Green Building Solutions Can Be Simple -- and Easy

Green Building Solutions Can Be Simple -- and Easy

One silver lining in the dark clouds of our current economic conditions is how people are turning to simple, low-cost measures that can save tons of energy and money.

Sometimes being forced to get lean makes you realize how fat you really are. Our obese existing building stock is being forced to get on the treadmill and the patient we save may end up being our own economy.

Losing weight is actually quite simple: Move more & eat less. But as I learned as a little butterball of a boy, simple can be really, really hard. Mercifully, saving energy in our existing buildings is actually quite simple and relatively easy once you put your mind to it.

For example, I'm loving the "green curtains" (an example is pictured above) that Kyocera Group planted around 20 of its facilities on three continents. These temporary lightweight structures or nets allow flower- or fruit-bearing plants to grow and in turn shade walls and windows, reducing direct solar gain through the windows and the buildings' opaque surface temperature by over 25 degrees F. They also provide an awesome biophilic view out the windows. The flowers and veggies off the vine are an added bonus to satisfy locavores in the buildings' cafeterias.

Clearly it makes sense to do the simple and easy stuff first before we get complicated. That's what Nature does with the creation of life -- starts simple, then gets complicated. As I've noted before, the meta framework for survival of species in Nature is also pretty simple: Fit in or get kicked out.

The dribble of "get your act together, humans" messages from Nature is increasing and it looks as though people are beginning to pay attention, at least on paper. The Australian government has issued development guidelines for the state of New South Wales, home to some of the world's most prime seaside real estate, that warn against developing too close to the coast and encouraging the ability to relocate structures if sea levels rise the expected 1.5 feet to 3 feet over the next several decades. Although not mandatory, these guidelines are expected to have a dramatic impact on the ability of properties to get insured, hence financed.

With the recent proliferation of national and state financing programs to support energy efficiency, the fractal stupidity of egonomics can partially be overcome. For instance, the Maines Paper and Food Service headquarters in Conklin, New York, received help from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority that brought the payback for the 87 percent lighting savings achieved down below two years.

Another interesting outcome of the leaner times is that it's a lot tougher to succeed by being sloppy. During the pseudo-fat years of the '90s and early '00s there was a de facto race to the bottom, which is why the bottom feeders did so well. Because there's less to go around, people are being more discerning and the emergence of increasingly sophisticated green evaluation tools, such as the greenhouse gas emissions environmental product declaration recently completed by Bekaert Specialty Films.

Partnerships also are beginning to abound with international groups such as ICLEI joining with local groups like the Virginia Municipal League to help encourage member cities in a race to the top through friendly competition. Business groups are following suit, such as the Alliance for a Sustainable Built Environment's partnership with Full Spectrum of NY to do a sustainable renovation of a downtown area in Jackson, Mississippi.

The latest Look-Grandpa-I-picked-up-the-$20-bill-you said-was-fake-but-it's-real! goes to Xerox Corporation for its comprehensive efforts to continually make facilities and products greener. EDF Climate Corps Fellow Dave Rengel writes about Xerox turning its attention to its existing buildings after the company met its 10-year goal to reduce its carbon footprint by 10 percent after only six years.

Xerox since has more than doubled its goal to a 25 percent reduction by 2012 compared to a year 2002 baseline. Its existing building improvement efforts are the result of retrocommissioning, which entails a detailed evaluation and monitoring process of both the operational sequencing and system equipment.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has found that typically buildings begin to "drift" in their energy consumption by up to 20 percent even after newly built, if an on-going commissioning process is not implemented. Thus the 5 percent to 15 percent energy savings anticipated for the retrocommissioning process at Xerox's Webster campus may end up being conservative, especially if lessons are learned from Rengel's fellow Fellow Sarah Will. Will, who was assigned to REI, found that there was an several-hour lag between the time that people went home and when the cleaning crews came in during which the lights were blazing, illuminating nothing!

Rob Watson is the executive editor of You can reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Kilrwat

Image courtesy of Kyocera.