A Systems Approach for High Performing Buildings | 2016

Cross, J., Barr, S., & Luxton, I. (2016)


In the past 15 years, the green building movement has made great strides to reduce the impact of the built environment on consumption and carbon emissions. In fact, 20% of new construction projects in the U.S. were estimated to be green buildings in 2015. However, there remain gaps in both knowledge and practice. Many designed-to-be-green buildings fail to live up to their potential for reduced energy consumption, lowered greenhouse gas emissions, and improved occupant wellbeing. Why do green buildings often fall short of their designed performance? We propose that the root cause is because organizations are not utilizing a systems approach to sustainability. The organization that inhabits a building does not share the values embedded in the building’s design. Once a building comes online, it is enveloped in the larger system; the dominant purpose (culture, paradigm, etc.) of that system takes hold and trumps the original design intent.

The integrated sustainability management (ISM) framework provides a model and toolbox to support systems thinking in buildings. The ISM model contains four distinct elements, or quadrants: Organizational Culture, Occupant Behavior, Operations, and Facility Design. The ISM application toolbox provides step-by-step guidance on how to use the ISM model to map, measure, understand, and improve the systems dynamics at play within a green building.