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Going Green Through Materials Management
Robert M. Brandon

Sustainability and the responsibility to act in environmentally responsible ways are hot issues in the design community. With more businesses making efforts to “go green,” engineers and architects are continuously searching for the appropriate materials and design approaches to fit these needs.

However, one very effective approach to sustainability is typically overlooked by business owners: materials management. An effective materials management plan finds creative and comprehensive solutions to better manage the operations and support services of an institutional or corporate campus.

The goal is to consolidate and efficiently handle core services to create: truck deliveries and service vehicle routes that reduce vehicle/pedestrian conflicts; loading docks and delivery sites that reduce redundancy and increase effectiveness; solid and hazardous waste removal, storage, and recycling that reduces cost; and utility infrastructure and service equipment relocation that improves aesthetics.

Materials management plans promote sustainability

Many business and institutional campuses have cluttered, noisy, and oftentimes inefficient service environments. Delivery trucks compete with pedestrians, loading docks are in plain sight, trash dumpsters sprout up, and lobbies, hallways, and stairwells are cluttered with unplanned storage.

Most owners understand the importance of efficient materials management, but they rarely think about these systems as opportunities to promote sustainability. However, with forethought and creativity, these systems can reduce energy use and carbon emissions, minimize traffic congestion, streamline operational flows, and enhance esthetics.

For instance, materials management plans can include developing a better circulation infrastructure. Service points can be clustered to reduce the number of loading docks and track parking, thus reducing redundancy and increasing effectiveness. An effective materials management program can also resolve “island” approaches to shipping, receiving, and vehicle movement, a situation where each building developed its own system for vendors, logistics, and delivery. Solutions can include creating a new central loading location, as well consolidating service areas and docks from separate buildings into one.

Developing better campus circulation infrastructure also means re-evaluating truck delivery and service vehicle routes. Vehicle type, size, and schedules are studied to make these more compatible with surrounding neighborhoods. This will reduce truck traffic, creating a safer environment for pedestrians and a more attractive environment for other uses.

Re-evaluating solid and hazardous waste removal, storage, and recycling is another aspect of an effective materials management plan. This includes creating efficient waste management guidelines and increased recycling initiatives.

A myriad of benefits

One of the keys to a successful material management plan is documenting and understanding all facets of the situation. Doing so requires a full spectrum of experts — architects, planners, traffic, environmental, solid waste, and civil engineers — who work together to assure each challenge is addressed.

Most institutional master plans do not examine service systems from a comprehensive or overall efficiency perspective. It’s an area that often falls through the cracks of traditional planning and design services. An effective materials management plan builds from and enhances an institutional master plan by filling in the gaps and producing an environmentally responsible and efficient outcome.

An institutional campus, office, or housing complex can expect a myriad of benefits from an effective materials management plan. For starters, there are long-term cost savings, as consolidating, reconfiguring, and better managing a campus’ core infrastructure reduces annual operating costs. An institutional campus, office, or housing complex will also get the highest and best use out of campus real estate.

An effective materials management plan also means a more holistic approach to managing vehicle use and emissions, solid waste, hazardous waste, recycling, and utility services. As a result, this means a “greener,” more sustainable environment and a manifestation of the many demands today for institutions to become more environmentally friendly. In fact, thanks to such environmental advantages, creative materials management plans may qualify for LEED Innovation in Design credits.

And finally, an effective materials management plan can improve aesthetics. Removing unsafe and unsightly conditions, placing core services out of sight, and creating a more pedestrian-friendly environment will improve the visual and physical sense of place for those who live and work there.

Most building owners rarely think about their materials management plans as opportunities to promote sustainability. With forethought and creativity, these plans can reduce operation costs, help in the quest to “go green,” and be vital in effectively planning land-use strategies. Implementing an effective materials management plan can also result in significant cost savings, which is great for the bottom line.