Ann Arbor Area BUSINESS MONTHLY magazine brings the reader the latest business news and information important to the businesspeople in Washtenaw County. Each month articles cover real estate, legal, Internet, employee concerns and the climate of business in the greater Ann Arbor area. There is news about company employees and feature articles on local businesses. We cover business news from Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Dexter, Manchester, Milan, Saline, Whitmore Lake, and Ypsilanti.
Designing For Conservation
. . .Color It Green
School of Natural Resources & Environment was awarded a Gold LEED certification. Photo courtesy of QUINN EVANS/ARCHITECTS.
Tony Menyhart of FranChoices has been meeting with labor unions and other groups to offer advice on selecting possible franchises.
By Kate Kellogg
The construction and operation of any nonresidential building—whether a small school or large manufacturing facility—has a tremendous environmental impact. From ground-breaking to demolition, every commercial building ultimately depletes nonrenewable resources. Until recently, most buildings were designed primarily to fulfill a function while pleasing the eye. Today, builders, architects and community planners are acknowledging another critical factor—sustainability.
· In 2002, the commercial sector consumed 17,400 trillion BTU of primary energy—a 64 percent increase over 1980 levels, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
· In 1998, the construction of new non-residential buildings in the U.S. consumed more than four billion board feet of lumber, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
· In 1995, the commercial sector used 9.6 billion gallons of water per day, an increase of 16 percent from 1990 levels, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
· In 1996, construction, renovation, and demolition of non-residential buildings generated 77.4 million tons of waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
· The combustion of fossil fuels to supply energy to commercial buildings resulted in the emission of 275 million metric tons of carbon equivalents in 2002. This represents roughly 18 percent of all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, according to the U.S. Department of Energy*.
The green building industry seeks to reverse the trend of finite resource consumption through every stage of a building’s life cycle. If done, right, the green approach also results in long-term cost savings and increased productivity for whatever organization owns and operates the building.
For example, an upfront investment of two percent in green building design, on average, results in life cycle savings of 20 percent of the total construction cost —more than ten times the initial investment, reports the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
The benefits of green buildings also extend to the organization’s workforce. A study by Carnegie Mellon University found that improvements in lighting control increased productivity by an average 7.1 percent. An investigation of 30,000 study subjects, reports the USGBC, found significant associations between ventilation levels and higher carbon dioxide concentrations —a common symptom in facilities with “sick building syndrome.”
* Bulleted information from a fact sheet compiled by the Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment.
The Basics of Green
What exactly is a “green building?” According to the Environmental House Resource Center (of Recycle Ann Arbor), green buildings “work with the natural environment rather than against it.” They implement energy efficient design and construction elements in the envelope, infrastructure, and landscaping. Green buildings have air-tight exteriors and ample insulation in walls and around plumbing. They are well-sealed with high-performance windows and may use renewable energy from the sun, wind and ground heat. Their windows and skylights provide natural light that reduces the need for electrical lighting. All of these strategies reduce fossil fuel use and emissions.
Green buildings conserve water through use of low flow fixtures and toilets and “greywater recovery” systems that collect water from sinks and showers for non-drinking water use. The Environmental House emphasizes the benefits of Energy Star products such as washing machines and dishwashers that use less water than other brands. Energy Star is a government-backed, voluntary labeling program designed to identify and promote energy-efficient products.
Green buildings use materials that create less pollution to manufacture, that are renewable, reused, and longer-lasting. For example, the renovation of the University of Michigan’s Dana Building (which houses the School of Natural Resources and Environment) used flooring material made from recycled tire rubber. The building’s new ceiling tiles are composed of pressed aspen fiber made from aspen trees, which are fast-growing and more easily replaced than other species.
Whenever possible, green buildings use materials that are locally and regionally available. The USGBC’s Green Building Rating system awards the prestigious LEED certification to projects that have demonstrated a commitment to sustainability. Within the materials category, the LEED standard looks at both the content of materials and their place of origin.
“Projects score points for using material—be it oil, wool, or limestone—that were extracted within 500 miles of a job,” says Tom Whitmore, senior project manager for Christman (construction) Company’s Southeast Michigan Office. “These would have less environmental impact that something like marble that is only quarried in Italy. Transporting the marble from overseas would entail a huge energy expenditure.”
