Green Building Projects Thrive Despite Recession

by | Jul 21, 2009

pittsburghoperaWhat do an office building, an office and retail complex and an opera house have in common? Green features, including future LEED certification. Despite current economic conditions, building owners are moving forward with their renovation and new building plans to incorporate energy-saving and eco-friendly upgrades to save money in the long-term.

Demonstrating its leadership in green building design and certification, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has announced the Platinum certification of its new Washington, D.C. headquarters, making it the first project to certify under the latest version of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system.

USGBC said the new office space triples the size of its previous space, reflective of the green building industry itself, which is projected to reach $60 billion by 2010. Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO & founding chair, USGBC, said in a statement: “The vision of the space was to exemplify everything a LEED building is: high-performing, resource-efficient, healthy and productive.” Click here for photos of the new USGBC headquarters.

The 75,000 square foot office, divided between two floors, is connected by an open staircase in the lobby, behind which is one of the space’s most prominent design features: a two-story tall water feature, which helps bring the outdoors inside the space, said USGBC.

Other building highlights include the elevator lobby, reception and conference breakout areas clad in 500-year-old gumwood that was salvaged from the bottom of the Tennessee River; floor to ceiling glass windows for daylighting with an electronic window shade system to maximize natural light while minimizing glare; and installation of a dashboard system to provide real-time feedback on energy use.

In addition, water and energy reduction goals were set to reduce water use by 40 percent and energy use to be less than half that of a typical office. These and other design features helped USGBC achieve 36 out of 37 points in the Energy and Atmosphere category of the rating system. Click here for the USGBC LEED scorecard.

Tours of the new office suites will be available to the public to showcase USGBC’s green building principles.

Many U.S. cities are transforming their downtown cities through green retrofits. Pittsburgh, for example, is in the midst of several major building renovations. As an example, the Pittsburgh Opera housed in a pre-World War II three-story brick building expects to achieve LEED certification by year’s end, reports the Pittsburg Tribune-Review. The Strip District building where George Westinghouse first built locomotive brakes is on track to become the city’s oldest certified environmentally friendly structure, according to the newspaper.

The opera bought the 45,000-square-foot building for $2.5 million in 2007 then spent another $3.5 million for environmentally conscious modifications, according to the newspaper. Click here for photos.

Upgrades include cccupancy sensors to conserve electricity, window shades to save on heating and cooling costs, low-flush toilets and short-run faucets with electronic eyes to conserve water, and floor panels in nearly every room that are screwed down and reversible, doubling their useful life.

David Deal, the opera’s environment and architectural consultant, citing Department of Energy data, said in the article that energy use at the building is 23 percent more efficient than at comparable venues. Other estimated savings include $300 to $500 a year on water bills and $500 to $700 a month on electricity costs.

Other green building projects in Pittsburgh include The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation’s Market at Fifth retail and apartment complex, the Union Trust Building, which dates to 1915, and the Bakery Square office and retail complex.

Similarly, Toronto is undergoing a green revitalization. As an example, the Toronto-Dominion Centre with its iconic black towers is the midst of an energy makeover, where owner Cadillac Fairview Corp. is investing in systems that will help to reduce energy consumption and operating costs, and make the six-building office complex in downtown Toronto more attractive to tenants, reports Click here for more information about TD Centre’s green initiatives.

Steven Sorensen, vice-president and divisional manager for Cadillac Fairview’s Toronto office portfolio, said in the article that it is spending $15 million on energy-efficient initiatives such as re-commissioning all of the mechanical systems at the TD Centre.  He also noted that millions more are being spent on other upgrades including a new fibre-optic building automation control system that will improve the management of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, and meters for each tenant to monitor their own energy use.

Other improvements include outfitting washrooms with low-flush toilets and automated taps, sourcing recycled paper products, and installing automatic sensors on lighting, reports

Sorensen said the TD Centre will apply for a new LEED certification targeted specifically for retrofits, LEED Canada for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (LEED EBOM), which will be introduced this summer by the Vancouver-based Canada Green Building Council.

Dermot Sweeny, principal of Sweeny Sterling Finlayson & Co. Architects in Toronto, told the news site that tenants are starting to pay more attention to such things as energy efficiency and certification in the LEED green-building rating system when looking for new premises.

Both existing and new downtown properties in Toronto are also implementing energy-efficient and other green features including the RBC Centre, which will apply for LEED gold certification when it is completed this summer, according to

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