Going Green at Work

In Madison, where only six months ago Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

kicked off the citywide MPower campaign to reduce CO2 emissions by one hundred thousand tons by 2011, big-picture solutions to reduce global warming can’t come fast enough.

Josh Arnold, member of the board of directors of the Wisconsin Green Building Alliance, says building or retrofitting an office space to be more “green” provides a major opportunity to reduce Madison’s carbon footprint, while improving the workplace environment and maximizing a company’s financial, social and environmental gains.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings in the United States represent sixty-five percent of the country’s electricity consumption, thirty-six percent of its energy use and thirty percent of its greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition to guzzling energy and pumping out carbon dioxide, Arnold says buildings have a major impact on the quality of public life.

“People spend more than ninety percent of their time indoors,” Arnold says. “There are huge opportunities for businesses to build energy-efficient buildings that contribute to a healthy indoor environment.”

Thanks to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system—a tool for assessing a building’s level of sustainability, indoor environmental quality, materials, water efficiency and design—businesses interested in “going green” don’t have to look far for ways to build or retrofit offices.

New and existing buildings can apply for LEED certification, where a third-party member will rate and verify the operation of a building according to its green features, such as high quality of air and amount of natural light.

Arnold says studies show increased access to properly managed daylight in offices and schools correlates with higher levels of employee productivity and student performance. Another way to improve quality of life is by reducing the amount of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, typically found in paints and finishes.

“Studies show if you eliminate the use of VOCs, you reduce the amount of sick and personal days used by employees,” Arnold says.

Changes Afoot

For Majid Sarmadi, a UW–Madison textile chemist and professor of design studies, it’s his concern for the future health of the earth and its inhabitants that serve to drive his research.

Sarmadi recently developed a new set of standards to push the carpet industry to make more environmentally-friendly and sustainable products. With an $85 million dollar bid from the Los Angeles Community College District on the line, Samardi helped find a carpet manufacturer willing to follow his suggestions for reducing the carbon footprint and pollution of carpet production.

“We know some of the changes are available but [previously] the carpet industry had no incentive to change,” Sarmadi says. “When California put $85 million behind the purchase, I knew this was the time to use force to [provoke] change.”

Some of Sarmadi’s specifications for improving the industry involve eliminating VOCs, making the dying and drying process more energy-efficient and ensuring carpet is one hundred percent recyclable and more durable.

“For commercial businesses, any time you have to replace the carpet, hundreds of workers are disrupted,” Sarmadi says. “Everyone pays for it. Companies have to pay for the landfill, for increased healthcare if workers get sick [from indoor air pollution] … it has ripple effects.”

Sarmadi hopes his new standards will help to continue to push the carpeting industry in the direction of sustainability, and help improve consumer awareness about environmentally-friendly carpets. Sarmadi says UW–Madison has expressed interest in using green carpets in new buildings on campus.

Clean City, Healthy Workplaces

Elsewhere in Madison, city government is busy with several ongoing green building and retrofitting initiatives as part of city government’s MPower commitment to reduce CO2 levels by twenty-five percent, or fifteen thousand tons, says Jeanne Hoffman, the facility and sustainability manager for the city of Madison.

“[MPower] is the first major campaign [in Madison] to encourage the community to become more energy-efficient and reduce its carbon footprint to fight global warming,” Hoffman says. “When you go green, you save money.”

Retrofitting the more than three hundred city offices and warehouses with energy-efficient lights, occupancy sensors [and automatic dimmers]; working on upgrades to cooling and heating systems and roofs; and replacing windows saves energy, which lowers electricity, heating and cooling expenses.

According to Arnold, the savings in energy-efficiency does not only cut company costs but saves money for the local economy. “For every dollar spent on natural gas and fossil fuels, sixty-six cents leaves the state economy when purchasing fossil fuels,” Arnold says. “For every dollar that goes into energy-efficiency, the state of Wisconsin receives a net benefit of $6.46,” which promotes the local economy by, for example, employing local contractors and distributors.

Larger green building projects in Madison slated for completion in 2009 includes the LEED-certified Sequoya library on the near west side, and a new fire station with a geothermal heating and cooling system. In January 2008, the common council of Madison signed a resolution requiring all city buildings built after July 2008 to be LEED certified.

“The city of Madison has done a lot in a short amount of time, and we have a lot left to do,” Hoffman said. “The greatest challenge we now face is managing the workload to keep making progress … and engag[ing] the community, residential and private businesses … to do what we’re doing in the city.”

You Better Work

Janette Glassmaker, an interior designer at Lerdahl Business Interiors in Middleton, says she recognizes the emerging demands of businesses to be environmentally conscious and is working on ways to incorporate green products into her area of expertise.

Glassmaker says she and others at Lerdahl Business Interiors are trying to incorporate the LEED principals into design by using materials within a five hundred mile radius and acquiring furniture, finish and even cleaning products that are GreenGuard certified, a mark of a product with low VOC levels.

“In the future, I expect to see more clients beginning to demand more [green products],” Glassmaker says. “The [green] movement is building momentum.”

Hoffman says green office furniture and supplies are an easy first step toward green investment for businesses. Even minor changes, such as the city of Madison’s new policy requiring double-sided printing and furniture deliveries wrapped in blankets instead of cardboard or plastic, can allow businesses to investment in the future of the environment.

“MPower is a great initiative, but we’re missing the political and business leadership,” Arnold says. “The average citizen in Madison is already engaged, but I don’t see the same commitment from some of the major businesses and institutions in Madison. We need the first movers to kick it off.”

Although the first steps to green building do involve front-end costs, Arnold says green building and retrofitting save in the long run by reducing the building operating costs and promoting company productivity.

For businesses concerned with how to budget the up-front costs of green building, Arnold and Hoffman advise working with local organizations who can help educate and provide incentives for making the switch toward energy-efficiency. Focus on Energy, Madison Environmental Group, 360GREEN, Inc. and Sustain Dane provide tools for businesses and homeowners that can help reduce the cost of green building.

“We borrowed this land; it is not inherited,” Sarmadi says. “If I choose to do something to my body, I take it to the grave with me. If I do something to this land, my daughter is going to have to clean it up.”