Creating a Sustainable Foundation for the Built Environment

WSP USA’s Built Ecology team is bringing together strategic thinking, industry leadership and technical depth in collaboration with the firm’s buildings, transportation and infrastructure, water and environment and advisory capabilities.

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Built Ecology collaborates as strategic advisors, technical resources and hands-on implementation support with clients across the U.S. and globally to guide them toward the creation of a more sustainable, healthy and resilient built environment.

Much of the team’s core work includes the design of high-performance buildings and certifications like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) from the U.S. Green Building Council, Passive House International (PHI) and the WELL Building Standard, where computational design algorithms are developed to optimize buildings for daylight and energy performance.

“WSP is becoming the kind of firm that is oriented around the future reality of decarbonization, resiliency and creating the foundation to have truly great cities,” said Josh Radoff WSP USA Built Ecology director. “We are experts in sustainability with an opportunity to manage and work on some of the firm’s larger, more innovative projects.”

Projects include district energy and water systems, integration of renewables and pushing towards zero energy and zero carbon, where a building or district generates all of the renewable energy it consumes.

One example is Boston’s Winthrop Square, a new 691-foot tower that will be the third tallest in Boston when complete, and where the group is exploring the interplay of healthy building design, occupant wellness, and significant energy use reduction from industry standard.

“The design and ownership team worked closely with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) from the concept stage of the project to envision a building prepared for the future,” said Claire McKenna, lead sustainability consultant on the project. “We felt that pairing PHI and WELL provided value for the owner, the tenants and the city, and lowering peak loads, improving for thermal comfort, and reducing greenhouse emissions compared to other buildings built today.”

But Built Ecology’s work extends well beyond innovative high performance building design, and into smart building technology, district energy systems and microgrids, healthy buildings and communities, and includes collaboration with all WSP sectors to enable a much broader delivery of sustainability related outcomes.

“It seems like there isn’t a week that goes by that doesn’t have a new project or pursuit where we are collaborating with other WSP sustainability groups to enhance our approach,” Radoff said.


The [email protected] project in New York City is exploring the use of a smart sensor network throughout the building that will provide building management with valuable information about space utilization and occupant use patterns.

Zero Carbon and Resiliency at Scale

One emerging project type that exemplifies this broad approach are the district scale projects in Boston, Denver, San Francisco and Seattle, and one of the common themes of these projects is a goal of zero carbon at scale, including buildings and transportation.

In Denver, Radoff, who works in the firm’s Boulder, Colorado office, serves as the sustainability advisor and director for The River Mile project in Denver, a 14-million-square-foot redevelopment district with a broad scope of sustainability and smart cities.

“Beyond the typical consulting and analysis that we do on a regular basis, we serve as the owner’s overarching sustainability lead, helping to navigate regulatory constraints, coordinate with the various municipal and utility stakeholders, and developing a financial approach with third party energy providers,” Radoff said. “Increasingly, this also includes mapping out a ‘smart building’ or ‘smart city’ approach for a development,” Radoff said, which is happening at the building scale at the [email protected] project in New York City, and at the district scale for River Mile.

Similar to the River Mile project, WSP is working with Denver International Airport Real Estate on plans to develop 16,000-acres of non-aviation commercial development land at the airport with similar goals of zero carbon, and the treatment and reuse of all wastewater for non-potable and irrigation needs.

The firm is also working with the City of Fort Collins, Colorado to prepare Fort Collins City Plan, which includes an updated comprehensive plan and transportation master plan. The process began in February of 2018, and considers development needs over the next 20 years, including expansion of the city’s transit system.

“WSP is ensuring that their land use and transportation decisions are in line with their aggressive city-wide zero carbon goal,” Radoff said.


WSP is part of the planning team for Exchange South End, a 1.5-million-square-foot Boston development undergoing the initial permitting process.

Microgrids as an Expression of Resiliency

“The specific challenges of each project are new, such as navigating utility rates and regulations, identifying the opportunity to use sewer pipes as a resource for heat for these projects, or working with third parties to finance and deliver energy at lower costs than the utilities,” Radoff said. “We are able to successfully guide our clients through these very complex challenges.”

In places like Boston, this is further supported by city goals of resiliency, using these district microgrid strategies to bolster and strengthen the grid’s resiliency by providing distributed resources.

WSP was the first engineering team to conduct a district energy and microgrid feasibility assessment as part the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s (BPDA’s) new Smart Utility Policy, released this summer. That project, Exchange South End, is a 1.5-million-square-foot spec lab development undergoing the initial permitting process.

“It’s been fascinating to work closely with BPDA, as well as the developer and architect, to identify the constraints and opportunities of incorporating district scale renewable energy on projects of this magnitude,” McKenna said. “It could mean an unprecedented level of resiliency and emissions savings for the new developments, and ultimately the city.”

Although LEED certification is not the primary focus of these projects, its guidelines help create strategies that fall in line with what clients hope to achieve with their projects. Radoff is currently creating a LEED-ND (neighborhood development) strategy for both City Place and River Mile and LEED-NC (new construction) and CS (core and shell) for individual buildings that will be passed on to future third-party developers.

“While most clients appreciate what it means to be LEED certified, we start with the premise that targeting zero carbon can be bundled into a set of solutions that will help them improve upon the ‘business as usual’ scenario of using conventional utilities and energy,” Radoff said. “Much of the challenge is to demonstrate that idea to clients and get broader buy-in from their leadership.”

Radoff said it has been rewarding for WSP to play a key role in the development of these large scale and sustainability driven projects.

“WSP has a real voice in how things are built and the fundamental goals that projects are trying to achieve,” he said. “We shape the experience and well-being of the users of our buildings and spaces.”

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Once considered an example of wasted urban potential, plans for The River Mile project in Denver include homes, restaurants, retail and entertainment offerings.

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