Posts Tagged ‘green building’

Back to School

August 27, 2012

The presence of academic courses on a given topic in the business world is proof that the topic has “arrived”. By that metric, sustainability has “arrived” in the corporate world in a big way. “Sustainability” is not just something many companies are working into their operations and reporting, it is becoming something to be researched and studied at the university level. The Philadelphia area (amongst others) offers a remarkable array of offerings in the field—both obvious and not so obvious.

The offerings range from functional areas like buildings and construction, food, engineering and so forth all the way to systemic (management) approaches to the topic. Equally impressively is the range and location of institutions offering courses. The geography covers nearly the entire Delaware Valley; the institutions range from smallish colleges like Delaware Valley College to the very large University of Pennsylvania and many more in between.

I happen to be a proud Penn Stater, so when I saw that the Great Valley campus had a Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Business Practices I paid attention. I thought the emphasis on a systems perspective, as well as the financial and accounting aspects, was pretty unique. This was the first program I had noticed that focused on the organizational management of sustainability initiatives.

Pretty soon thereafter, I found other “sustainability management” programs at other universities (i.e., Penn). Penn’s Management of Environmental Sustainability program is specifically aimed at training future “Sustainability Coordinators” (at least the website says so). Across campus, the Organizational Dynamics program recently kicked off a program that teaches executives how to build a culture of sustainability at their companies. If I want to start my own company incorporating sustainability, the “Green Entrepreneur” course at Bucks County Community College can probably help me out.

On a more functional level (engineering), Villanova has a pretty comprehensive program in sustainable engineering, including both an MS and graduate certificates. Their offerings not only include courses used in traditional environmental safety and health fields (hazardous waste, pollution control), but also watersheds and “sustainable infrastructure”. This is the first program I’ve noticed with such a broad array of engineering courses with a sustainability twist. They even have a course on “sustainable pavements”. I know that some parking lots have special pavement that essentially drains itself. Maybe this is what they mean by “sustainable pavements.”

In a related topic, “green building” is getting a lot of traction. I’ve heard that any new Class A office building must incorporate significant green building elements or else no one will rent any space there. So I assume that the Sustainable Building Advisor course at several community colleges in the area (for example, Montgomery County Community College) would be a popular option for many people. Philadelphia University offers a more formal degree/certificate program in Sustainable Design essentially dedicated to green building techniques.

Beyond the business world, there is also a sustainability program for those in the education field. West Chester University has a certificate they are calling the Education for Sustainability program. Apparently many of the graduates of this program work in schools, either integrating sustainability in to curricula and/or encouraging “green school” efforts.

As it happens, I was reading my local school tax bill this week—and my school district credits its energy efficiency programs for playing a major role in keeping the educational quality high in the face of the outrageous cuts to public schools by the current Administration in Harrisburg. I try not to think about what would have happened to my local schools if they had not invested in energy efficiency several years ago.

Trying to comprehend all of the available choices (and I just barely scratched the surface) is making me hungry. I happen to be a big fan of organic and/or local food. In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, I think it tends to taste better. And if I ever wanted more education in that, there is a program for “Sustainable Agriculture Systems” at Delaware Valley College mostly focused on sustainable agriculture techniques.

I was very happy to discover that there are so many educational options about sustainability in town. I’ll bet that pretty soon a Philadelphia-area institution of higher learning will upgrade its sustainability course/certificate programs into a full fledged “School of Sustainability” not unlike the one at Chatham University in Pittsburgh with its Master of Food Studies and Master of Sustainability programs. The existence of these various sustainability programs (and Chatham’s School of Sustainability) in the academic world parallels the diverse ways sustainability is growing in the corporate world. This parallel growth is mutually reinforcing.

School of Sustainability at Chatham University:

Let There Be Light!