The Triple Bottom Line
Sustainability experts often refer to the “triple bottom line” approach to green building. The Triple Bottom Line incorporates the economic, social and environmental principles of sustainability.
Green elements such as solar orientation, an airtight envelope, and energy efficient mechanical systems for heating and cooling may not lower the initial cost of a building at the time of construction, says Whitmore. “But they will definitely lower the cost of operating the building. By spending money wisely on design, you may end up with a building that offers a better bottom line than your neighbor’s.”
The social bottom line—benefits to people—is a bit harder to quantify. But many studies have shown that improved natural lighting, good interior air quality, and connections to the outdoors result in better productivity and lower absenteeism, notes Whitmore. “Green environments in schools improve students’ retention and comprehension,” he says. “People function better in buildings that have been designed and constructed using sustainable principles.”
The environmental bottom line of course accrues benefits to the surrounding community, the entire planet, and future generations. By creating less waste and using less energy, a green building contributes to resource preservation and cleaner air and water. Recycling is a key component. The ultimate recycling achievement is to adapt an existing building, in lieu of constructing a new one.
The Lansing-based Christman Company has done just that with several projects, including the 1992 restoration of the State Capitol Building. More recently, the company took on a large sustainable project for the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) in Monroe, Michigan. In 2001, Christman Company began the renovation of the campus’s Depression-era Motherhouse, which houses over 200 IHM sisters and serves as headquarters of the congregation.
“The IHM nuns are very green-minded,” says Whitmore. Among their missions is the creation of a life-nourishing, environmentally and economically sustainable campus on their 280-acre parcel. They recycle everything from inkjet cartridges to cell phones.
Many sustainable technologies were incorporated into renovation of the 376,000 square-foot Motherhouse. Those included a geothermal heating and cooling system and greywater recycling system. The design maximizes daylight. Many of the original light fixtures and wood windows were restored and updated with sustainable finishes.
Some antique fixtures were not suited for new use in the renovated building. “We contacted Recycle Ann Arbor, which sent trucks down to the site and picked up these items,” says Whitmore. “The sisters were able to make some money from the resale.”
While much of the direction in green building comes from architects, construction managers play an important role. In all their projects, Christman strives to responsibly manage waste that comes off construction sites and sorts trash for recyclable items. The firm also carefully monitors interior air quality during construction, protecting duct work and mechanical units from contamination. Otherwise, dirt in the air distribution system would adversely affect the long-term quality of indoor air.
As for sustainable design, “it’s been around forever,” says Whitmore. “Roman architects situated buildings to minimize heat gain and maximize the cooling effect of prevailing winds.” Today, global warming and fears of oil depletion have driven the most recent trend toward sustainability in design and construction.
The USGBC’s LEED rating system has helped the movement by providing a universally accepted measuring tool for green building. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, provides a check-list for meeting performance and environmental goals in non-residential buildings. Buildings that score enough points for green features receive LEED certification from committees of practitioners in the building industry. A LEED-certified building becomes a recognized leader in the green building sector and qualifies for state and local government incentives.
Michigan ranks fairly high in its number of LEED-certified projects. The Grand Rapids area has by far the most LEED buildings, perhaps due to its furniture industry, which has emerged as a leader in sustainable design. So far, Ann Arbor can boast only one completed LEED project, the Dana Building on the U-M campus. The new Ann Arbor High School is registered to receive LEED certification, as is the new building project planned for the U-M Ross School of Business.
The century-old S.T. Dana Building, renovated in 2003, serves as a laboratory and educational center for ecological themes. The $25 million project is Ann Arbor’s model for sustainability. Its attributes include photovoltaic electricity generation (consisting of solar panels and cells), natural lighting, radiant cooling, and even two composting restrooms. Designed by William McDonough & Partners and the local architectural firm of Quinn Evans Architects, the building includes materials such as recycled glass tile, and natural cork flooring. Many of the countertops were made from wheat straw, waste newspaper and other renewable resources. The building earned a gold rating from the LEED program.
While not a LEED-certified building, the Mallets Creek District Library exemplifies sustainable design. The building incorporates solar heating, natural daylighting, convection cooling, and materials made from renewable resources. It also is the first building in the city to have a “green roof.” Literally green in the summer, the roof has a cover of Sedum plants and an aromatic garden. The trend appears to be growing locally: Big George’s Home Appliance Mart on West Stadium Boulevard, has announced plans to install a green roof on its new showroom.
