AS SEEN IN USA TODAY’S NEWS SECTION MARCH 31, 2004
Libertarians grouse when tax credits or grants subsidize green projects — though that's not what's fueling the trend, nor are such subsidies typically large. "All things being equal, I can't imagine that you wouldn't make an ethical or moral choice to buy something that had green features," says Henry developer Robert Gerding, whose company has $1.5 billion in green projects completed or in the works, 90% of its portfolio. "Obviously, I'm a true believer, but this is something that has to happen." An $800,000 fund Portland set aside in 2001 to help green projects is nearly spent, and city officials have no plans to renew it. Long a hub of environmental activism and green values, Portland has a sustainable building ethic that is deep- rooted: 44 green buildings totaling 4 million square feet. Sustainable building is by no means confined to green bastions such as the Pacific Northwest and California. Pittsburgh has more green buildings than any other U.S. city, including its new convention center, which achieved LEED gold. The nation's highest profile construction project, the Freedom Tower and other buildings around the World Trade Center site in New York, will use green principles. The $48.5 million, 15-story Henry, one of the country's first large residential buildings to go green, is the city's most expensive condo project: Prices range from $280,000 for one- bedrooms to $1.3 million for three-bedroom penthouse units. But it also sold out quicker than any other — the last condo was snapped up nine months before completion. Similarly, all 293 units in the 27-story Solaire green apartment building near Ground Zero in New York rented quickly — most at 4% to 5% above market rates. At least 10 states and 23 cities and counties — Los Angeles; Seattle; San Diego; Dallas; Kansas City, Mo.; San Jose, Calif.; Chicago and Portland among them — require or are considering requiring a LEED rating for all public buildings. To build a green building is only very marginally more expensive, and that margin is decreasing all the time. "Sustainability was very important to us," says Mary Krueger, a database administrator who with her husband, Phil, bought a two- bedroom Henry unit after selling their four- bedroom suburban house. "I'm real notorious as an avid recycler, just real conscious of what we use and what we do to the environment." As of October, the General Services Administration, builder of non-military federal buildings, requires LEED certification on structures that cost $2 million or more. "As an agency, our goal is silver," GSA architect Don Horn says. "Some have taken the challenge and gone for gold." — S c o t t L e w i s , g r e e n b u i l d i n g c o n s u l t a n t Industry standards and a scoring system, adopted in 2000, brought accountability and accelerated green building. The 4,000-member Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program (LEED) has become a benchmark followed by developers, architects and elected officials across the USA. Its sought-after silver, gold and platinum ratings verify the "greenness" of a project. Green doesn't have to mean exotic. Developers earn points for low-tech basics such as positioning buildings to maximize sunlight inside and to lower the wind's effect on heating needs. Retro ideas such as office-building windows that open to let in fresh air are in vogue. Tall windows with "light shelves" to bounce daylight into interior spaces and motion sensors to shut lights off when people leave rooms trim energy costs. Just as studies show better test scores by students who learn in well-lighted spaces and higher retail sales in stores with skylights, many experts suspect that worker productivity also improves in eco-friendly offices. Some employers report lower absenteeism and higher retention rates in green buildings. Green, or planted, roofs that insulate and reduce runoff have made the jump from Europe, as have low-pressure heating and air-conditioning vents that run under raised floors. Directing builders to recycle construction waste earns points. And using recycled and natural materials — adding the coal byproduct fly ash to concrete, for example — is a LEED goal. "In our old space, people complained constantly about bad air," says John Zmolek, executive vice president of Verity Credit Union in Seattle. "We haven't had a complaint in six years."
Because energy is a big-ticket operating cost, saving it is a key green goal. The Henry, with a roof-top "chiller" to cool water for air conditioning, saves an estimated 35% over a conventional building. The Solaire in New York cuts energy use by 67% at peak times, says developer Timothy Carey, president of Battery Park City Authority.
Those pressed-straw cabinets in The Henry are wheatboard, similar to particleboard but without the toxic resins. Wheatboard was more expensive than particleboard until Home Depot began stocking it and drove the price down. Paints that don't emit gas from VOCs — volatile organic compounds — once added tens of thousands of dollars to building costs. Now they're price-neutral. Natural-fiber carpets are becoming more competitive with the petrochemical-based standard.
Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.