Jan 202004
Authors: Karthika Muthukumaraswamy

While the large windows capture the subtle stream of December

sun in Brian Dunbar’s office, tiles of recycled carpet decorate the


Optimizing and reflecting nature in buildings is one of the

goals of the Institute for the Built Environment at CSU.

“Our focus is to promote the notion that a building can ideally

enhance the natural environment,” said Dunbar, director of the IBE

and faculty member in construction management. “What we are

realizing is that buildings have a tremendous effect on the

environment, and often not a positive (one). Forty percent of the

energy generated in our country is used to heat, light, cool and

power our buildings.”

The institute promotes sustainability of the built environment

through a research-based, interdisciplinary approach.

“The IBE is comprised of students, faculty and practitioners in

the various disciplines of the built environment,” Dunbar said.

“(Such disciplines include) design, construction, engineering,

landscape architecture, historic preservation and facilities


The IBE carries out building research through various projects

and aims to discover an ideal built environment.

“Sustainable built environments are what we are aiming to

discover,” Dunbar said. “An ideal building would allow people to

perform to their greatest ability, is a pleasure to occupy and has

a positive effect on the environment.”

While the primary aim of the IBE is sustainability of the

environment, this is achieved by focusing on some key


“When we talk about sustainability of the environment in

general, we are talking about three different aspects, which are

referred to as the triple bottom line, i.e., ecology, human equity

and economy,” Dunbar said.

The sustainable building research projects performed by IBE

further incorporate issues of energy, health, culture, materials

and economics.

“While the green building movement is rapidly growing, there is

a level of risk in applying new technology to buildings,” Dunbar

said. “(Hence), we tend to use and recommend emerging technologies

rather than innovate brand new concepts.”

There is a lot of emphasis on the material that is used to build

sustainable buildings.

“Many of our buildings since the 1950s have been built with

matter that contains volatile organic compounds which create

unhealthy interiors,” Dunbar said. ” It is important to use

materials that don’t off-gas harmful substances.”

Environmental and economic costs are important.

“People are beginning to account for the environmental cost of

the building,” Dunbar said. “As we extract materials from nature,

we should be mindful of the overall costs to the environment as

well as the more tangible costs of materials and construction.”

Powering buildings with minimal energy expenditure is another

important aspect.

“Green buildings (either) use renewable energy or use fossil

fuels more effectively,” Dunbar said. “Our best buildings are built

with very little waste.”

Dunbar sites the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental

Studies building at Oberlin College in Ohio as a good example of a

building that uses innovative energy, material and water treatment


“The entire roof surface (of the building) is made up of solar

cells. On many days of the year, the building produces more

electricity than it uses,” Dunbar said. “Also, waste water from the

building is naturally cleaned and filtered and is used to water the

campus landscape.”

The IBE has helped to coordinate the design, construction and

material selection for green classrooms in Guggenheim Hall on the


It has also been researching the sustainable design and historic

preservation of an REI building in Denver and its impact on


The institute has been involved in helping the Poudre School

District to achieve green building certification for Fossil Ridge

High School, which is scheduled to open in August 2004.

Dunbar maintains a cautious yet optimistic outlook on the

environment’s health in future years.

“My hope is that more and more counties and people realize the

negative effects that our society has on the natural environment

and yet realize that there are many opportunities to have a more

positive effect on the natural environment,” Dunbar said.

John Mlade, a sustainable building graduate student at the

Department of Manufacturing Technology and Construction Management,

feels that the built environment has a significant role in


“The magnitude of impact the construction industry has on both

society and environment (is high),” Mlade said.

He also said that despite the emphasis on sustainability,

society still has a long way to go.

“Even with all these people doing good work, we are in

incredible peril,” Mlade said. “It is not just a feel-good, ‘I am

going to hug a tree’ type of thing. It is a healthy environment

that we are trying to create.”

Mlade said, however, that the current trend is toward

understanding the impending dangers to the environment.

“People are definitely increasingly realizing it,” he said.

“There are still a lot of people who don’t care to understand, but

those people are really getting harder to find.”

The solution is to start educating people at every level, Mlade


“We have to change social consumption and mass consumption. We

have to get the word out,” Mlade said. “Everybody wants a clean

house. This (planet) is our house.”

Kathi Delehoy, assistant vice president for Research and

Information Technology, said the IBE is one of the leading

authorities in sustainable environment at CSU.

“They have been a continuous force and influence on developing

interest in sustainable environment,” Delehoy said. “They generate

and provide a lot of information.”

Also, interdisciplinary research, like that carried out at the

IBE, has a very positive impact, Delehoy said.

“Interdisciplinary research is of increasing importance to

scientists and to sponsored agencies,” Delehoy said. “A number of

our sponsors want to share work across disciplines and across

institutions. There is recognition that it is very helpful.”

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