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Jul 222009

By Melissa Segrest
Green Right Now

If anyone knows about energy-efficient, environmentally responsible buildings, it’s the U.S. Green Building Council. The booming non-profit wrote the book when it comes to guiding and recognizing those who create the world’s greenest buildings.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the council’s new headquarters in Washington, D.C., has received their own highest rating for environmentally smart buildings – platinum.

Before you assume they’re tooting their own horn, a look at all of the green elements of the council’s new 75,000-square-foot office may allay suspicions. (Besides, if they didn’t build the most energy-efficient and environmentally sound building possible, more than a few fingers would wag.)

The building includes:

  • 100 percent underground parking (thus, no heat-island effect) and proximity to public transportation.
  • A two-story water feature in the airy, open lobby to bring the outdoors inside.  Floor-to-ceiling glass windows offer every office and cubicle daylight and a view outdoors. The windows’ electronic shades reduce glare and automatically adjust based on exterior light.
  • An elevator lobby, reception and conference areas covered in 500-year-old gumwood that was, according to a release from the council, salvaged from the Tennessee River. A two-story portion of the gumwood contains the USGBC logo.
  • Water use was decreased by 40 percent with the help of low-flow faucets and shower heads, two-way flushing systems on toilets and waterless urinals.
  • Zoning controls that employees can use to control temperature provide energy savings, as do sensors that turn lights off when offices are empty (or dim and turn off when daylight is bright).
  • Furnishings and finishes are all green: wall panels made of recycled polyesters, carpet tile that is 60 percent recycled, countertops of 100 percent recycled glass. Paint, flooring and furnishings do not add chemicals to the air, and there are CO2 sensors.
  • An impressive 95 percent of the construction and demolition debris from the construction was reconstituted, never nearing a landfill.
  • A dashboard system that provides constant feedback on the building’s energy use.
  • A “learning pathway” explains the green design techniques of the building. A “material wall” shows every material used in the offices, including where it came from and how it’s used.
  • A “performance dashboard” – a flat-panel TV – shows how the building works, and its efficiency.
  • The “progress wall” explains and outlines the council’s function and its LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficiency & Design) certification system, which recognizes buildings for their green design, operations, location and maintenance. The building also has an “environmental” timeline showing centuries of green milestones.
  • The “Knowledge Center” replaces the conventional library. It’s a “smart room” chock full of examples of and reading material about green technology.
  • The council’s employees moved into their new building in March. They needed more space, their statement says, because of more than 35,000 projects participating in their LEED system (which adds up to more than 5.6 billion square feet of construction in every U.S. state and 91 countries).

The green building industry, the council says, is expected to grow to $60 billion by next year.

The council brings together builders and environmentalists, elected officials, corporations and others to help make buildings – new or retrofitted — more cost-efficient and environmentally sound. They provide green guidance and recognition for everything from houses and commercial buildings, neighborhoods and schools, retail and healthcare facilities. Buildings in the U.S. suck up a lot of energy – some estimates put the carbon footprint of buildings at about 40 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions –so LEED certification can help reduce carbon footprints.

In April, the council launched a new version of its LEED program, with expanded “credit points” for various design elements, and in some cases, stricter requirements.

Photos courtesy United States Green Building Council

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