Case Studies

Sustainable Design Consulting LLC

High-impact sustainability consulting from an innovative small business

After working as a sustainable design specialist for three Washington, D.C.-based architecture and consulting firms and as codirector of the Solar Information Center at the University of Oregon, Sandra Leibowitz set out on her own. She established Sustainable Design Consulting LLC (SDC) in 2002, a consulting and training firm that provides institutions, building owners, design, construction and property management professionals with specialized services, geared toward reducing environmental impact and improving long-term building performance.

SDC currently operates from offices both in Richmond, Virginia and Washington, D.C., but it started out smaller. In 2002, Leibowitz worked independently, employing only a single intern. SDC now employs 21 multidisciplinary employees, including architects, interior designers and construction management professionals.

As a small, woman-owned business, SDC has made great strides both in terms of growth and in serving the needs of an architectural and construction market focused more on sustainability than ever before. “From the very beginning, it was my intention to serve the needs of this industry with green building consulting and LEED consulting,” she explains. “There was a lot of interest in green building, but there were very few people who had the experience to offer these services.”

Sustainability in action

SDC has established a strong portfolio of commercial-scale projects over the last 13 years. The company’s projects include multiunit residential housing, K-12 educational facilities and collegiate institutions. Office buildings and multiunit residential projects first led the company’s market share, followed by K-12 and civic work, higher education, health care, hospitality and neighborhood-scale projects.

Roughly 70 percent of SDC’s projects are design and construction related – most direct clients are architects, though the team also works with developers, owners and contractors. The rest is comprised of helping the owners and managers of existing structures operated them more effectively and efficiently through interior design, retrofit work and technology integration, along with providing guidance, training, development and outreach for green building programs at various scales.

Green projects at home and abroad

The firm’s broad capabilities have led to involvement in a range of unique and complex projects over the years. From nearby work in the mid-Atlantic to contracts in South America, Leibowitz and her colleagues have helped clients both nationally and abroad achieve and exceed their sustainability goals.

SDC provided green building consulting services for a portion of the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. First built in 1970, the Seals and Sea Lions Exhibit was due for a renovation in 2012. Animal care, exhibition and stewardship of the zoo’s Rock Creek Park site were of utmost importance. As an organization focused on preservation and conservation, sustainability was a natural goal as well.

By working closely with the project team, SDC helped the park to implement a number of sustainable features. For example, water efficiency was improved by replacing life support systems and equipment used to provide better control of water chemistry and respond to a variety of water quality issues. The updated facility reused an existing site, reducing ground impact. Certified sustainably harvested wood, materials with recycled content, low-emission materials and regionally sourced materials also helped to offset the environmental impact of construction. Marking the completion of its green building process, the exhibit was LEED for New Construction (LEED-NC) certified in June 2014.

Sustainable Design Consulting LLCMore recently, SDC completed a professional services contract for a client in South America, involving Edificio Celebra, the new flagship office building at the Zonamerica Business and Technology Park in Montevideo, Uruguay.

The structure marks Zonamerica’s 20-year anniversary. As a tribute to the technology park, Edificio Celebra was designed and built to incorporate good practices aligned with its general policy of environmental care. It was awarded the International Architecture Award (Office category) by the International Commercial Property Award in association with Bloomberg Television in 2010 and achieved LEED for Core & Shell (LEED-CS) Gold-level certification in June 2015.

Sustainable features in Edificio Celebra include rainwater collection for use in toilets and irrigation systems, reducing intake. Wastewater is treated for reuse on-site. Internal waste reduction programs include recycling and composting – used at local farms. With windows all around, the structure takes advantage of natural daylighting, while a high-performance glazing, LED lighting and high-efficiency HVAC system reduce energy use. A key feature is a 37.4 kW rooftop photovoltaic array, supplying 3 percent of the building’s annual electricity.

Industry Involvement

SDC stays in-step with the green building industry through constant involvement. As a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, the firm has long enjoyed the benefits and comradery of associating with cutting-edge green companies. “USGBC has contributed the platform of LEED and many of us practitioners have contributed to the ongoing changes as well,” says Leibowitz. “LEED is not the only standard for green building, but it has had a huge impact on the industry.”

SDC participates with USGBC on both the national and local levels. “A lot of the work in the industry done on a local or regional level,” Leibowitz explains. “Our team has prominent involvement in both USGBC chapters for the locations of our offices.”

In Virginia, SDC is involved with the Grater Virginia Green Building Council chapter and the Hampton Roads chapter. “The Greater Virginia chapter is a big one in terms of committee involvement and board member involvement for our team,” Leibowitz notes.

The firm also makes an impact on related industries, bringing a sustainable construction aspect to The Society for Marketing Professional Services, the International Interior Design Association, the Society of American Military Engineers and environmental committees with the American Institute of Architects.

Beyond association involvement, Leibowitz and her colleagues support nonprofit organizations throughout the Capital region and northern Virginia. The team approaches involvement in a variety of contexts, including education, financial support, logistics, social media coordination and event planning.

Going to Greenbuild

This year, SDC is also honored to have six projects included on seven of the Greenbuild tours, highlighting a number of local LEED-certified and sustainable projects. One of the larger projects on tour, Southwest Waterfront Development is still under construction, with an estimated completion date of December 2017. The project integrates housing, hospitality, arts and culture, public space and maritime amenities to create a unique Washington, D.C., neighborhood to be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. The project is participating in the LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) program with the goal of Gold-level certification.

Like many of SDC’s projects, the Southwest Waterfront Development stands as an example of the diverse possibilities of sustainable building. In the years to come, Leibowitz and her colleagues will continue to push the envelope of sustainability as Sustainable Design Consulting LLC serves a growing market across the U.S. and beyond.

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Spring 2018



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