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October 29, 2001
Companies Get Help Building Green
    by Robert Smith

The U.S. Green Building Council makes it easier for companies to be more energy efficient and friendlier to the environment by helping them construct "green" buildings.

Formed in 1993, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is a broad coalition of design, building, manufacturing, financial, research, government and environmental leaders working to promote buildings that are not only profitable, but also healthy and environmentally responsible. Its mission: speed up the adoption of green building practices, technologies, policies and standards.

In just eight years the USGBC has brought together more than 1000 members that include research centers such as the Rocky Mountain Institute, professional organizations such as the American Institute of Architects, building owners such as The Gap (ticker: GPS) and Target Stores (TGT), and product manufacturers such as Carrier. Carrier, a subsidiary of United Technologies (UTC), manufactures heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems.

In its efforts to mitigate the building industry's impact on the environment, the USGBC serves as a center for information, debate, education and action on green building. It also connects organizations peripherally involved in construction, from financing companies to the federal and state agencies that oversee the process.

"The USGBC is the framework we've needed forever," commented Keith Winn, program manager of sustainable business development with Miller SQA, a subsidiary of furnishings manufacturer Herman Miller (MLHR).

Six years ago Miller SQA built a 295,000 square foot manufacturing and distribution facility in Holland, Mich. with the help of the USGBC. "Separate industries have had their own environmental agendas for years, but it's never been intertwined like this until the USGBC brought them together," explained Mr. Winn.

The USGBC's most important contributions include the creation of a consistent definition of "green building," as well as a consensus-based national commercial green building rating system for new construction. Dubbed Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, the trademarked system was launched in 2000 after five years in the making. The USGBC offers LEED training workshops around the country along with testing for professional accreditation.

"We're promoting an approach to how buildings should be designed, and we want people to be thinking about all of these environmental issues from the very outset of a project," said Peter Templeton, LEED program manager. "The USGBC facilitates the green building process and gives people the tools to implement it."

LEED provides a flexible rating system that allows builders and designers to address the issues that most affect the particular project they're working on, and the program will be reviewed and modified every five years. A pilot LEED program will be launched in 2002 that addresses green methods for renovation and restoration projects.

The Miller SQA Building project was used as a testing ground and model for the LEED program. The project used an old damaged industrial site, blending the large new building into the landscape and screening much of it from view. The surrounding habitat was restored, with parts reforested or reseeded with native grasses and flowers. Nearly a mile of continuous wetland habitat was also created, which is used to purify the building's stormwater runoff.

Following USGBC guidelines, the building was constructed using a management process that recycled material waste. Green specifications were used in deciding on interior materials. Winn said that one of the biggest benefits of working with the USGBC was the immediate connections it provided with service firms and manufacturers who were on the same page as far as green buildings were concerned.

The project incorporated natural lighting, passive solar heat and advanced green technology and design in various building systems. Miller SQA found that the new systems and design decreased natural gas consumption by seven percent in the first year of use, as compared to the company's former facility. Electrical costs were also cut by 18 percent.

For other companies wondering how to follow in Miller SQA's footsteps, Mr. Winn has one comment: "The USGBC can show them how to do it."


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