that allows would to be used at those Heights, especially from a safety perspective,
Mark Perepelitza (13m 16s):
Right? Yes. And it’s very new. I mean, so the whole code process, there are many aspects of this that are still it’s in such an early state that there can be delays and kind of extra time for testing and verification because obviously everybody wants to make sure that it’s done right. And that there are all the factors of safety and testing that’s occurring to assure that, but it is exciting.
Jeff Wood (13m 38s):
Yeah. That’s awesome. So I know this is kind of a basic question for you, but I, I think the word sustainability kind of gets thrown around a lot. What does it mean to you?
Mark Perepelitza (13m 46s):
Well, yeah, I mean, to me personally, in to us as a farm, we really use it broadly and some people prefer other words, but it means to sustain or to kind of allow and cultivate life. So we take this broad view of sustainability. Some people like the terms restorative or regenerative design, which is fantastic. There have been some specific definitions on those that get a little more complicated. I actually still do prefer the word kind of sustainability as the overall term, but we like to think of it in kind of generally three broad categories. So there’s sort of a resource used side of it. There is the human health and wellbeing side of it. And then there’s a whole set of things that are much more place.
Mark Perepelitza (14m 28s):
And community-based, so there’s kind of a whole universe of things that fall under sustainability. So yeah, I don’t know if that’s a sufficient definition. It’s a such a huge topic is. And
Jeff Wood (14m 41s):
I think sometimes we, we lose track of what a word means. It comes to light in a certain way to be used and a certain way when it first begins, you know, coming up the charts in terms of its almost like a baby name, right? Like it’s starts to getting to use a little bit and then it blows up and then people aren’t sure where it came from are wet of what it’s four, but it seems like, you know, you all put together your sustainability action plan. And one of the things that I noticed from that, as you mentioned, the three guiding principles, you know, the people focus, the resources and climate focused and the sustainable placemaking focus. I’m wondering what the process was like to get to those principles and discuss that kind of overall sustainability. And that that’s kind of what I had to do to find it first, because I want to talk about kind of how you get to this place where you can actually break it down into its key components.
Mark Perepelitza (15m 25s):
, you know, there is not a clear and simple story to it. Honestly, it’s very messy. So there’s a lot of drive around energy efficiency and needs to minimize energy use for a number of reasons. Climate impacts is a big one, but also resource depletion. Another one. So there’ve been, I think a lot of different things that have been happening in different realms in these areas. And so I think in some ways it’s been a deliberate effort by us to try and take all this noise from all these things that we’re doing that are either being explicitly requested or we realized just from being, you know, the, the citizens of the world, that these things are really important.
Mark Perepelitza (16m 6s):
So kind of how do we collect and understand and organize and then communicate those, I mean, within our teams, but obviously especially with clients and with the public. So I think it’s been a iterative process to move towards kind of a framework to understand them.
Jeff Wood (16m 24s):
What do you think that clients or going forward? I mean, sustainability people generally want to be sustainable and that could be fiscal sustainability. That could be environmental sustainability. There’s many other definitions of it. But I guess one of the other questions I have is like, what are the goals? Is everybody trying to reduce their carbon footprint? Because they believe that we’re on the verge of going too high in our, and our CO2 emissions and the parts per million count is it because they want to save money and R some clients I’m guessing that there’s a lot of clients that probably wouldn’t even hire you all because they don’t believe in that some specific idea. So where are the target goals to get out of a project and reach those underlying sustainability goals that may be a morphous, but might be maybe in some instances very clear.
Mark Perepelitza (17m 7s):
Yes. Yep. Well, and they do very, quite a bit. So I mean, certainly energy efficiency and money savings is important, but honestly, overall energy is relatively cheap in the us and many ways. And so in most cases, I mean that matters, but it’s a little less of a driver than other things. I think the very biggest driver, whether or not it’s explicit or not now we’ve had many workplace clients from the occupant experience and health and well-being is a very explicit driver, but whether a client comes to us and says that explicitly or not, we know if you want an apartment building or an office building or whatever you want, you’re going to need environments.
Mark Perepelitza (17m 49s):
People love to be in and makes them feel healthy and well. Right. So I would have to say the human aspects or always the top drivers, whether or not that’s explicitly stated or not, but sometimes clients come to us saying sustainability and they come with different needs or demands or issues. So we do often need to try and sort that out to really understand which of those things are the biggest top priorities for them.
