Monday, December 06, 2004

Green Building Growing in Popularity

Green Building Growing in Popularity
12/3/2004 10:36:00 AM
Cox News Service
NEW YORK _ In the world's most environmentally friendly office building, the electrical lifeblood for a bank's shining lights and whirring ATMs isn't coal or oil or gas. It's lunch.
Sandwich scraps and cafeteria castoffs plummet down a chute to a treatment plant where feasting bacteria turn the leftovers, along with shredded bank paperwork, into methane and sludge. Burning the methane powers a turbine, creating electricity, while a nearby park gets the sludge for compost.
The system is one of dozens of features expected to earn the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park in Manhattan the highest rating for environmental design when it is completed by 2008.
It would be the first high-rise office tower certified "platinum" by the United States Green Building Council, a Washington-based coalition that includes builders, government agencies and universities.
"You start out by being good for the planet and you end up being good for the people working in the building," said Bob Fox, one of the tower's principal architects.
With plans to use less than half the energy and water of a typical office building, the tower is at the forefront of a growing movement to construct new buildings and refit old ones to reduce costs and pollution while creating a healthier and more pleasant indoor environment.
With buildings using 70 percent of U.S. electricity and people spending about 90 percent of their time indoors, the council said, the potential impact of building green is enormous.
The council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system has certified about 150 finished projects. More than 1,600 are under way.
The LEED system has four levels _ certified, silver, gold and platinum _ and doles out points in areas such as energy and water efficiency, indoor air quality and use of recycled materials.
"The green building movement really is about understanding the building as an organism and understanding how all the systems play together," said Rick Fedrizzi, the council's president and chief executive.
"We are living in a much different age than we did in the 1970s and 80s, when everything was fast and cheap and quick and glitzy," he said. "Now it's about thoughtful construction, safe construction and enduring construction."
The green building industry didn't take off until after the council issued its voluntary standards in 2000, Fedrizzi said. Three years later, the annual market for green building products and services was $5.8 billion, according to the council.
Many local governments have adopted the standards as guidelines for public construction and offer private developers financial incentives to follow them.
Last month, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said the silver rating would be the goal for new and renovated city government buildings.
Atlanta's city council adopted an ordinance a year ago requiring large city-funded projects to meet the silver level. Three airport buildings, planned before the ordinance, also should be LEED certified, said Ben Taube, Atlanta's environmental manager.
"This is a new area for us, but there's a lot of excitement," Taube said. "It's good for us to lead by example."
Atlanta has three certified buildings, including the Arthur M. Blank Family Office building, which this summer became the Southeast's first gold-rated building. Nearly two dozen other projects seeking certification are under way in Atlanta, which will host the council's annual Greenbuild Expo in November.
The city council in Austin, Texas passed a resolution in 2000 requiring LEED certification for large public projects. The city's Combined Transportation, Emergency and Communications Center earned a silver rating earlier this year.
As green buildings garner more attention, a popular misconception is that they cost more, Fedrizzi said.
"If you start the process early, with an educated team, you can do it for not a penny more than conventional construction," he said.
One Bryant Park is an exception. Less than half of the project's $1 billion price tag comes from construction costs, but innovative and extensive environmental features add about $15 million.
Energy savings, tax benefits and increased worker productivity should quickly make up the extra expense, Fox said.
Bank of America and the Durst Organization, a real estate firm experienced with building green in New York, broke ground in August for the 52-story, crystalline skyscraper. Its designers plan to rack up many points to join the handful of platinum-certified buildings.
Recycled construction materials will abound. Nearly half of the 56,000 tons of cement will be made from pulverized slag, a waste material from steel blast furnaces.
Lights will dim when more sunlight streaks in and two teams will examine all mechanical equipment to ensure energy efficiency.
A 5.1-megawatt natural gas power plant will meet 70 percent of those reduced electric needs, diverting excess energy at night to make ice that bolsters daytime air conditioning.
A ventilation system in the floor will blow filtered air and give each person temperature control, addressing the No. 1 office building complaint that it's too hot or cold.
A planted roof will collect rain, and waterless urinals will save 3 million gallons of water a year. Storing ground water drawn to a 60-foot-deep cellar will reduce flooding in surrounding buildings and lessen the burden on city sewers.
That ground water's heat will help warm and cool the same street-level branch bank powered by food scraps from the corporate cafeteria.
Building green "will become a baseline for the way that all construction happens," Fedrizzi said. "To build any other way really is embarrassing."
On the Web:

U.S. Green Building Council:

Greenbuild Expo:

One Bryant Park:

Atlanta sustainable design:

David Ho's e-mail address is