February 6, 2012

Sunlight Pours In

I left work today at about 5:30 pm, and I noticed something as I stepped outside—light. The days are now noticeably longer. This is actually one of the few things I like about the month of February—more time for sunlight. I recently came across a renovated 4-story wool mill in Norristown, PA whose owners (Corbett, Inc.) obviously share my affinity for sunlight. How do I know this? I went inside and was practically flooded with the natural light. In fact, on a recent tour I took there I learned that no employee is more than 15 feet from a source of natural light. I happen to be on the sun side of my office building, but at Corbett, every side is a sun side.

The Washington Woolen Mill building (the home of Corbett, Inc.) was built in 1817. In the 1820s, mills were 4 stories, with supply deliveries and natural light coming in through big doors and windows on the top floor. Then product moved down each floor through various manufacturing processes to the bottom floor, from which finished product was delivered. When Corbett bought the building in 1979, the company overlaid modern technology and extensive re-use to renovate the property. The main element they re-used was the architecture—especially the strong stone walls and large upper-level door and window openings. The original stone walls were repointed, and the original window glass (when present) was re-glazed. (Some of the windows had been boarded up in the 1970s—those got new glass. The frames are the old ones.

An "Outer" workspace

In a clever design touch, the employees in the office the most get the work spaces along the outer walls—that is, with the most natural light. One of the critical issues in managing the light (the current term is “daylight harvesting”) is making sure that each employee has the correct amount of light at all times. To ensure this, Corbett installed a very clever light management system that features automatic shades and dimmable overheard ballasts. As the sun travels around the building, the shades go up and down depending upon the sunlight level. At the same time, nearby dimmable ballasts are sensing how much sunlight is coming into the space, and dimming themselves accordingly. The system is so sensitive that single dimmable fixture (the longer ones) can have 2 distinct dim settings working simultaneously.

Conference Room

I’m glad there was so much light inside the building, because I still had a lot of building to see. Looking around, I noticed the very thick support and cross beams—original. I looked down and noticed the beautiful floors—reglazed, but also the original wood. Other spots had carpeting—and this was all both recyclable and made from recycled materials (not unlike the carpet I had bought a few years ago). I looked up, and saw the sprinkler system—re-purposed from the 1970s installation. What I did not see was much (or any) drywall. I saw modular glass walls (panels of glass) that allowed for privacy and the long open sight lines that made the space very pleasant. These panels also allow the light to travel a long way vs. getting blocked by drywall. These modules impressed me; they also impressed a Corbett client who came in for something else, saw the walls, and essentially bought them on the spot.

The Windows Really Do Open

Even the heating system partially uses the sunlight. First, the allowing the natural light and warmth to come in can only help with heating costs. The property features 2 connected buildings—Corbett’s office in the 4 story section and another company (Kay and Sons) in a connected 2 story annex. Both sections feature exposed ductwork at the ceiling above the cross beams mentioned earlier. The Kay and Sons folks have an extra benefit of a 2-story atrium with the original lever and pulley system intact for opening the upper windows. I was assured that they use the pulley system at every possible opportunity to bring in fresh air, providing yet another modern use for the original design.

Sunlight Delivered

When the mill was built in 1817, the architects utilized the sun and surroundings for heat and light because they had to—the technology did not exist and electricity had not been harnessed yet. Now, creators of sustainable buildings and design are looking for techniques and methods for buildings to work more with their surrounding environment for the comfort of the occupants. The occupants of the old Washington Woolen Mill (ie, Corbett, Inc., Kay and Sons) are certainly benefiting from the combination of the original design and modern technology. They don’t have to go outside to get some sunlight (and fresh air)—the renovated building’s design delivers it to them.

A Previous Post on Carpets

A Previous Post on Drywall

Can My Employer’s Office Building be Green?