Jeff Wood (18m 16s):
Is there a kind of a weird demand from a sustainability perspective, something that you’re like, oh, I didn’t really think about that. Or, or, or that’s kind of a strange, have you ever had something like that? Well, yeah, maybe that’s a naming names. I don’t know. Yeah.
Mark Perepelitza (18m 30s):
It’s a little tricky, but I mean, there, there definitely are times where someone comes to us and they have a very narrow and specific thing that they think is super important. I would say in general or a client will come to us with a narrow set of concerns or issues and we always broaden it and we broaden it sometimes very explicitly with them because they’re interested in, we will go there with us or other times it’s more, a little more behind the scenes and often, you know, some hybrid in between, but there was one specific case where we had a workplace client who had incredibly high needs demands on air quality, like having super good air quality was really, really important to this client.
Mark Perepelitza (19m 12s):
But as we talked more realize, well, the client was to talking about a, a cue interior air quality, but really what mattered most to that client was the overall health and wellbeing. And so within a few months, it quickly expanded from this very narrow focused to a much broader focus on I E and you know, interior environmental quality, which is kind of includes air quality, but also includes thermal comfort and the acoustics and biophilia and light quality and kind of a much broader range of environmental interior conditions. Have
Jeff Wood (19m 48s):
Clients become more sophisticated on that count and trying to make their spaces more healthy? I feel like the discussion’s only ramped up over the last decade or so. I mean, that’s what I’ve noticed it, but it might’ve been before that. I mean, we, we talked about, you know, the built environment and public health when I was in grad school, you know, 20 years ago, ish. So there might be more that come after that, but it feels like it didn’t really ramp up until maybe somewhat recently.
Mark Perepelitza (20m 12s):
Yeah. I think that’s definitely true. There was this issue with sick buildings, right. So probably back at the time of year or grad school even before then, and certainly we’ve gone well beyond, I mean, that’s still an issue, but in the last 10 years, I think there has been a lot more focus on it. We definitely see it the most explicitly addressed in the office workspace studio, because I mean, we’re doing a lot of work for a high-tech client’s and they’re competing fairly aggressively for employees and they want to make sure they’re creating environments that are really comfortable and productive, but also that their employees want to work in. And so they’re kind of looking at, you know, it’s an amenity, but it’s a wholistic approach to creating that environment.
Mark Perepelitza (20m 55s):
And so I think that’s definitely the sector where we see it most explicitly. I mean, certainly you get it though say in hospitality because of course guest experiences as the driver there, or that you really want to think about it, but it’s a much more transient world there because someone’s coming and staying for a day or two and the moon.
Jeff Wood (21m 12s):
Yeah. It’s just been really fascinating to see that pop up. And I think it’s really important, but it’s interesting that you mentioned that the hospitality has been kind of more keen, I guess, than previously. I mean, guessing it evens out now, but before it might’ve been something that they focused on.
Mark Perepelitza (21m 25s):
Right. I do want to say one other thing to about it is financially because salaries or such a huge part of a budget of any company that even though there’s energy costs, those energy costs are so much smaller than the human, you know, salaries for people, or if it’s like, yes, a your hotel or are, you know, whatever. So the human sorta health and well-being and experiential side of it has a strong relationship too, sort of a successful buildings that are tied to business success generally. Yeah. Huh. Interesting.
Jeff Wood (21m 57s):
Well, the other thing I want to ask you about is you’re a project compass and this is something you put together that was part of, I think, a part of the sustainability action planning. I’m curious, you know, we’ve been seeing a lot of colored pinwheels out there for sustainability health. And even the idea we talked about a little bit recently on our podcast, which was the doughnut economics. I don’t know if you’ve seen, but Kate Raworth and they all have these pinwheels have color. And I even printed yours out in and put it in the front of me because I just was interested in, and I want it to be in front of me and facing me, but what makes these really intense color, coded pinwheels the best way to kind of convey project sustainability?
