Feature Article - September 2009
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Green Up

Trends in Eco-Friendly Facility Design

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Inspiring Example:
San Antonio YMCA, San Antonio, Texas

Using an existing space (rather than carting it off to the landfill and starting over) is a very green concept. "The greenest building is the one that's already there," said Edgar Farrera of Marmon Mok. The San Antonio YMCA has recently purchased several abandoned grocery store buildings and is converting them into gyms and natatoriums. "That's a great reuse of a building that's difficult to move [on the real estate market]…. Now instead of blight—a big vacant box getting tagged [with graffiti]—they have a facility to promote health," he said. "It's a win-win all over the place."

To LEED or Not to LEED

The LEED rating system awards points for making sustainable choices in several categories that cover a project from planning and design to construction and on through operation. Projects earning enough points can be LEED certified, and are awarded silver, gold or platinum status if they are particularly high-scoring. Points categories include:

Site Selection: LEED encourages transforming a parking lot or other previously developed site into a building, rather than taking up green space. This category also looks at issues like landscaping with plants appropriate to the region and managing erosion and stormwater runoff.

Water Efficiency: LEED looks for smart water management inside and outside the building. Points earned in this category often come from installing efficient fixtures and appliances, as well as managing runoff through smart landscaping.

Energy & Atmosphere: This category encourages innovation to minimize the amount of energy needed to run the building, including heating and cooling of air and water. Points are awarded for particularly efficient systems, as well as those that use alternative sources of lighting such as sunlight (rather than artificial light) and solar energy (instead of electricity).

Indoor Environmental Quality: Selecting natural materials that don't "offgas" chemicals into the air, as well as creating spaces with daylight and pleasing acoustics can earn points in this category.

Locations & Linkages: LEED also looks at how a building fits into the community around it. Is it constructed near public transportation and green space? Does it repurpose a previously developed site?

Additional LEED points can be earned for Awareness & Education, if building owners provide those using the structure with the tools they need to maximize its green features; Innovation in Design, if the project goes above and beyond to incorporate eco-friendliness and enhance performance; and Regional Priority, if the building addresses challenges, such as water conservation in the American Southwest, that are of particular importance in that area of the country.