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Greener Green, Inc.: The Busine$s of Building Green
By Andrea Cooper, CZM
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In the United States, buildings account for our 65 percent of electricity consumption, 36 percent of energy use, 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, 30 percent of raw materials use, 30 percent of waste output (136 million tons annually), and 12 percent of drinking (“potable”) water consumption. Sounds like a black hole of consumption and pollution. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And, fortunately for the planet, “green buildings” are sprouting up all over the United States. Since 2002, Massachusetts has been very active in this movement, and the momentum is definitely showing no sign of slowing down.
So what exactly is a “green” building and why are they preferable to conventional buildings? Simply stated, a green building is an environmentally responsible, profitable, and healthy place to live and work. In fact, there are national standards for the design, construction, and operation of an officially certified green building. It’s called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), and was developed by U.S. Green Building Council in 1993. LEED is a national rating system for sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials and resources selection, and indoor environmental quality. Each LEED rating standard is a tool for measuring the financial, environmental, and public health benefits for building owners and occupants. (Check out: www.usgbc.org for more information.)
Among the many LEED-certified buildings in Massachusetts, one that stands out is the Genzyme Corporate Headquarters in Cambridge. Sustainable site design, energy efficiency, water conservation, and recycling are just some of the reasons this building earned the highest LEED rating—platinum. Located close to an MBTA transit station and multiple bus routes, employees easily access public transportation. The building incorporates the use of “green” power from renewable sources, including solar. Efficient energy systems that monitor and control heat, humidity, and fresh air reduce energy consumption by nearly 40 percent compared to a conventional building of the same size. The toilets installed in the building are “dual flush” fixtures that can use different amounts of water depending on the need, and the urinals are waterless. Approximately 25 percent of the roof area is covered with a green roof system landscaped with low-maintenance succulent plantings, irrigated by direct rainfall. Overall, the building uses one-third the amount of water that a conventional building would use, for a savings of approximately 525,000 gallons of water annually.
The building that is home to Genzyme has an abundance of natural light through more than 800 operable windows, a 12-story open atrium design with a skylight, and direct views of the outside from 80 percent of the work spaces. Careful consideration of building materials resulted in the use of 23 percent recycled materials. More than 60 percent of the materials used were from local sources, and all the virgin woods used came from forests that are managed specifically for harvest (i.e., not taken from pristine or mature undisturbed forests). Additionally, 93 percent of the construction waste materials were recycled. For a virtual or group tour, see www.genzyme.com/genzctr/genzctr_home.asp.
The creation of a green building demands a collaborative design and construction approach between developers and tenants. In return for the investment of planning time, the building is cheaper to run (due to cost saving in energy and water usage), can command premium rents, contributes a higher quality of life for workers and greater employee retention, and delivers environmental and community benefits. Such benefits include lower air pollution, reduced heat island impact (i.e., the phenomenon in which city temperatures are hotter than rural temperatures due to the heat that is trapped by rooftops, roads, and parking areas), and attractive open space.
But, building green doesn’t have to be limited to LEED-certified urban skyscrapers. How about a green home in the ‘burbs? In Tynsborough, Massachusetts, Carter Scott of Transformations, Inc. completed a five-lot subdivision, Marla Circle, which incorporates water quality and conservation techniques, green building materials and energy-efficient features. Rain gardens and naturally vegetated areas filter and infiltrate stormwater runoff into the groundwater to preserve drinking water supplies. In each home are 2.4-kilowatt photovoltaic systems (converting sunlight into electricity—saving money and reducing global warming), paint with low-toxic fumes, prefinished oak flooring, high-performance furnaces and windows, and Energy Star-certified lighting (see Energy Star sidebar, left). All together, these homes are at least 30 percent more energy efficient than their conventional counterparts.
Completed in 2005, the Marla Circle homes (priced at $439,000 to $489,000) sold quickly, meaning the developer had lower carrying costs and better bottom-line profits. Both buyer and builder went green with no remorse! For more information, contact R. Carter Scott, President of Transformations, Inc., at firstname.lastname@example.org or (978) 597-0542.
What’s ahead? Global warming predictions have everyone thinking about going green. The United States Green Building Council has noticed the progress made in Massachusetts and is holding their 2008 conference in Boston. State agencies like the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) are working directly with municipalities to institute sustainable development principles for green growth. But, we still have much to do and one step forward would be an increase in the demand for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings. When there is an overwhelming demand to own or rent green commercial and industrial buildings, office spaces, homes, apartments and condominiums, more developers will service that demand. Wouldn’t it be great if green became the conventional standard for all buildings when my infant grand-baby is old enough to buy her first home (with a spare room for Nana, of course)?