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Model US Green Buildings Setting the Trend

by Marisa Briscoe McNatt (bio)

Published 3/29/12


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Constructing an office made of sod and working by candlelight isn’t an option for most companies today.

But, that doesn’t mean buildings can’t be designed to be healthy for humans and the environment given 21st century options, says Spenser Villwock, a board of director for the U.S. Green Building Council Colorado Chapter.1

“The last 10 years or so has been a huge victory for the green building movement,” Villwock says. A critical mass is beginning to see green buildings as a “matter of fact,” as opposed to a choice, Villwock explains.

Furthermore, as the full market embraces green buildings and they become increasingly common, green buildings will become just “buildings,” Villwock adds.

According to a 2010 study printed in the American Economic Review, the value of a green building is about $5.5 million more than the value of a comparable unrated building nearby.2

The green buildings below provide inspirational ideas for how all U.S. buildings can incorporate environmentally responsible and money saving practices - like purchasing from companies that supply environmentally friendly office products — helping to make green buildings the norm and eventually dropping the word “green.”

Oregon Convention Center, Portland, Ore.3

In its operations, the convention center has clearly taken into account that it rains a lot in Portland. A garden collects rainwater from more than 5 acres of roof area, saving the OCC at least $15,600 on its stormwater bill annually. A 318-foot long channel simulates a mountain stream and wetland plants, such as water iris and rushes, grace the edges. This rain-catching garden helps to filter water before it runs into the Willamette River and reduces the urban heat island effect.

The center has also achieved a commendable waste diversion rate — about 70 percent is recycled or composted. The OCC was the first convention center to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) for Existing Buildings certification by the U.S. Green Building Council in 2004.

Incorporating green concepts into new building construction
Green Building Design

More and more new building construction projects are incorporating green concepts as the norm.

“We’re always looking for improvements and new projects in terms of improving our sustainable operations,” says Brittin Witzenburg, the sustainability coordinator for the Oregon Convention Center.

For example, the OCC is retro-commissioned every few years to ensure that the building continues to operate at optimal performance, including energy and water saving measures.

“The biggest thing about buildings is you don't just build it and let it do its thing. It’s about hitting the restart button to get it back to square one, addressing comfort issues and other reasons we exist in a building,” Witzenburg says.

The Cliffs Cottage At Furman, Greenville, S.C.4

What do you get when you combine LEED® certification and an award from Southern Living Magazine? A picturesque showcase home with interior fabrics made from recycled materials, locally made rugs, solar trellises and more. Below the grounds, a cistern captures rainwater that’s used to irrigate the organic gardens at Cliff Cottage at Furman.

The cottage serves as hands-on environmental learning laboratory for Furman University students.

Philip Merrill Environmental Center, Annapolis, Md.5

Constructed near the shoreline of the bay, the Philip Merrill Center — the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s main headquarters — operates in harmony with the surrounding environment.

A rainwater catchment system, Swedish designed composting toilets and shed roof allow the center to use 90 percent less water than a typical office building the same size.

The Philip Merrill Center is 56 percent more energy efficient than the average building with similar proportions. The foundation saves almost $100,000 annually because of the building’s energy efficiency measures. It was the first building to receive the U.S. Green Building Council's Platinum rating for LEED®.

With operable windows letting in fresh bay air to cool the building in summer, as well as natural light and views of the water, the CBF headquarters has minimal impact on CBF employees.

Lewis and Clark State Office Building, Jefferson City, Mo.6

In addition to wood floors made from local, sustainable forests, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources constructed their state office building with materials free of Volatile Organic Compounds. Emitted by a wide array of products, VOCs include a diversity of chemicals that can have short, or long term affect on health.

The building uses collected rainwater for running toilets. By wiring heating and cooling beneath a raised floor, renovation time is decreased should the state office building need to be remodeled.

EcoGreenOffice, Boulder, Colo.

With employees working remotely, it doesn’t get much greener than that.

If the 40 percent of the U.S. workforce that could work from home telecommuted just half of the time, greenhouse gases would be reduced by 84 million tons, the equivalent of taking 15 million cars off the road each year, according to the Telework Research Network.7

Moreover, EcoGreenOffice helps other companies green their buildings by providing a sustainability checklist than can be used to achieve LEED® certification, says Bryan Beckett, co-founder of EcoGreenOffice, a nationwide supplier of green business supplies.

The family-owned business works with facility managers, contractors, office managers, CEO's, marketing managers, or anyone needing advice for making sustainable efforts.

Getting involved with EcoGreenOffice’s Facebook page, and sharing ideas online for making an office building sustainable — or any green-living idea — is another way to promote the transition toward actions overall that are responsible for environmental and human health.

[1] http://www.usgbccolorado.org/about/about-the-chapter.html
[2] http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/aer.100.5.2492/
[3] http://www.oregoncc.org/Sustainability/
[4] http://www.furmancliffscottage.com/
[5] http://www.cbf.org/
[6] http://www.dnr.mo.gov/greenbldg/
[7] http://www.teleworkresearchnetwork.com/brags/news-releases#2011%20Telework%20Week%20Release