Don’t Let Your Environment Manage You: Track Site Performance

by John Gravelin, Linnean Solutions — January 2016

Managing the Environment

Similar to managing a building, a project’s environment and landscape must also be tracked for performance. Understanding a site’s attributes allows for facility managers to engage with their local environment. After all, the project’s local environment has a direct relationship with how the building can achieve optimal performance, from mechanical systems, landscape features, and occupant health.


Ongoing site performance tracking requires engineering and facilities teams to analyze the physical surrounding features of a facility site in order to inform potential opportunities and risks related to the site’s environment. The site assessment is a great way to understand how your local environment can impact your facility’s users and operations, and introduces a methodology for how to track and manage environmental attributes. Ongoing site assessment is also a great tool for incorporating changing site conditions due to climate change or other factors into capital planning scenarios.

Many facilities face a difficult task of assessing the vulnerability of their location to increased precipitation, rising sea levels, increased severe storm activity, or other changing environmental circumstances. The ongoing site assessment methodology provides a baseline and ongoing documentation of changing circumstances to aid in setting planning goals.

Data Collection

Public GIS data is available nationwide for most of the information needed to assess facility locations, however, the level of data granularity varies. For example, solar exposure, precipitation, and water resources are available and typically defined at the state or county level.

Sources for this data include:

At the other end of the spectrum, precipitation, wind exposure, and flood potential require more granular data that is focused on the specific site. These data sets are available for most specific locations across the country, but may require professional engineering help to find and calibrate. A weather station can be an extremely valuable investment to help gather ongoing information that is focused on the specific site.

Other information such as contours, unique topographical features, and soil delineation are defined at the site level, and may require a civil engineer or surveyor to perform an on-site analysis. However, some cities and counties have publically accessible online platforms that can provide this site-specific information.

Massachusetts is an example of a state that has publically available datasets from many different sources for topics of interest:

When all else fails, Google Earth is a free, valuable resource, if not a critical tool to conduct an aerial site analysis. Google Earth allows anyone to view their geographical location and their natural surroundings where satellite data is available (which is almost everywhere). Most online GIS sources have kml and kmz files that allow users to analyze their site without diving into complicated GIS systems. Google Earth has a free download available ( which can use these data files to display and analyze the kmz and kml datasets.

Data Collected; Now What?

A new Site Assessment credit in LEED v4 has been added to the LEED BD+C rating systems. While the facilities team may not have interest in pursuing LEED ratings, the credit documentation provides a clear explanation of the site assessment process and methodology, which can be used with or without other credits. The site assessment methodology is designed to enhance the design process for new buildings. However, the process has wide applicability to existing facilities. The assessment methodology goes beyond a typical site analysis to document ways to both improve the site’s environmental conditions and plan for changing conditions. This credit methodology encourages teams to consider how the surrounding environment can be better understood to optimize facility performance.

Heat island mapping

Heat island mapping for a facility in the Boston area showing how vegetation can lower ambient temperatures at ground level, potentially lowering cooling loads. Image: Linnean Solutions

For example, suppose a facility is located in a flood zone. The operations team must describe how the location of the flood zone affects the facility over time. To prepare for the threat of a flood, the facility team may plan to raise critical operating equipment above the base flood elevation in order to avoid flood damage, or install temporary flood barriers. These strategies can be derived from the site assessment information, and the team has acknowledged that their project’s surrounding environment may impact their operations and have preemptively prepared for it.

FEMA flood mapping

FEMA flood mapping for an area of Cambridge, MA., showing low lying areas that are vulnerable to flooding. Image: Linnean Solutions

The facility team may also consider how to improve environmental conditions through facility operations. As another example, suppose an assessment concludes that the site is in an urban area with a high exposure to the heat island effect. There are many strategies to decrease the temperature on the site, including installing white roofs, green roofs, and on-site vegetation – strategies that will earn points in LEED, if that is under consideration.

The site assessment should also inform the facility team on how to prioritize sustainability strategies. For example, annual precipitation calculations for the site may show that the amount of local rainfall could be collected to account for a significant portion of the building’s irrigation water demand. This information could validate the planning decision to redesign exterior landscapes.

The goal of the assessment process is to create an ongoing view into environmental conditions and performance for each facility, in order to plan for current and future conditions.

Site Assessment Components

  • Topography
    • Contours
    • Unique topographical features
    • Slope stability risk
  • Hydrology
    • Flood hazard areas
    • Water resources and buffers
    • Rainwater infrastructure
    • Water storage (TR-55?)
  • Climate
    • Solar exposure
    • Heat island effect
    • Prevailing winds
    • Precipitation
    • Seasonal temperatures
  • Vegetation
    • Types
    • Greenfields
    • Trees
    • Endangered species
    • Invasive species
  • Soils
    • Soils delineation
    • Prime farmland
    • Contaminated soils
  • Human Use
    • Views
    • Transportation infrastructure
    • Adjacent properties
    • Existing materials reuse
  • Human Health Effects
    • Population vulnerability
    • Activity opportunities
    • Sources of air pollution


Linnean Solutions is on a mission to help organizations reduce their impact on the environment in real and trackable ways. We pursue this mission by giving specific resource-saving advice, and by providing financial and capital planning managers with tools to track and understand the environmental performance of their organizations in real time.

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