Mark Perepelitza (22m 34s):
Yeah, that’s good. It’s really, as I was saying earlier, we have this really complicated and sometimes Messi set of topics that are just trying to get, we are trying to get our heads around so that we can think of and communicate clearly about it. So by trying to organize it around sort of this circular diagram, it kind of helps convey and we can, and we can show graphically how these are interrelated, but we can also kind of just show, okay, here are these sets of topics. So we divided into three portions. As I mentioned earlier, the resource management of health and wellbeing and sustainable placemaking and community, those three categories, which are then further broken down. And then within that, we can kind of show how code’s or a market rate buildings might approach it versus a highly aspirational so that we can use this two dimensional, a holistic diagram to show that in these different categories, there are definitely some weaknesses to it.
Mark Perepelitza (23m 30s):
And maybe I shouldn’t jump to the weaknesses quite so. Sure. So
Jeff Wood (23m 33s):
We’ll talk about all of it. So feel free to go in, but we’ve tried
Mark Perepelitza (23m 37s):
To represent everything holistically, but we have not tried to scale it. So for instance, out of this whole circle, which is made up of all tiny wedges, I actually haven’t counted them, but there’s probably whatever 40 of them. We have two of them that actually have to do with climate impacts. But if you, if you asked me how big of deal are climate impacts relative to other sustainability issues, I would probably say, you know, it’s probably like, I don’t know, 70% of the PR, I mean, it’s huge. It’s like really, really big, definitely a way over a half. So this is not trying to scale how important each topic is. This is just, you know, get it all out on the table to get the whole deck on the table so we can see it. Then we can start talking about what’s most important for each project.
Jeff Wood (24m 20s):
Well, you know what, it’s really good because one of the things I do with my newsletter that I do every day for folks is that I do a number of different topic areas. We do transportation, urban design or urban issues, the environment, as it pertains to city’s, we do research, we cover all of these topic areas and I’ve been asked before to do just the transportation or just an urban issues newsletter, but I don’t really want to, because I think everything is so interconnected that it’s so important to have everybody looking at all of the same thing’s. And so I feel like these pinwheels, I, I like to call on pinwheels for some reason, but these can wheels that people will keep creating, I think are very valuable from a topology standpoint, because they show you all of the different topics that are important when you’re doing these types of projects.
Jeff Wood (25m 2s):
I mean, you have on the outside, I mean, you have financial and material, health, happiness, knowledge, equity, community, ecology, water, energy, and then on the inside, you mentioned 40 or so different other topics that go into each of those. And I think that when people come to your office and they’re say, well, I want it to be sustainable and you can pull out this pinwheel and say, well, what do you mean sustainable? I think that’s a really important thing to kind of break out when people, maybe they don’t know all the topic areas because their focus is on their business and you can kind of help them explain it. And I think that’s, that’s fascinating to
Mark Perepelitza (25m 35s):
Me. Yeah, yeah, no, that’s exactly at, and we, we use this in different ways. We’ll do exercises where we will have people dot vode and they get to put three dots into different wedges on here, or we’ll mark it up. There’s all kinds of different ways that we kind of come in and we usually end up with some kind of messy diagram. And the center of that are showing all of these different topics.
Jeff Wood (25m 57s):
What’s been the response from folks to have looked through it or do too many people get a chance to look at it and go through and say, oh, I want more of this. Or I want less of that. It’s been
Mark Perepelitza (26m 6s):
Very effective. We have a few clients who may be, they kind of have a clear idea of what they want and they might have their own approaches to things. And so we wouldn’t necessarily use it with every client, but for most projects where we have brought it out and done a workshop or a charrette with it, it’s been an extremely effective way of just getting the topic out there and drawing them into the process because we don’t want to tell them how they should do their project and how to make it sustainable. We need to start every project by listening and by hearing what matters to them. And this just kind of gives a framework to sort of help foster that communication. So it’s been super effective in that sense.
Jeff Wood (26m 48s):
Do you have a favorite wedge? Do I
Mark Perepelitza (26m 50s):
Have a favorite wedge? A well there’s this whole Category of wedges they’re called happiness. So how could I not like that? And biophilia, there are some great ones in here, but I’m actually often sort of perplexed by the challenges of how accurate it is or how to make it like to think about it. And one of the new things I’ve realized lately is that how should we really represent equity and resilience on here right now we show some wedges under equity category, but I actually think it’s probably better to think of that as maybe a third dimension. So in all of these broad areas, equity and resilience, both are really important.
