Feature Article - March 2008
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Eco-Impact

Easy Being Green

By Dawn Klingensmith


Getting started

Taking on such responsibility may seem overwhelming, so where do you begin? Hiring a LEED-accredited consultant and striving for the Silver, Gold or Platinum rating is about as green as you can get, but complying with the Materials & Resources section of the LEED criteria is a smaller step in the right direction.

California State University-Fullerton's (CSUF) new student recreation center is expected to qualify for a Gold Rating, but the learning curve leading up to that honor was steep. Like many other facility managers, Andrea Willer, the recreation center's director, expected green building materials to cost more and was concerned that certain energy-saving products would not perform as well as their conventional counterparts. She personally tested low-flow showerheads to ensure they met her standards.

"I was concerned about client comfort," she explained. "I didn't want people to feel like they were getting a dribble shower."

As for cost, Willer discovered there's a vast array of green products available that are no more expensive than standard products, and though some green products on the market do bear higher price tags, the upfront expenditure is offset over time by such factors as increased durability, reduced maintenance requirements and energy savings.

Because of the extensive analysis and documentation required, pursuing LEED certification is costly, but though official certification isn't feasible for all facilities, LEED standards can still be adhered to and eco-friendliness achieved for little or no extra cost by choosing building products made out of recycled or rapidly renewable materials, as well as regional products available within 500 miles of the site.

At its best, green design assesses a product's eco-friendliness over the span of its life cycle, from the raw materials and energy consumed in its production to its disposal or reuse, and a product that is green in one context becomes less so under different circumstances. For example, bamboo replenishes quickly after harvesting, but Baker said the Madison Children's Museum would not consider using it for flooring.

"It's a sustainable, organic, rapidly renewable material," she acknowledged, "but most of it comes from Asia, so you're shipping it halfway around the world," which contributes to fossil fuel depletion and pollution.

Salvaging, reusing or repurposing existing materials also has a gentler impact on the planet. Shemwell has used wood siding from barns for flooring, and when one building comes down to make way for another, he reuses the bricks. When construction gets under way in September on a new horticulture center at the University of Pennsylvania's Morris Arboretum, as per Shemwell's specifications, the foundation from the old building will be ground up and used to make pervious pavement for the parking lot, which will ensure stormwater runoff doesn't upset the site's natural hydrology. And given the high clay content of the earth at Shiloh National Military Park in Mississippi, when digging began for the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, he had displaced clay sent to a nearby factory to be made into bricks.