Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering

First Advisor

John Zhai

Second Advisor

Victor Olgyay

Third Advisor

Michael Brandemuehl


This thesis critically reviews existing building environmental assessment methods and provides a computational model that can help address some of their shortcomings. Since building environmental assessment methods are having a huge impact on the way buildings are valued, it is increasingly important that the methods appropriately assess building sustainability. Many critics of the assessment methods argue that the methods should evolve toward an “absolute” assessment of sustainability. That is, rather than assessing a building relative to a typical building, the assessment should be made to whatever is deemed sustainable. One possible form of absolute assessment is using the indicator of sustainability known as carrying capacity. After discussing the opportunities presented with a carrying-capacity-based assessment of buildings, this thesis proposes a computational model that provides such an assessment.

There are four main components to the presented computational model. The first is the amount of carbon (C) stored on the building site in its native state. This native-site carbon storage is defined as the baseline carbon-storage value, and thus represents the carrying capacity of the building project. The second is land use change, which accounts for the removal or addition of vegetation and other carbon storing elements to the project site. The third and fourth carbon emissions sources in the model are building construction and operation.

A building is considered sustainable in the model if by the end of its expected lifetime the total amount of carbon emissions are completely offset. Building designers and their clients can use this model to more comprehensively account for carbon emissions and identify options for reducing and offsetting them. To promote greater adoption, the model has been developed into an online resource, named Green Footstep (

To demonstrate the usefulness of the model, this thesis presents a case study of an institutional building in Lake Placid, Florida. The case study shows that the design team used the model to better understand what it means to have a “low carbon” goal. The model showed them that over one hundred years, the building project must reduce and offset carbon emissions at a rate of 16 tonnes C per year.