Mark Perepelitza (27m 34s):
So if we’re talking about health and wellbeing, well, you know, looking at those through the equity lens is super important or resources, you know, or a community in place. And so I think there are some ways where we have to be careful not to let the compass or a pinwheel as you like a completely drive the conversation, or this is a vehicle, a framework for discussion. And then to sort of think beyond it, or use it as a springboard to try and more holistically communicate about the topics. They just,
Jeff Wood (28m 4s):
You know, you call it the compass and I feel bad. I don’t want you to dismiss the language. But then I thought about when you’re talking about equity, cause we, we do have this problem with putting things in silos and trying to separate them out. So equity really shouldn’t be separated. And we’ve talked about that a number of times on the show, but I immediately went to the pinwheel idea of like, you know, when you blow on a pinwheel, it kind of spins. And so blowing inequity, it kind of starts to spin and it kind of maybe activates everything that might be a good way of looking at it. But yeah, that’s just my kind of a overactive imagination.
Mark Perepelitza (28m 34s):
I like it. That’s good.
Jeff Wood (28m 37s):
When you first started thinking about the compass, how did you start to kind of develop the framing of putting it together and making sure that everything was involved and how hard was it to come up with all the topic areas. And, and I imagine there’s probably some topic areas that are missing still, even after. And you talked about this, but you probably thought about it over and over again. And it’s something that kind of gets rehashed because it’s probably an ever evolving project.
Mark Perepelitza (28m 59s):
Exactly. And we have blank versions of this compass that we use a certain cases to allow us the flexibility of changing the title’s. We have a version that we’ve done recently where instead of the three primary categories, we ended up with a fourth category working with a native American group where they had a bunch of tribal viewpoints around spirituality that we realized should really be represented in here. So it gets used and a bunch of different ways. The evolution of this is actually kind of interesting. So at Serra, we have two different sustainability groups. We have one professional team that I run, that we hire a staff members to help support sustainable project work and pursue work.
Mark Perepelitza (29m 42s):
But we also have a voluntary group where anybody in the office who’s interested can participate and that sustainable action committee also takes on initiatives. And so it’s pretty wide open. And this actually came out as an initiative from that sustainable action committee, not actually so much from the so-called professional group, which we call our sustainable resources group. I mean, these two groups have worked pretty closely together in, there are a lot of overlap in terms of individuals, but it started from our, we have an annual sustainability action celebration. And one year our theme actually was on resilience and we had created a graphic to study resilience. And we had used this round circular diagram with the three broad categories.
Mark Perepelitza (30m 26s):
And one of the team members from the action committee said, wow, that’s really interesting. It seems like we could go further with that in part, because sometimes we get really hung up on certification programs and they can become a little too much of a box checking exercise, where there are a lot of categories and very explicit requirements. And so sometimes people get bogged down or just like want nothing to do with them because they’re frustrated by them. So this was kind of a way of saying, okay, let’s ignore all of the certifications for right now. Let’s just look at the broader categories, the bigger ideas behind them and talk about regardless of whether or not a project is going to pursue certification or not, all this stuff is still relevant.
Mark Perepelitza (31m 9s):
So let’s create this tool. So it evolved from that group. And I definitely have to give them credit.
Jeff Wood (31m 15s):
That’s a good point about the certification systems. I mean, we have lead well, Fitwell a zero carbon to those certification systems kind of get in the way sometimes of doing good projects. It feels like there’s so many of them. And then also, you know, from my experience with kind of watching Lita and D specifically, it leaves out things like transportation that really frustrate people like me. So, you know, it seems like all of the certification systems are good and that they give people targets, but then also they might be a little bit onerous.
Mark Perepelitza (31m 44s):
Yeah. So overall I love them. I think they’re great, but they’re limited. And I think we have to just understand them for what they are and what they provide. And I sometimes see articles, you know, like in the New York times or in, you know, a major press, like really being super critical of lead in particular for say not having high enough, standard’s on energy. And you know, that could be a very valid argument, but it’s ignoring everything else that that certification is doing. But even with the broad range of different things, they’re doing, they’re not doing everything. So you sort of have to understand them and their limitations. I think they can be valuable for many projects, not all projects, because if they align and you can use them to actually document and to verify, third-party verify that certain strategies are being committed to and being pursued.
Mark Perepelitza (32m 39s):
The thing I hate the most is the so-called lead equivalent project or a sort of certification equivalent because typically someone wants to say, well, are building is equivalent to this, but they haven’t actually gone through the rigor of actually specifying those systems and materials that would make it equivalent. I have that on occasion said, okay, if you say equivalent, I’m going to write it in the spec exactly the same way as I would, if it were a lead project, is that what you want? And if you do a great, it’ll be equivalent, if you don’t want it, let’s not use that term.
