As companies face dual incentives of saving money and protecting the environment, green building is on the rise nationally. Green building, or the concept of incorporating energy efficiency and environmental responsibility in every stage of a building, from design to construction, is gaining popularity as companies increasingly recognize both the cost efficiency and positive PR.
Below are ten of the most exciting innovations in commercial green building. Each has met the demanding criteria to receive a Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum-status rating for environmentally responsible construction by the U.S. Green Building Council.
1. Almaden Tower, San Jose, California. Adobe Systems is the first major corporation to star on the LEED-platinum rating list, and they are clearly setting an example for other businesses. Since it began making gradual changes in 2001, the company has invested millions to implement numerous projects related to conservation and sustainability. Over the years, these projects have helped Adobe reduce water use by 22%, landscape water use by 76%, electricity by 35%, and natural gas by 41%. The 17-story Almaden Tower is part of Adobe’s LEED platinum-certified complex, which also consists of the 18-story West Tower and a 16-story East Tower. Adobe has (since early 2010) also started generating on-site energy by installing 20 upright Windspire turbines as part of a bigger plan to obtain renewable power supply for all their facilities.
2. Banner Bank Building, Boise, Idaho. A bank in Idaho is one of the greenest buildings in the country? That’s right! Banner is situated near public transportation systems, and provides inside bike storage and shower stalls to encourage employees to further the green cause. The building itself was constructed from 40% recycled material and from all local suppliers. A water reclamation system and a geothermal heating system equates a 65% decrease in energy and 80% decrease in water compared to a typical building. In addition, its back-up generators run on bio-diesel made from (get this) used vegetable oil!
3. Daybreak Corporate Center, Utah The state’s first LEED platinum-certified building cost a hefty $40 million. Like the settlers who famously founded the state itself, this pioneer building works hard to earn its place. More than 95% of the building waste from its construction was recycled, and 22% of all building materials were themselves from recycled sources. Further, 100% of storm water is retained on-site and is used as a source for irrigating the landscape. The Corporate center currently runs on 22% less energy than a traditionally built building.
4. EpiCenter, Artists for Humanity, Boston, Massachusetts. The AFH’s nonprofit goals are certainly noble in theory — helping undeserved intercity young adults gain self-sufficiency through employment in the arts. And in practice, AFH commissioned one of the greenest buildings in the country as fine arts school and gallery. Featuring the largest photovoltaic array in Boston, the roof-mounted PV array provides renewable energy for the building. Another clever feature collects rainwater to use to water the landscape. These features, among others, allow the organization to save over $66,000 in electricity and natural gas costs annually.
5. Global Ecology Research Center, Stanford, California. While still operating as a laboratory and office building, the research center cut carbon emissions typically expected of a building of its size by a motivating 72%, and embodied carbon in its building materials by 50%. A true innovator in functional design, the building hosts a ‘night sky’ radiant cooling system. At night, water is sprayed on the roof and cooled by the night air. The cooled water is then stored in an insulated tank until it is needed.
6. Heifer International, Little Rock, Arkansas. Alright Arkansas! This building is located on a prior abandoned railroad yard that was in desperate need of a thorough cleaning. Heifer removed tons of scrap metal and rundown buildings, and used them to create an office building that kept environmental responsibility in mind in every step, and ultimately, now runs on 55% of the energy a typical office building would use. Rainwater is collected to both cool the building and to use in bathroom plumbing. The building also has light sensors, which adjust light on overcast days; otherwise, the building makes use of copious windows for natural lighting.
7. Helios House Gas Station, Los Angeles, California. Admittedly a paradox, the Helios gas station does incorporate several largely unique environmentally friendly designs. It is built entirely from recycled glass and steel and scrap metal, with 90 solar panels to provide energy. In addition, it boasts a green roof that grows cacti, bamboo paneled bathroom stalls, motion-sensitive lighting and a rainwater collection system. Despite the current and possibly justifiable anger against BP, one has to appreciate the effort that went into making this the first LEED-certified gas station in the nation.
8. The Terry Thomas Building, Seattle, Washington. An architecture and design firm committed to sustainable building, Weber Thompson practices what it preaches. The building was built on the site of a warehouse that was used by the band Pearl Jam as a practice space. The demolished warehouse provided 93% of the materials used in the new building. Innovations include use of day-lighting and natural ventilation. While more costly to build then a more typical layout, the building has a duration expectancy of 100 sustainable years.
9. The US Green Building Council Corporate Headquarters, Washington, D.C. Another organization driven by environmental ethos, the design of this building allows for 93% of its interior to have access to day lighting. In addition, the building uses 40% less water via low-flow plumbing fixtures, dual-flush toilets, and waterless urinals. Architects focused on the sustainability of selected building material, renewable bamboo flooring, reused furniture and workstations, recyclable ceiling tiles, reused granite counter-tops, non-toxic paint and low energy lighting products.
10. Willingboro Master Plan & Public Library, Willingboro, New Jersey. In 1990, this structure was an abandoned strip mall surrounded by a massive parking lot. Using 100% of the structural steel and framework of the original structure, Croxton Collobrative Architects changed the building into a day lit, naturally ventilated public library, and allowed the reforestation of the large chunks of surrounding asphalt. This building is a rare example of architectural reusing on a large scale and was a recipient of a 2007 AIA National COTE ‘Top Ten’ Green Projects award.