Unlike conventional roofs, which can act as heat sinks, green roofs improve air quality by taking in carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen. The vegetation also filters harmful air-born particulates. In addition, these roofs reduce stormwater runoff as the plants retain moisture and gently release the excess. Economic benefits include savings on heating and cooling costs for green-roofed buildings and a longer material lifespan. Although initially more expensive than conventional roofs, green roofs last roughly twice as long, according to the nonprofit organization, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities.
The LEED program’s influence has helped fuel the green building movement, Whitmore believes. A member of the USGBC, he is encouraged that attendance at annual LEED conferences has been doubling each year for the past three years. And his clients are asking more questions about energy efficient building practices.
“I think business is rethinking the measures of success and is moving away from the mentality of continuous growth,” he says. “I’m especially happy that we’ll have a LEED-certified high school. Schools are great places to implement sustainable principles. I hope those will become second nature for the next generation.”
The Low-Hanging Fruit
Whether a building is green, grey, or brown, it makes good business sense to conserve energy on all fronts. The business within that building not only saves money but helps conserve resources and reduce fossil fuel emissions.
An energy company might seem to have little interest in offering energy-saving tips to its customers. Yet DTE Energy is actually a good resource for energy conservation advice. Its website and in-house experts offer a wealth of information on strategies for maintaining energy-efficient businesses. One of those experts is Larry Kaufman, of DTE Energy’s Residential and Small Business Marketing group. He has conducted more than 50 energy-savings workshops for the utility.
His first piece of advice on reducing energy costs is “look for the low-hanging fruit.” In other words, take an easy step that offers a big payback. T-8 high-efficiency fluorescent tube lights are examples of such a fruit, he says. He advocates replacing standard T-12 lamps with T-8s, which save 25 percent of the wattage the older lights use.
“These new, compact tubes give out more light and have a better color rating,” he says. “It’s the best energy investment, payback-wise, you can make.” Incandescent bulbs likewise should be replaced with fluorescent bulbs, which use a quarter as much energy and last ten times as long, he adds. “Regular bulbs seem to burn out every time you tighten them.”
Light sensors also are great electricity-savers. These are basically motion sensors that turn the lights on when people approach and off when no one is around. Relatively inexpensive to install, they can save fifteen to 70 percent on electricity costs when installed in offices and 75 percent in restrooms and corridors, says Kaufman.
He recommends that businesses visit the Energy Star website (www.energystar.gov) for information on the many Energy Star labeled commercial and residential products available. The Energy Star label now appears on many leading brands. Although all have been rated for energy performance by the EPA, Kaufman cautions that these ratings emphasize energy savings rather than quality in general. “You might want to balance your evaluations with resources like Consumer Report,” he advises.
Energy Star-labeled water coolers can offer annual savings up to $47 per unit, according to Kaufman, because they use less energy than standard coolers when they are not cooling water. “About 90 percent of the energy consumed by standard cold water coolers is consumed while these units are not in use,” he says. Moreover, the impact on the environment is staggering: electricity consumed by water coolers each year produces annual pollution equivalent to the emissions of 700,000 cars, DTE estimates.
Office equipment is another area where Energy Star products can save money and resources. Energy Star printers have energy-saver modes that can cut electricity use by 65 percent. Choosing a printer with a duplexing mode can save a company $30 per month in paper costs, not to mention trees. The same holds for Energy-Star double-sided copiers.
For savings on heating and cooling, use zone controls and programmable thermostats, says Kaufman. If a building has unoccupied spaces, seal off that space from the rest of the building and use a zone control to lower the temperature. A programmable thermostat can be set to automatically lower a business’s heat to about 55 degrees during non-work hours and raise the temperature each morning. “It takes a gas furnace about half an hour to heat up from 55 degrees to room temperature,” says Kaufman. “It’s a myth that you use more energy bringing the temperature up than you save by lowering it.”
Space heaters are an energy efficiency expert’s nemesis. Kaufman strongly advocates that businesses institute a no-space-heater policy. “They are high energy users that can add ten to 15 cents per hour per space heater to your energy bills,” he says.