Jeff Wood (33m 12s):
It reminds me of M I’m a big star wars fan. And, and there’s always kind of these jokes about star wars toys and like the Turkish version of the toy. And so you have like a toy in a box and it says, you know, a star master or, or whatever, and it’s supposed to be Luke Skywalker, but it’s not it’s equivalent, I guess, but not really, right. It’s not a complete you’re looking for, but it’s the first thing. And the kid in my mind. Yeah,
Mark Perepelitza (33m 34s):
No, the certifications are great, but they have their place. And actually, I think the combination of like this compass helps us to have the bigger picture question or a dialogue first, and then we’ve actually created quite recently, another version of this where we actually try and overlay the certifications on this. And you get a very interesting, but very complicated pattern then of like, and you realized like, oh yeah, no, the lead does not do, you know, there’s a bunch of stuff that lead doesn’t do or, well, building certification is fantastic for health and wellbeing obviously, but it, it’s not even trying to do the resource side of things. And so, you know, it’s a healthy dialogue to have with a team, with a client to say, you know, what matters to you and how do we want to track and document it?
Mark Perepelitza (34m 18s):
And if the certification is a thing great, if not, that’s fine. I mean, it’s, you know, you can make great buildings without certification that’s for sure. That’s for sure.
Jeff Wood (34m 26s):
He has the pandemic changed the way that you look at the health and wellness sections, the importance.
Mark Perepelitza (34m 31s):
Yeah. I mean the, the, the way we think about with an airborne pandemic, it’s, you know, kind of a crazy year and one of really valuing and treasuring and the outdoors. And by that, I don’t mean hiking on trails. I mean, you know, eating outdoors, sitting on doors, trying to socialize outdoors when it’s 45 degrees and how much you can bundle up and be out there because that, I mean, we need that high air flow. So there has been a lot of sort of direct design strategies that people are thinking about of like creating more outdoor space that could, you know, provide opportunities for that or more use of natural ventilation to support that.
Mark Perepelitza (35m 12s):
The problem with resilience though, is that you can get multiple disruptions at the same time. So just like we did here in the west, I think both in, in the Portland area, as well as a down in the bay area where we had forest fires last summer. So here we’re relishing being outdoors on all of a sudden the air quality is so horrible. It’s a very unhealthy to be outdoors. So these are good questions for us to discuss with our clients. There is definitely not a simple cost-effective solution are answer to that. There are systems filtration or increased airflow, you know, that there are ways to address them. I think the best we can usually do is just to come up with a good, clear set of questions and then a roadmap to try and understand the priorities and then maybe to design flexible solutions.
Jeff Wood (36m 3s):
That makes a lot of sense. I had another question about kind of general nature and environment preservation. One of the things I was wondering, but recently on the show, and I think this was with Ben Holland, have the Rocky Mount Institute a couple of weeks ago was the impact of preserving field’s and Forest’s and green infrastructure for a filtration for a water. And those types of things. We haven’t had a listener ask last week about the cost and benefits and the positive and negatives of urban stream restoration and those types of things. And this is a little bit of architecture, but a little bit of a natural resource management, where does resource management fit into the system? And how does that make a difference overall, when you’re designing a place,
Mark Perepelitza (36m 38s):
I want to give you a narrow answer to this question, but I think you’re getting at something that’s a broader and Richard, but I think that this narrow one is super important. So let me give you this answer, then we can maybe expand it. I like the specificity, there’s a gist. I don’t think I’m going off into too much of a tangent. So there is a huge opportunity for us. We’re realizing that embodied carbon plays a really, really a significant role in terms of the climate impacts of the work that we do. So in the short term, like looking at a 10 year timeframe in which we know, you know, what’s happening in terms of greenhouse gases, a super critical, so operational energy use to run buildings is important, but in the short term, making buildings is releasing all kinds of greenhouse gases.
Mark Perepelitza (37m 25s):
And that’s this huge one-time hit. That all happens at once, like leading up to and at the time of construction. So if there are a viable buildings, whether they’re a beautiful historic buildings, or even like old dogs, they can get renovated that have a decent bones that we can make in to beautiful buildings that has a huge embodied carbon benefit of a climate impact benefit. That, I mean, often honestly the structure is typically around 50% of the whole climate impact of the building of not operational, but just to have the building itself. And so if we can do an adaptive reuse of a project, that’s a major win write off the bat.
