What Does Sustainable Design Sound Like?

Design and architectural professionals who are dedicated to sustainable design demonstrate concern for health and safety, productivity, environmental responsibility and optimal usability.

The tightly woven relationship between acoustics and sustainable design has become increasingly evident in recent years. As design and architecture professionals strive to incorporate sustainability into their projects, there is a tremendous need for accurate, reliable information. Recognizing the significance of sustainable design and the integral role of acoustics, we must embrace the movement and encourage others to do the same.

At the heart of sustainable design and acoustics are fundamental concerns for environmental impact, profitability and health and safety. Accounting for acoustic conditions can greatly increase the overall comfort level of a space, while poor acoustics can result in dangerous, unhealthy environments. Acoustics can be applied to almost every design project with obvious benefits, including functionality. Building and design professionals can apply acoustic solutions to most projects with ease and the selection of effective, recycled acoustic products has never been better. Considering acoustics is paramount to the profitability and overall integrity of numerous industries and to the collective health and safety of those who live, work and play within the spaces created by building and design professionals.

Sustainable design means far more than just using recycled materials. A design professional must consider:

Efficiency - While many take energy (electricity) efficiency into account, human efficiency is also very important to sustainable design. Since employees are usually a company's most valuable resource, creating a space in which they can maximize their productivity is key. Many studies over the last 12 years convincingly document that noise is the number one (by far) impediment to workplace productivity.

Health & Safety - Hearing loss (from noise exposure) is one of the leading occupational hazards - and is 100% preventable. Employees that suffer from hearing loss are 55% more likely to have a workplace accident. Other health problems associated with noise exposure include headaches, tinnitus, high blood pressure, heart problems, respiratory ailments, and even negative fetal development.

Comfort - "Few people have ever experienced real comfort - thermal, visual, or acoustic - but once they do, they tend to want more of it." (Hawken, Lovin & Lovins. Natural Capitalism) Occupants in a noisy space can feel irritable, distracted, anxious, hostile and annoyed, sometimes without consciously making the connection to noise.

Functionality/Building Longevity - For a space to be successful, it MUST function. An acoustically correct environment is paramount to the functionality of most spaces. You must consider acoustics in any space where…
    ...speech intelligibility is important (classroom, courtroom, boardroom, etc.).
    ...there is a PA system (airport, gymnasium, public building, etc.).
    ...speech privacy is important (open office, call centers, etc.).
    ...confidentiality is important (doctor's/counselor's office, HR, attorney's office,    police facility, etc.).
    ...music is important (performance space, concert hall, recording studio, etc.).
    ...both speech and music are important (worship center, ballroom, theater,    multi-purpose room, etc.).
    ...a quiet atmosphere is important (library, museum, healthcare facility, etc.).
    ...noise build-up can be problematic (restaurant, lobby, mall, etc.).
This also applies to building longevity. If a space does not function, how can you hope for building longevity?

How the Building Impacts the Environment - The operation of the facility should not harm (pollute) the environment. Although the LEED program takes into account water, air, land and light pollution, it surprisingly does not include noise pollution. Although controlling/limiting light pollution is very important, noise pollution can be far more annoying and harmful. Additionally, noise is much more difficult to limit.

Use Recycled (Sustainable) Materials - There are many recycled/sustainable acoustic products that work as well as (or better than) non-recycled acoustic products. Acoustic products can account for a large percentage of the materials in a space. Often, most (or all) of the ceiling, most (or all) of the flooring, and some to most (and sometimes all) of the wall surfaces are acoustical.


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