Chicago's New Plant Conservation Center Showcases Green Design

Chicago's New Plant Conservation Center Showcases Green Design

Image courtesy of the Plant Science Center at Chicago Botanic Garden.

By 2050, the planet may lose 34,000 plant species according to the World Conservation Union. That accounts for approximately one out of eight species in the world and about one-third of all species in the United States. And while that may not seem to impact our everyday lives, plants provide us with more than food; they provide material for clothes, natural chemicals that cure disease, and the air we breathe.

Take one plant use -- medicine. The naturally occurring chemicals in plant species account for over half of all medicinal drugs. The plant Rosy Periwinkle, for example, treats four out of five children with leukemia. Taxol, a chemotherapy drug used for treating ovarian and breast cancer comes from the Pacific yew. Digitalin, a derivative of the plant foxgloves, is used to treat chronic heart failure by strengthening the heartbeat and increasing blood flow. The list goes on and on.

This month, one organization, plans to further its mission of conserving the world's flora.  One of the most beautiful sites in the State of Illinois, the Chicago Botanic Garden will open the Plant Science Center on Sept. 23, 2009.  This new center is no small feat, employing the best in sustainable design while fulfilling an environmental mission that will impact generations to come.

The $50 million project sits on 38,000 square feet and includes an array of environmental features in its quest for LEED gold certification. Among the common LEED features are materials with low-VOC's, flooring made with recycled tires, bathroom counter tops built using recycled metal shavings, and numerous energy-saving design features. Some of the more expansive features include using wood inside the building from trees that were removed from the land and the construction of a rainwater glen surrounding the building. Perhaps the most beautiful and fitting space at the new Plant Science Center is the rooftop garden. Consisting of two 8,000-square-foot sections, the garden will showcase 320 plant varieties being evaluated in order to make recommendations to consumers about which plants are best suited for rooftop gardening.

The Chicago Botanic Garden serves as an educational tool for the public in addition to hosting research and science facilities and staff.  The garden is the national coordinator for native seed-banking in the United States and will contribute 30 million seeds from 1,500 species to the Millennium Seed Bank project, an international effort to conserve 10 percent of the world's seed-bearing plants by 2010.  The new center will also house a first-ever doctoral program in plant biology and conservation in partnership with Northwestern University.  The new Ph.D program begins this fall.

I encourage everyone to visit the Chicago Botanic Garden the next time you are in the area to learn more about how sustainable design and environmental protection go hand in hand.

Joshua Saunders is the Global Service line manager for UL Environment Inc. (ULEI), a wholly owned subsidiary of Underwriters Laboratories Inc. As part of his role, Joshua is the program owner overseeing environmental verification and certification services.

Image courtesy of the Plant Science Center at Chicago Botanic Garden.