Mark Perepelitza (38m 6s):
And we have examples of that. We have a really great Edith green window, why the federal office building that was done a few years ago, we just recently did the embodied carbon analysis of that to see how that actually played out. In that case, it was a 53% benefit compared to if the U S government had decided to, to build a new office building instead. So I’m sorry. That was a very narrow climate impact.
Jeff Wood (38m 30s):
Well, no, that tucks, the, the life cycle costs write of overall of putting everything together, which I think more people are to talk about.
Mark Perepelitza (38m 36s):
Yeah, there are obviously also a cultural benefits to sort of preserving and taking the fabric of the city and finding new uses for it. In some cases, maybe something so important. We want to preserve it as is. In other cases, we’re going to adapt and completely remake it, but there are definitely multiple benefits to it. But anyway, I wanted to just go deep on that.
Jeff Wood (38m 58s):
No, that makes a lot of sense, especially from a building perspective where we were talking about how much a new building will need, especially on the west coast. I mean, it’s, it’s all the way throughout the country of housing crisis. That’s a, a, an important piece to talk about because if we’re going to be building new homes in a new buildings, that’s a, a, a serious hit to the, you know, the carbon footprint, right. And, and the life cycle costs of that rather, or, you know, building new places verses, you know, renovating older place’s, or maybe even taking larger older places and breaking them up into smaller units, that might be actually a beneficial way to go about it. I know that the household size is shrinking, so we have that to discussion going on as well. So there’s all of these things that kind of interact together to make that a reality. But I guess my question mainly was just thinking about the natural environment and kind of that resource management outside of the building envelope and how important that is a right to this whole discussion.
Jeff Wood (39m 47s):
Mark Perepelitza (39m 49s):
Yeah. I mean, the ecology of the places that we work is really important, and there are a lot of opportunities for us to improve habitat, to think about the way we do landscaping around buildings may be on buildings. One of the things that we always have to manage is dealing with the water that falls on a site, you know, refer to a stormwater management, but there are a lot of strategies for it that actually meet code requirements that, or that can be very beautiful. It can be a Manatee and provide sort of that biophilic benefit to the users and potentially it can also provide habitat. So, I mean, we can get sort of a synergy that is sitting in three things.
Mark Perepelitza (40m 29s):
I mean, that’s fantastic. It’s not always that good, but thinking carefully about are places is really important. And we do tend to primarily focus our work on urban environments and sites that have been previously developed. They’re very limited. I mean, we are very cautious about Greenfield sites about, you know, taking places that have not been developed and building new on them. Yeah. But
Jeff Wood (40m 55s):
There’s a lot of opportunity for infill. I feel like to kind of a restorative environments and things like that. I mean, there’s space, obviously the stormwater or requirements and a place that says, you know, rainy as Portland, obviously there’s going to be that issue. So I just think it’s a, it’s an interesting connection because I feel like, you know, we talk about the built environment a lot, but there are these kind of embodied, you know, benefits for preserving nature or even building nature and to projects. Yes. Natural environments. Yep. Absolutely. And then one of my last questions here, and, and I think we talked about it a little bit over e-mail, it’s a, it’s something that I’ve been really interested in. One of the big news stories for me lately was the private international code council has stripped a local government officials voting rights for the energy codes and the future apparently much like the M U T C D.
Jeff Wood (41m 37s):
I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to that discussion. That’s been going on the manual on uniform traffic control devices with my audience has listened to us blather on about it for a number of episodes. Local government officials basically don’t have as much say as this council, ’cause basically the ICC, like the M U T C D is kind of enshrined. And a lot of state law. It says, you know, you have to follow this guidebook. That’s made up by this random group of people that they don’t answer to or elected officials per se. So I guess in 2019, after seeing about a 1% change in efficiency and the, in the building code, a whole bunch of city officials signed up for that for the ICC after realizing they could vote in the process. And then this made the national association of home builders mad.