Portable fans, on the other hand, use energy at a rate of only about one cent per hour. But the best way to cut summer cooling costs is through a desiccant dehumidification system. About sixty percent of an air conditioner’s work is dehumidifying the environment, Kaufman says. Avoid air conditioning systems that are too big because they may cool a building too quickly without removing the humidity. Proper sizing of a unit is best for comfort and economy. When ready to upgrade to a high efficiency unit, look for a system with a SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) of at least 12. The higher the SEER rating, the lower the cost to operate.
For many more energy-saving tips for businesses, visit the DTE Energy website at http://my.dteenergy.com/business. Click on “Commercial Businesses” and then on “Energy Tips” in the “Important Info” column.
Down the Road...
No matter how many energy-saving steps businesses take, most still rely on traditional sources of energy. DTE Energy has partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy, the state of Michigan, and the city of Southfield to explore and produce an alternative to pollution-emitting fuels. The company has established a Hydrogen Technology Park in Southfield to develop, build and operate a hydrogen energy demonstration project. The venture seeks to determine the commercial viability of hydrogen as a replacement fuel for homes, businesses, and automobiles.
The $3 million project will create hydrogen gas from tap water and use that gas in fuel cell generators and to refuel cell-powered vehicles. The hydrogen will be produced using electricity from a combination of grid power and on-site solar photovoltaic cells. The facility is capable of delivering 100,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, enough to power a small office complex and several fuel cell vehicles per day, according to DTE.
Abundant and non-polluting, hydrogen produces no harmful emissions when used in fuel cells. Governments, businesses, and research organizations see this energy carrier as a safe and clean alternative to coal and oil. Other partners in the venture include DaimlerChrysler, BP, and Lawrence Technological University.
As the recycling movement gained momentum in the 1990s, many homeowners and businesses did their best to sort recyclable materials from landfill trash. At times this effort seemed futile. Some recycling companies were not reliable about picking up on schedule or you had to spend time and gas money hauling your recyclables to a center miles away.
Recycle Ann Arbor, which created a solution to the problem for homeowners, now serves businesses as well. Called RecycleWorks, the service picks up businesses’ recyclables ranging from batteries to Styrofoam. RecycleWorks provides 96-gallon carts at no charge and schedules pickups on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. All materials are handled in an environmentally sound manner and are transported to mills or plants for processing.
In addition, RecycleWorks offers free guidance and consultation to its business customers. “We provide brochures and recommendations on the types of bins businesses can use and train workers on how to handle their recyclable materials,” says Michelle Dill, account coordinator. “We try to help the company create a recycling program that is convenient for everyone. It costs little or nothing but benefits everyone. No one wants to see landfills all over the city.”
The service is free to all businesses within city limits. Businesses outside the city are charged $45 per collection. RecycleWorks currently serves about 200 businesses in Ann Arbor and about 100 outside the city, says Dill.
Her customers represent nearly every area of business and nonprofit organization, from banks to auto parts suppliers to schools. Working with RecycleWorks staff, Washtenaw Community College developed a campus-wide recycling program for paper, cardboard, and mixed containers. The college reports that 34.9 tons of paper, 12 cubic yards of containers, and 417 cubic yards of cardboard have been collected since the program’s inception.
RecycleWorks takes many items that other recycling companies don’t, such as No. 5 plastics. The service also takes ink jet toner cartridges, scrap metal, floppy computer disks, glass, aluminum, Styrofoam, and all paper and cardboard products. This amounts to about 100,000 tons per year of recycled materials, according to Dill. The only items RecycleWorks cannot take are food containers, which inevitably contain remnants of food that can contaminate other materials.
The service does charge to take a few select items. Those include computer monitors ($10 for those under 25 inches and $20 for larger ones) and fluorescent light bulbs (one dollar each).
Want to get rid of old computers for free? Dill notes that The Goodwill Association of Michigan and Dell Inc. have initiated a computer recovery program. Residents and businesses can drop off unwanted computer equipment at any of the 11 Goodwill association members. For no charge, Good Will ships the computers to Dell, which removes the memory. Equipment without resale value will be recycled.
For more information on RecycleWorks, contact Michele Dill at (734) 662-6288 or Michele@recycleannarbor.org .