Low-cost and No-cost Strategies for Sustainability

By Maryellen Lo Bosco  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: Maximize Green Investments With an Enterprise-wide ApproachPt. 2: This Page

Many ways to go green do not require investing a lot of capital or developing a company-wide strategy. One straightforward option is to conduct a waste audit. Skodowski says that, in buildings where Transwestern has done a waste audit and then instituted new recycling practices, the recycled waste stream has increased from 27 or 28 percent to more than 50 percent. Auditing is a very simple, if messy, process of donning rubber gloves and sorting the garbage on a loading dock or similar area. In a few hours, it's easy to determine which recyclables — from paper to electronics — are not being set aside. With follow-up education to building occupants and proper receptacles, a recycling program can be quickly revamped. Sometimes it takes additional investigation to rein in repeat trash offenders. For example, in one building where Transwestern couldn't get recycling numbers up, janitors were asked to put floor numbers on trash bags to figure out where the waste was coming from. Once the "culprit" tenant was found, it was discovered that the tenant simply did not have sufficient recycling bins. "Everybody wants to do the right thing," Skodowski says, "but they don't always have the tools.

At 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza, Chicago, Ill., which achieved LEED-EBOM Silver certification in 2007, the steps toward greening the building started with good recycling and housekeeping practices already in place. Adding batteries, electronics, and lamps to recycling was a straightforward process, says Mark J. Bettin, vice president of engineering of MMPI, which owns the Merchandise Mart. Since then, the Merchandise Mart has installed compact fluorescents and converted lamps from T12 to T8.

Totally Bright Ideas

It's not unusual to find that the lighting system offers one or more ways to raise a building's green quotient. "We want to use, wherever possible, the longest life, lowest wattage and lowest mercury content lamps," says Skodowski, "And we want to make sure that all those lamps that contain mercury are captured and properly recycled."

National Geographic is also looking at LED technology to replace CFLs. Right now the new technology is costly, but the price is coming down, according to Cline and Candore. The LED lights do not contain mercury and burn cooler. "We continue to find ways to fine-tune our operations," says Cline. He says he also uses electric sensors to shut lights off when no one is using a room or an area, and the timers on light switches are continually adjusted.

At its North American Headquarters in Newtown Square, Penn., SAP Americas also added sensors to retrofitted light fixtures so that they turn off after a certain period of time in empty open spaces, offices, and conference rooms. According to Brian Barrett, project manager for facilities and construction, the 400,000-square-foot building, which includes a data center on the basement level, achieved LEED-EBOM certification in 2008. Other measures that were taken included retrofitting air handlers, improving recycling efforts and adding waterless urinals. A new structure, attached via a 100-foot connector building to the original headquarters, is a state-of-the-art green building, says Barrett, which the corporation has submitted for LEED Platinum certification. "SAP has a commitment to sustainability overall. We try to walk the walk and talk the talk," he says, which is why the company greened the old building and sought to "make a major statement" by going for the highest certification on the new building.

An Energy Star is Born

A good way to evaluate whether a building has energy improvement opportunities is to use the EPA's Energy Star Portfolio Manager to track energy consumption. The free, online tool ranks a building's energy performance against comparable buildings. The tool uses a scale of 1 to 100, with 50 being the energy performance of an average building. An Energy Star score below 50 is a good sign that a building is ripe for improvement. When a group of buildings is assessed in this manner, says Skodowski, it is easy to target and remediate the buildings that are least efficient.

The Energy Star Portfolio Manager tool can also help facility managers tackle another important area: water conservation. The Portfolio Manager can be used to track water consumption in a single building or across a portfolio of buildings.

Slowing The Flow

Water efficiency efforts need not entail significant capital investment. For organizations that do not have the budget for new fixtures, the installation of aerators, which cost about $1.50 per faucet, can significantly contribute to water savings over time, says Skodowski.

The next level of efficiency is changing out toilets and urinals. "A toilet in an office built before 1994 uses about 3.5 gallons per flush, while today's toilets use 1.28 gallons per flush," says Skodowski. Old urinals use 1.0 to 3.5 gallons per flush, while new models are available that use 1 pint of water or none at all. Removing and replacing toilets can be expensive, but many local and state municipalities "are offering incentives to replace those old toilets," says Skodowski.

Upgrades can be completed over time. "If you are renovating an old bathroom, don't keep the old toilet," Skodowski says. Transwestern is saving 11 million gallons of water annually as a result of installing aerators and replacing toilets in 40 buildings, says Skodowski. He says that the toilets pay for themselves in less than three years in savings in water and sewage costs.

National Geographic also uses aerators, faucets that use less water and low-flow urinals.

Looking Outside In

Exterior maintenance is another area in which small changes can create large gains in sustainability and add points to the LEED tally. Some of the questions that Skodowski says he recommends asking include: How much water are we using to irrigate? What are we doing with grass clippings? What do we do with old mulch? What kinds of pesticides are we using?

He says he recommends environmentally responsible adhesives, sealants, cleaners and pest control products. Composting is an option that should be considered, instead of sending mulch and plant waste to the landfill.

Inside the building, green cleaning offers points for LEED-EBOM certification, says Cline, and "any building can do that without increasing operating costs." Such products include floor finish products, cleaning products, and any other chemicals used in maintenance.

Organizations that have taken steps to reduce the environmental impact of their existing buildings have found that payoffs can occur in different ways. Saving money is only one benefit. Another gain is intangible: good public relations and improved relationships with clients and tenants. For example, Transwestern learned, through comfort surveys, that 92.5 percent of building occupants were satisfied with the greening process, and tenants willingly participated in the program, says Skodowski.

Piccinich reports similar interest among tenants; in fact, he says he attributes the original impetus to go green to a "groundswell from tenants" who wanted to lease space and inquired about whether the building was green. "We were well underway before Mayor Bloomberg started his green initiative," says Piccinich. "Going green is a brand opportunity."

Maryellen Lo Bosco is a freelance writer who lives in Asheville, N.C.

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  posted on 2/9/2010   Article Use Policy

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