Issue Date: November 17, 2008
Working In A Green Building
In Washington, D.C., and within sight of the Capitol dome is a glass sliver of an office building that, if you see it out of the corner of your eye, looks like a shiny oceangoing vessel making its way between First Street and New Jersey Avenue.
The tall glass sail is the headquarters of the National Association of Realtors. And neither its location nor its design—which holds Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council—happened by accident, NAR Treasurer Jim Helsel says.
"When we decided to build new, rather than renovate, we made a conscious decision to put our money where our mouth was," Helsel says. "We always say we want to be energy efficient and do what's right for the environment. We wanted to show our members, the public, and Congress that we mean what we say. We made the decision, recognizing that the building cost would be higher, that we wanted it to be LEED certified."
The green thinking began with the choice of location. Helsel's team surveyed staff members to find out where they commuted from and how they got to work. NAR was able to cut pollution and save its employees money by limiting their search to within three blocks of public transportation and by including bike racks and showers on the property.
The land that NAR chose was an environmentally contaminated site. The group made a commitment to document the demolition and environmental remediation to show that the land was properly cleaned up.
Materials selection was an important part of the early planning for the building, Helsel says. "The early start meant we could pick materials that would allow us to do things that would help make it green." Choices included sustainable carpets, low-solvent paints, reflective windows, and photosensitive light fixtures. Helsel estimates the choices probably bumped the building's price tag up 3 to 5%, but he expects a three- to seven-year payback from lower utility costs.
But the best payback has been the reaction of NAR staff to their new home. "Everybody loves it," Helsel says. "Everybody gets a window, even people in cubicles. They especially like that there is a lot of natural light, even in the corridor."
Employees of drug company Genzyme also rave about their green workspaces. The biotech firm has three LEED-certified buildings to its credit and has made a commitment that all new company buildings will be designed to green standards.
In September, Genzyme marked the grand opening of its new Science Center in Framingham, Mass. The laboratory facility hosts early-stage drug discovery research for new treatments for Parkinson's disease, cancer, and heart disease.
The company's first foray into green buildings was its Cambridge, Mass., headquarters. In an employee survey, occupants reported feeling more alert, being more productive, and having a sense of pride about working in a green building, reported Erin Emlock, associate manager of corporate communications.
One feature that headquarters employees seem especially to like is the number of collaborative spaces in the building: Gardens, transparent offices, casual meeting places, and coffee bars encourage spontaneous interactions.
"We took what we learned and incorporated the features in our new lab building. Both have a central atrium and a glass exterior," Emlock says. The labs had to be enclosed, but interior walls are all glass and let natural light into the research areas.
The company estimates that it saves 26% on energy compared with a comparable, nongreen research building. Emlock points out that it is hard to make laboratory spaces truly energy efficient due to energy-hungry equipment like fume hoods.
The green building ethic fits Genzyme's corporate culture, Emlock says. "Our head of research says scientists as a group tend to be in tune with environmental issues. You do see a lot of hybrid cars in the parking lot of our buildings. It seems to particularly resonate with our scientists just because of what they do every day. There is a connection there."
- Chemical & Engineering News
- ISSN 0009-2347
- Copyright © American Chemical Society