September 27, 2011

I got an email at work this week noting that the company’s landlord (Brandywine Realty Trust) was implementing a new recycling system. Instead of changing everyone’s trash can liners daily, the trash can at my cube is now a recycle can—the trash goes to lined cans in the kitchen. The idea is to make it less easy to throw away trash and more easy to recycle, The system will be set up to encourage the sustainable option—in this case, recycling,

I became curious about what else a landlord like Brandywine could do on the sustainability front. Brandywine actually has a pretty impressive program. A couple of its elements include green cleaning products and beginning an integrated pest management system for the landscaping outside. Equally impressive from a corporate point of view are the goals for 2011—including a 70% recycling diversion goal (the source of the email I got), a 10% reduction in water consumption—35 million gallons, and bringing 33% of their portfolio into Energy Star compliance. These are all excellent goals—and measurable.

But Brandywine is not the only large commercial landlord in the Philadelphia area marketplace implementing green building initiatives. Another major landlord is Liberty Property Trust. I was actually lucky enough to be able to take a tour of one of their showcase properties—Center City Philadelphia’s Comcast Center. It is truly a spectacular building featuring a 100 foot high “lobby”. However, in order to save energy, only the bottom 20 feet is climate controlled—the other 80(%) are not. That is a lot of energy usage avoided.

The Comcast Center has several other notable features that make it a more sustainable building. The special windows block 60% of the sun’s heat while enabling 70% of the sun’s light to get through. The urinals are waterless (saving an estimated 1.2 million gallons of water). The irrigation system is based on the collection of storm water and re-using that water vs. turning on the taps. This water will be stored in old boiler tanks that were re-purposed and re-used (and saved from a landfill at the same time.).

There are numerous other major buildings in Philadelphia that have significant green elements. The expanded Convention Center, for example, has a “white-roof” which reflects the rays of the summer sun. It also has the energy efficient “Low-E” insulating glass. Both of these help reduce operating costs. In suburban Philadelphia., Centocor put a “solar grove” in their parking lot. This features 8 columns of 70 solar panels each. The panels will simultaneously save $35,000 on energy costs and generate $60,000 in revenue from solar power sold back into the electricity grid.

The more I look, the more examples I find of commercial property owners making their properties greener and more sustainable. It definitely seems the wave of the future—one that can’t come soon enough in my view. I am happy that my particular office building is implementing the new single stream recycling system. I am even happier that many other building operators have implemented larger scale projects to make their buildings green and cheaper to operate at the same time.

Mr. Leo’s Neighborhood

January 18, 2009

One of my favorite TV shows when I was growing up was Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. The TV show’s creator, Fred Rogers, was from Pittsburgh, and so am I. (I write this post before my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers play for a berth in the Super Bowl, just like they did a lot when I was a kid growing up in 1970s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.) I was also an avid viewer of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood in the same decade (1970s) when the show started to gain wide appeal. I liked when Mr. Rogers would show me lots of the neat things in his neighborhood. It was all new to me.
Likewise, my sustainability journey (the purpose of this blog, after all) is in many ways new to me. In my last post I discussed my disappointment because I had found insulation made from almost 100% recycled product with no horrible formaldehyde—which ended up being 10 times the price of the regular insulation available in the Home Depots of the world.
What I did not fully discuss was my happiness about the fact that I now know of not one, but two stores in the Philadelphia area (where I live now) that sell environmentally friendly home and construction products. These are (in Northeast Philadelphia) and The Environmental Home Store (in West Mt. Airy and Doylestown). I happened to have spoken to and received quotes from both of them on the insulation. But I was pretty excited to know that these stores existed in the first place.
I have not yet visited either store’s showroom, but I have scoped out their websites. The seems more oriented to the individual consumer. The seems more oriented to the contractor/builder. For example, The Home Store product pages tend to have their products displayed in the context of your home; The Green Depot had lots of really interesting information about various technical standards and terms that are applicable to environmentally friendly construction products. Nonetheless, I am sure that both stores gladly work with both homeowners and contractors.
What a happy surprise to find both of these stores in the area I live in! Last summer, my wife and I had happened across a similar store in British Columbia. ( We were thrilled that such a store existed, but we thought that there was no way such a store would exist anywhere near our neighborhood. We have since learned otherwise. Stores oriented towards sustainable home construction products did not exist in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, but they do in mine.

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