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Fifty Shades of Green

By Richard Cross, Managing Director MBA

You recycle your trash, buy only CFL or LED light bulbs, take your re-usable tote bags to the grocery, and maybe even drive a hybrid car, but are you still confused by all the Green marketing that you see on a daily basis? Do you wonder what it all means and what, if anything, you can you do to be more Green? That depends on how Green you want to be. While all of the above are ways to be Green, if you want to go to the next level, consider this, the US Green Building website reports that conventionally-designed and -built buildings account for 41% of primary energy use, 73% of electrical consumption, 38% of CO2 emissions, and 14% of potable water consumption.

If you, or your company, are considering building a new building or planning a major renovation, consider the impact you can have by using sustainable building practices and energy efficient products. When I start talking about Green building, I’m usually confronted by the same question: “How much more does it cost to build Green?” There is no one answer to that question because the cost depends on a lot of variables. But, there is also another question that needs to be considered: “What is the cost if we don’t build Green?”

Many of the biggest gains don’t really cost more, they just have to be designed in and many of the costs have ROIs that we can evaluate for consideration. Like the old mantra says, “Location, location, location.” One of the most important Green decisions you need to make is the effect of the location of a new office building. You need to take into account the distance the building will be from your employees. Is it near public transportation? Does it have Community Connectivity allowing your employees to eat, shop, and perform basic services, such as banking, dropping off their dry cleaning, visiting the fitness center, etc., without taking their time and using gas to drive there? Urban settings are often better, but many suburban office parks now combine residential living and basic services within short distances. You should encourage your employees to reduce their carbon footprint by providing bicycle storage and changing rooms if you are close to residential areas. You can also promote ride sharing, provide preferred parking for low emitting and fuel efficient (LEFE) vehicles, and minimize the parking lot size to save on construction and land costs, as well as reduce the Heat Island effect and stormwater runoff.

Stormwater runoff is a big issue in any building design. There are two components: the quantity of water and the quality of the water. To be more Green, use as much pervious paving as possible and consider retention ponds, bioswales, and maybe even a Green (vegetated) roof. Heat island effects are caused by a material’s inability to reflect sunlight and how much infrared radiation is emitted by the material. At a minimum, use lighter-colored paving and roofing materials. A white roof will save a lot of money during cooling season!

Water efficiency is becoming critical for areas, such as the western United States, but it is important everywhere. While office buildings don’t offer many opportunities to utilize Graywater, except as irrigation, water-use reduction is very important. Due to the number of people in an office building, plumbing fixtures are usually the biggest point of water usage. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 set new standards for toilets. To be, a new building should use at least 30% less than the 1992 standards. Today, you have several choices of plumbing fixtures to make that easy and very cost effective in the design stage. Low-flow and dual flush toilets and low-flow and waterless urinals are becoming commonplace at the office, as well as in your home.

Energy usage is the next big item. Once again, the government is here to help! The Energy Star program has been very successful in reducing the energy required by most major appliances. Be sure to select only Energy Star products for any new building or renovation. The biggest source of energy usage is by your HVAC system. Once again, if you are building new, do not forget to consider the effects of solar heating and your building’s orientation to the sun. The number and placement of windows, as well as the performance of the windows, all have a major impact on the heating and cooling load of a building. HVAC equipment is becoming more efficient every day. Nowadays, with the choice of high-SEER conventional heat pumps, ground source heat pumps (sometimes referred to as geothermal), and ductless VRV (Variable Refrigerant Volume) heat pumps, all with many controllable zones, there are many ways to efficiently heat and cool a building. Insulation has improved dramatically as well with soy-based open-cell and closed-cell foams which will insulate, as well as seal, a building from air infiltration all at the same time.

Air quality is a key component to employee satisfaction and health. While virtually all buildings are now “smoke free,” there are other pollutants that you need to consider. Employees should not be exposed to pollutants from VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), adhesives, sealants, aerosols, urea-formaldehyde, or other irritating and potentially harmful chemicals found in composite wood, paint, and carpet products.

See how easy that was! We didn’t even go into using renewable, recycled, or reclaimed products, high-efficiency ventilation, or individual task lighting. There’s always another day. The key, as always, is planning. Many of these items cost the same, or sometimes less than traditional products, but they must be specified in the planning stage. The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) is here to help. Their LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program and certified professional consultants can help you through the decision-making process and, while they only have 4 levels of certification (50 was too many!), you are able to get your building certified so that your employees and customers will know you care about the environment and their health. If done right, building Green should also save you money!

Richard is using his 40 years of experience as an officer of public companies and as an owner of several privately owned companies to assist young and middle market companies assess their financial results and refine their marketing and growth strategies.  A seasoned, success-driven executive, Richard adds depth to a young, middle market or company in transition.  Having not only guided large Accounts Payable, Payroll, Treasury, and Tax departments, he has assimilated all of those functions with executive management through the ownership of private companies.

If you have a project, and are looking for guidance on how to make it more green, you can contact Richard at (804) 306-4791 or by email at