Jeff Wood (42m 17s):
This made the American gas association, Matt, and they tried to get them to not vote anymore on this thing. So I’m wondering how much you read about this code process from like a building standpoint, what that kind of that 14% that the elected officials wanted, the government officials wanted versus a 1% change. What does that mean for like sustainable building, a practice going forward? And the claim that it’s more expensive to do these changes from these, you know, professional groups for the home builders and for the gas folks. Does that make any sense to you that it would be so prohibitively expensive, that it doesn’t make sense to make these changes? I mean, it seems, I know this, this was a huge question now, and it’s just, its, it’s a topic that really got me going.
Jeff Wood (42m 60s):
Mark Perepelitza (43m 0s):
It’s not surprising that this happened and it’s interesting, you know, the home builders, they want the least amount of regulations possible so that they have the greatest flexibility. There is something very interesting happening with energy use and with our grid. And we realized with the electricity, as our grid gets cleaner and cleaner, we still have this chunk of fossil fuels being used directly in buildings, you know, as natural gas. And so there’s been a big trend away from that to try and diminish and eventually eliminate fossil fuel use directly and buildings, but there’s of course been a lot of pushback. So I think there, you know, it seems like an important part of this is that pushback from natural gas sort of industry and supporters of wanting to make sure that that stays in the mics, the energy codes are super important because even though, you know, the sort of this range from the basic codes that must be followed from reach or a stretch codes, that there are some discretion about applying those, they’re often connected with certain incentives and then sort of completely a voluntary certification’s and standards.
Mark Perepelitza (44m 11s):
So, and we’ve been talking about like mostly this voluntary, a side of things, but when we look at our whole portfolio of work, we do and we track the energy use of it. And now the embodied carbon of it, the codes play a huge role because they say here’s the floor it’s like everybody has to perform at at least this level. So even every percentage are the two of improvement is huge. And so a really, really important. And I think that there’s been this recognition that the rate needs to continue improving on energy performance and that there’s, this need to move away from the natural gas. And I think there’s this panic or fear that the code officials, you know, the, the ICCC is going to not, well, there is a fear that they have that the code officials is there going to vote and force them into writing something to the other parts.
Mark Perepelitza (44m 59s):
Other constituents may not want now ultimately the state’s or adopting this. Right? So they have the discretion. If they don’t like what the ICC writes, they could adopt something different. Now there aren’t a lot of good complete codes out there to choose from, but there are other groups like the, the ASHRAE standards from the mechanical engineering society that actually ICCC and the code officials are choosing from. So I think that ultimately the code officials and the constituents are going to have to say on this, but it’s a really important part of the process and
Jeff Wood (45m 36s):
Have the codes ever held you all back from doing anything that is innovative and forward-thinking
Mark Perepelitza (45m 41s):
Oh yeah. I mean, definitely they definitely have, but I’m trying to think of an explicit example. So when we say codes, they’re the biggest role with the codes is like a fire and life safety of making sure that people are safe in their buildings there, or can often be things that, where you bump up against certain, you know, the definition of a high rise. Exactly. Right. So when you get to that threshold and if you have something that’s six inches higher or a foot and a half a day, you know, or whatever. So you get in to these kinds of fuzzy areas where it’s kind of becomes a little bit silly, but there has to be boundaries somewhere. Those are the most common issues that we get into, but have to do with the occupancy and that kind of thing. Yeah.
Jeff Wood (46m 21s):
I mean, I think I, I think of the international fire code and this has been a big discussion in kind of new urbanist circles, but the fire code and limits on the floor on the width of streets. Right. So if you want to build a hill town in Italy, that’s not possible because right. Or code, right. So all of these good designs that might be possible and might even be more walkable and the energy saving, we are possible ’cause of the international fire code. So I was wondering if there’s like an equivalent building code that was similar and that makes a lot of sense that there would be you come up across the street.
Mark Perepelitza (46m 50s):
Yeah. But the energy code on the other hand, I would say, you know, we actively advocate for making it more stringent. And even though we know some of our clients, aren’t going to like that, it just raises the bar for everyone. And it’s a long and arduous process to improve the energy code. But it’s just, it’s super important because that’s, that’s where the real change happens. The voluntary, the sort of approaches the certifications are valuable and pilot projects are valuable, but ultimately we really need the codes to make the changes that we need to sort of for the climate to avert the worst of the disasters.
