Feature Article - April 2010
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Shades of Green

Eco-Friendly, Budget-Friendly Facilities

By Dawn Klingensmith

One way to gain points that is essentially an outlay of money—in other words, points that are frankly bought—is to purchase renewable energy credits, or RECs. Schendler—the corporate sustainability leader, currently employed by an Aspen ski resort—spoke in support of, and then came out against, the purchase of RECs to gain green cred. As was discussed in his Business Week interview, RECs are essentially a financial arrangement that companies use to justify assertions that they have reduced their carbon footprint. The idea behind RECs is well-intended—they are supposed to result in a third party developing pollution-free power. In many cases they enable REC buyers to say they have offset 100 percent of their electricity use. RECs were meant to marshal market forces behind wind and solar power. Developers of clean energy sell RECs, usually measured in megawatt hours of electricity, to buyers who want to counterbalance their pollution by funding environment-friendly power. However, according to Schendler and others, RECs allow purchase of bragging rights as opposed to providing incentives that lead to the construction of wind turbines or solar panels. Simply put, the dollar amounts are too small to support alternative energy developments that weren't already in the works.

Philosophical arguments aside, with a properly trained professional you can determine whether pursuing LEED certification makes sense. Due to the so-called "LEED premium," the University of California-Irvine decided to not pursue LEED certification on projects less than $5 million, although the campus has a strong commitment to sustainability and supports LEED in general.

Bottom line according to Statz: "We encourage our clients to certify their construction projects only if they can affirmatively answer the question, 'How will a sustainable certification benefit your organization today and in the future?' LEED certification is worth the additional time and expense if it strengthens the organization's story and improves their ability to obtain their goals."

However, "If certification is not likely to produce any tangible benefit to the organization, then we would guide away from it."

Green Innovations

LED lighting: Long-lasting LED (light-emitting diode) lamps can potentially reduce lighting power use by 50 percent or more. LED lamps don't require the use and management of mercury, as is the case with fluorescent lamps. LED lamps cost more and are not as readily available, but as technology progresses, demand increases and initial costs are reduced, this likely will change.

Electrochromic windows: Electrochromic windows have improved greatly in recent years. On an ongoing basis, they adjust to exterior lighting conditions. The brighter the light outside, the darker the window becomes in order to manage glare and heat gain. Their cost at this time is too high to make them practical for the majority of budget-conscious building projects; however, prices should eventually come down.

Smart grids and meters: The current utility power system depends on meters that merely record the amount of power used, and perhaps when that power is used. Smart grids are entering the market that will provide the ability to read a price signal from the power grid, using that price signal to control the operation of equipment in a building. For example, if power costs are high, the temperature in the building would be permitted to rise a couple of degrees so the air-conditioning unit runs less. Smart grids utilize smart meters and control systems to more efficiently and effectively manage the operation of a building and its equipment.

Source: Hoffman LLC, Appleton, Wis.