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Buildings designed in cool shades of 'green'

Lower costs, higher demand produce eco-friendly projects across the USA

By John Ritter USA TODAY

PORTLAND, Ore. — Step inside a new condominium at The Henry, an upscale residential tower in the chic heart of this city's flourishing downtown.

Once a fringe movement, a legacy of the 1970s energy crisis that never quite caught on, the green building boom is attracting converts as disparate as New York Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, a Democrat who has vowed to make his city the USA's greenest.

See the doors and kitchen cabinets made of pressed straw. Notice no new-building smell from paint, glue and carpet. Puzzle at the funny toilets with two flush buttons. Be aware that incandescent lights are nowhere to be found. Stroll down the hall to the handy recycling bins. Turn on tap water heated by exhaust from clothes dryers and ranges. Marvel at the abundance of natural light and ventilation. Tap on hardwood floors cut exclusively from sustainable forests.

Welcome to Portland's newest "green" building — energy- efficient, water-stingy and full of features stressing the natural over the chemical, the recycled over the new and the renewable over the finite. The 123-unit Henry is part of a wave of green projects sweeping the country and revolutionizing the way we design and build.

Whether the tag is "eco-friendly," "sustainable" or "high- performance," green buildings are going mainstream in a big way. In three years, the U.S. Green Building Council has certified 89 office or apartment buildings, manufacturing plants, condos, convention centers, schools and libraries. More than 1,100 buildings have applied for the council's Good Housekeeping- type seal of approval.

A growing number of cities and states insist on green features in buildings that get tax dollars. The federal government requires its new buildings to meet green standards. Foundations are making green design a condition for grants. Local governments are adding "sustainability" to the job titles of planners and managers. Architecture students are pressuring universities for more courses in green design. Americans distressed by poor indoor air quality and "sick-building syndrome" are demanding fresher environments to live and work in.

Profit-driven developers and builders are going green because today's sustainable buildings are price-competitive with conventional ones. Manufacturers and suppliers of green building materials are rushing to cash in on an expanding market. The initial cost to go green may be slightly higher, but the payback in energy efficiency, water conservation and worker productivity easily recoups those outlays, experts say.

"To build a green building is only very marginally more expensive, and that margin is decreasing all the time," says Scott Lewis, a green building consultant here.

The right thing to do

"It's not like putting on a hair shirt and moving into a cave," says Dennis Wilde, senior project manager for The Henry. "A green building doesn't look any different than what people are used to."

As cost fades as a hurdle, green building is gaining virtually unassailable status as the right thing to do. There's carping from a few critics that standards are sometimes too restrictive.

Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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