Jeff Wood (47m 25s):
Yeah. It seems like a tough, tough sled for some of the major companies though. Like, I mean here in California, PGNE energy efficiency programs, and those things are good, but it, it always feels like there’s a, an elephant in the room of a, you know, if you implement all of these and they lose money, right. And their goal for their shareholders is to make money. So that there’s this inherent back and forth, that happens between the want to do better in terms of energy efficiency and savings versus the money-making aspects of some of these organizations like that. So that’s kind of the tension that’s involved. It seems like.
Mark Perepelitza (47m 57s):
Right. Yeah. I mean to things that are interesting and, and I think California has done a pretty good job at this is it’s super important that the profits of these private companies are decoupled from delivery of goods, right. So that they don’t just make more and more money. The more energy they sell that there are distributing energy, but it’s not just based off of quantity that the metrics, the calculus needs to be more complicated than just simply quantity. And I think California has done a pretty good job with that. And in other states to, to, to sort of create the standards for the electrical utilities, the rules in which they operate.
Mark Perepelitza (48m 37s):
The other thing that’s quite interesting is that, and I think Pacific gas and electric is, is an interesting example of this since they deliver both electricity and natural gas, I’m not sure if they care as much about that big battle between natural gas and electricity, because either way they’re delivering energy. And in fact, it’s probably cheaper and easier for them to just deliver it in one form instead of to
Jeff Wood (48m 60s):
Go. Yeah, I would imagine. I mean, it’s probably a bunch of upkeep to make sure that all the pipes working and they’ve had some big disasters too, with a natural gas explosions. And so maybe, but they’ve also had electrical problems with starting a forest fire. So they have,
Mark Perepelitza (49m 13s):
They have all kinds of problems,
Jeff Wood (49m 15s):
But yeah, I mean the, but they’ve also done a really good job of building renewables as well. So it’s, it is complicated. It is complicated. What’s the project or you’re working on right now that you’re super excited about.
Mark Perepelitza (49m 25s):
Well, you know, one that I’m excited about that’s going to affect us very directly is our own office. We are just in the process, a here in Portland of renovating the top floor of a historic building downtown. So it’s a, it’s a full block and full Portland block. So it’s 200 by 240,000 square feet and we’ll be on the upper floor of that. And so we’re basically, you know, this is to sort of, you know, walk your talk and put it all into practice and, and be able to afford it too. So, so, but it’s an exciting process about really trying to take all of these ideas about healthy workspaces and the quality of space in wellbeing and biophilia.
Mark Perepelitza (50m 6s):
And how do you really implement that in a way that’s beautiful and effective and we can afford as architects, you know, we do. Okay. But it’s definitely not the most lucrative profession. And so we have to watch our budget pretty closely. So we’re excited about that project. Is there anything
Jeff Wood (50m 23s):
You’re trying, that’s a, maybe a little different, some people use the, the opportunity to do projects for themselves to, to kind of show up some new technologies or some new ideas, whether that’s are quality or the energy savings or anything like that. There are, are there any kind of interesting little tweaks that you, all of them,
Mark Perepelitza (50m 38s):
You know, it’s this whole set of environmental quality of the workspace that we’re really pushing for. So it’s not really like a singular whizzbang technology, but I think it’s overall quality. So I think there’ll be a very strong biophilic quality daylight view. So I think it’s got to be a very experiential thing. We are certainly pushing certification. So we’re kind of, we’re looking at multiple certifications. So we are looking at well certification and living, building challenge, materials, pedal certification, which is a very aggressive approach, two healthy materials. And it has a rigorous read, a list of things to be avoided. And it really limits, you know, like even electrical wiring because of the vinyl insolation on it.
Mark Perepelitza (51m 22s):
So it’s a rigorous approach and we were kind of taking this, but I think that it’s not so much the specifics about, you know, what kind of installations on the wires, but it’s more the quality of space when people will visit that though. They’ll just say, wow,
Jeff Wood (51m 39s):
I like that. That’s a good way to end up. So mark, where can folks find you online or find any of the work that you’re working on?
Mark Perepelitza (51m 45s):
So our Cera website is a great way to see us. So S E R a D design, D D E S I G n.com. And you can reach me mark [email protected] That’s M a R K a P S E R a N D E S I G n.com. Awesome.
Jeff Wood (52m 5s):
Well mark, thanks for joining us. We really appreciate your time. Yeah.
Mark Perepelitza (52m 7s):
Thank you very much. This was fun. I enjoyed it. Thanks Jeff.