The project called for upgrading heating and cooling systems, interior lighting systems, and facilities operating practices. Liedel estimates that the upgrades have increased the market value of the property by $4 for every $1 invested. The society also is reaping significant reductions in energy costs. “Previously, we were heating the entire buildings; now we heat them on a floor-by-floor basis, which has pared our energy costs substantially,” he says. “We upgraded all the lighting to be more energy efficient and retrofitted the roofs of the buildings to reduce the ‘heat-island effect’ — the heat that builds up inside a building when the sun cooks the roof. We also installed waterless urinals and other water reduction systems and brought the building up to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Overall, we reduced our total operating costs by as much as 14 percent.”
The society received LEED silver certification. “We were a couple points away from the gold, but for a nonprofit organization constrained by capital considerations, we’re immensely pleased with the silver,” says the CFO. “We just wanted to get certified.” Liedel adds that the society “is still waiting for our plaque, which we plan to affix to the façade. We’re very proud of what we accomplished.”
Green designs run the gamut. Pittsburgh’s new convention center, considered the world’s largest green building, purifies bathroom sink and toilet water with ultraviolet light and then recycles it for reuse in toilets and for landscape irrigation. Ford’s renovated Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan — whose belching smokestacks were proudly displayed on 1940s postcards — today is topped by living greenery to reduce the heat-island effect. Both efforts won LEED gold. And the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental action group, boasts a headquarters building in Santa Monica, California, with organic linoleum floors and steel rebar made from melted handguns. The group won LEED’s top rating of platinum.
LEEDing the Way
The U.S. Green Buildings Council, founded in 1993, today comprises 4,600 member organizations and companies that intend to renovate buildings to embrace environmentally friendly principles, or to build them from scratch. In just the past four years, the council estimates that more than 168 million square feet of commercial building space have been either registered or certified under LEED. “People spend 90 percent of their lives inside buildings, most of that at work, where indoor air pollutants are two to five times higher and occasionally more than 100 times higher than outdoor levels,” says Nigel Howard, the council’s vice president and head of the LEED program. “We’re trying to drive change that ensures the workplace is a healthy, productive environment.”
LEED certificates are awarded when applicants achieve the requisite number of points in six categories of performance: sustainability, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, materials and resources, energy and atmospheric features, and design innovation. Companies make all sorts of choice when renovating or when building anew, says Howard, “from proximity to mass transit to issues having to do with the ecology of the site to how storm water will be handled.”