Is it a good idea to go green with your business facility during a recession? Just ask the decision-makers behind two of America’s mightiest skyscrapers.
The Willis (formerly Sears) Tower in Chicago is undergoing a $350 million retrofit that will include wind turbines and extensive energy-efficiency improvements, according to TreeHugger.com, a leading sustainability website. Also, the Empire State Building is receiving a $20 million retrofit that will reduce its energy usage by 40 percent, with annual energy savings in the region of $4.4 million.
“In the current economy, sustainable technology is more important than ever,” said Stephen Lamb, executive vice president of the Mechanical Contractors Association (MCA) of Chicago. “Year after year, green practices save money in a building’s operating costs—money that was literally being burned up by energy bills.”
With these thoughts in mind, it would seem logical for all business owners and managers to go green in their workplaces—but for many, one obstacle stands in the way, said Dan Bulley, senior vice president of the MCA Chicago and executive director of the Green Construction Institute.
“Many businesspeople haven’t gone green because they don’t know how to start,” said Bulley. “Green practices may seem time-consuming and extraneous to day-to-day operations. But, going green is a lot like a workplace safety program: it takes some extra effort, but the results are well worth the investment.”
One Green Step at a Time
What steps should be taken to initiate a sustainability program? Bulley suggests starting with a green inventory, using the LEED Green Building Rating System. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, this system is the benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings, which can be rated at one of several levels, including Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
“The best way to green your business is to use the five areas of sustainability established by the LEED system,” Bulley said. “This doesn’t mean you have to pursue a LEED rating for your building. You should use their system because it is well-organized and practical.”
The first division, Bulley said, is the building’s site. “If you are already in a building and aren’t moving soon, you are limited in some of the strategies you can take. But, you can still take some relatively easy steps that can make a big difference. For example, you can plant trees, shrubs and flowers. Use native species, since they don’t affect the local ecosystem and should require little or no extra watering.”
If you plant trees, Bulley noted, they should shade your building or parking lot. “Shading your building can cut cooling costs,” he said, “while shading asphalt parking areas can reduce what is called the urban heat island effect, which raises the temperature of the whole community.” Shrubs and bushes should be planted where they can absorb and filter storm water.
The next division, Bulley said, is water conservation. “Look into replacing sinks and toilets with low-flow fixtures,” he said. “When replacing urinals, you will find that a pint-flush urinal is more economical than a waterless urinal due to maintenance costs. You’re still using 88 percent less water than a regular urinal.”
He added that faucets with sensors are not only more convenient, but they save money. “Faucets should also be checked for leaks and fixed, just like at home,” he said.
The Biggest Energy Wasters
The third area to consider is also the largest: energy usage. “The biggest energy wasters in most workplaces are the heating/cooling systems and lighting,” Bulley said. “Always keep your heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system (HVAC) maintained properly. You can lose 15 percent and more of your system’s efficiency from dirty filters and coils or other impediments. Talk to your service contractor about the financial benefits of an HVAC maintenance contract.”
The age-old suggestion, “turn down your thermostat,” also saves money. “Make sure your building isn’t overheated or overcooled. If you overheat your building and people open windows, you are wasting all that energy.”
Lighting upgrades offer a quick payback, Bulley stated. “Today’s more energy-efficient lighting systems may seem expensive, but they often pay for themselves within a year.”
Materials and resources are the fourth division to consider. “Recycling is the most common measure in this category,” Bulley said. “If you own your own building, contact your waste hauler to review your recycling options. Some automatically sort all trash. If you are a tenant in a building that does not recycle, you should ask building management to start.”
If you are a business manager in charge of company recycling, your greatest challenge is to make sure employees recycle. “Often, people don’t recycle because they are not sure which items are recyclable,” he said. “So make a chart or poster with photos or samples of recyclables and show which bins should be used.”
Bulley offered this suggestions for materials and resources:
- Use paper with recycled content.
- Recycle used toner cartridges. You can buy refilled toner cartridges at lower prices than new ones.
- Buy items that are produced locally.
- Buy used or remanufactured office equipment.
- Repair furniture and fixtures instead of replacing them.
- Dispose of batteries and fluorescent lights properly. They do not belong in landfills.
Health and Comfort
The last division to consider is indoor environmental quality. This is often overlooked, since most people focus on energy savings when thinking about green concerns. However, employee health and comfort are also important.
“In the old days, you either had energy efficiency or good ventilation,” Bulley noted. “LEED makes you balance these factors. It’s certainly possible to have both.”
If you employ a cleaning company, make sure they use green products, such as biodegradable cleaning agents free of harsh chemicals. If your office is remodeling, the new paint, wallpaper and carpeting should be low-VOC. VOC stands for volatile organic compounds, meaning harmful and irritating gases that are emitted by these products after they are installed.
“These are just a few of the many things you can do to go green,” Bulley said. “Starting a green committee in your organization can also help, to give employees input into saving money and doing the right thing. When everyone has an opportunity to be involved, they embrace new ideas more readily.”
To find out more about MCA Chicago and green building, visit mca.org. For additional information, visit the green contractor website of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America at greencontractors.us.