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Environmental audits

April 1, 2010
by Emily J. Chmielewski
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Making more informed decisions through applied research

Just as your organization uses operational, compliance, and financial audits to understand how well you are meeting your mission and objectives, an environmental audit can help you create a better residential care environment.

Why conduct an environmental audit?

Environmental audits determine what about the physical environment is performing well or not as expected; and can be used when planning for the future or to provide a neutral, third-party assessment. By gathering and applying lessons learned, successes can be documented, major expenditures can be justified, and future designs can be improved through more informed decision-making and the recognition of opportunities for innovation.

An environmental audit can inform the design process
An environmental audit can inform the design process

At a glance…

Environmental audits help determine the pluses and minuses in a facility's physical environment. What opportunities for innovation are possible? What features are not performing up to expectations?

Environmental audits can be particularly useful for organizations wishing to embark on small-scale, incremental changes to their physical environment. An environmental audit not only identifies what is or is not working well at a facility, but can be used to prioritize recommendations (e.g., by cost or impact to the organization) to help determine the phasing for future projects. In addition to generating valuable insights that can inform the recommendations for development/renovation, some organizations have used the environmental audit process as an opportunity for building occupants (staff, residents, visitors) to provide feedback and be a part of the group decision-making process-an important part of consensus building and user buy-in.

What's the process?

Environmental audits can be conducted on one or more existing facilities (e.g., during the planning stage to inform the development of future projects or the renovation/redevelopment of an existing site) or on a new facility once it has been built and occupied for at least one year. In conjunction with a physical review of your facility, an environmental audit might also focus on user perceptions and the “person-environment fit” of a place. Understanding the use of space and building occupants' experiences provides a unique perspective on the life of your community, enhancing the assessment of existing physical conditions.

Studies led by the Perkins Eastman Research Collaborative-a group within Perkins Eastman that conducts practice-based research as part of the firm's dedication to advancing best practices in the field of architecture-range from concise environmental audits that gather major lessons learned to more in-depth research studies that evaluate multiple aspects of a facility's operations and maintenance, physical environment, and building occupants' satisfaction and use patterns. The first step in Perkins Eastman's process is to gather information about the organization, facility, and building occupants. Researchers review the organization's mission/philosophy, the design goals that describe how the facility was intended to function, as-built floor and site plans, building occupant demographics and archival data (records of use and behavior, such as utility bills, attendance records, performance reports, medical assessments).

Examples of environmental audits

The following two case studies describe how environmental audits helped the provider organizations make more informed decisions during the process of planning and designing future architectural developments.


The Tradition of the Palm Beaches West Palm Beach, Florida

To inform the expansion of their existing community, MorseLife engaged Perkins Eastman to conduct an environmental audit as part of a master planning process. The study consisted of a one-day site visit, which included a building walk-through and interviews with key administrators and staff. The walk-through assessed the building in terms of how the spaces were being used and the interviews provided anecdotal descriptions of what was (or was not) working. The findings from the study were then shared with the client as well as the architects preparing the master plan to inform the design goals for the expansion of the community.

The tradition of the palm beaches
The Tradition of the Palm Beaches

The Kendal Corporation

Kendal at Granville and Kendal on Hudson Granville, Ohio and Sleepy Hollow, New York