Recycled Glass Counter for our Commercial Lobby Desk

The Thinkspace main lobby desk has been built and installed.  In addition to having a professional appearance we wanted our lobby to make a statement about sustainability.  To gather ideas, we went to Ecohaus and looked at different types of materials and decided we wanted to showcase beautiful sustainable materials.

We used a gorgeous Vetrazzo recycled glass countertop.  The counter is made of 85% recycled glass.  The color of the glass is clear, green, and brown and comes from curbside recycled glass bottles.  The glass is shattered into tiny pieces and mixed with cement, concrete, and fly ash.  Fly ash is a by-product of coal fired electric generating plants and improves the quality, strength, and durability of the concrete.  The material is as strong a granite, is scratch resistant, is thermal resistant, and has a similar care and maintenance to granite.  Vetrazzo recycled glass counters come in 60″ x 108″ slabs and can be cut down to any size.  Any granite frabrication shop can polish the edges.  Be sure to ask the fabrication shop for any of the remnant pieces.  The cost of the slab runs about $70/SF.  When you compare the cost of granite versus the cost of a recycled glass counter, the recycled glass falls right in the middle range of granite.  Cheap granite can cost $30/SF while the high end can cost $120/SF.  One positive about recycled glass counters is that it does not come from a granite quarry where after all of the granite is mined, all that is left is a big hole in the earth.

The front of the desk is constructed with Teragren Moso bamboo panels.  Moso bamboo is a rapidly renewable resource.  Teragren is a company with a very strong sustainability statement and controls the manufacturing process of the bamboo.  They handle the process from harvest to distribution.  This is important as they are not just an importer of the bamboo materials.  Teragren is located in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

The workspace counter top is made of Formica Laminate.  Formica Laminate is a low-emitting product and is GreenGuard Indoor Air Quality Certified.

All of the items used to construct the lobby desk (recycled glass counter top, bamboo panels, and laminate counter) contribute to our LEED certification.

“Green” Commercial Eco-Carpet

For our commercial tenant improvement project we chose to go with a “green” carpet.  The critical  things to look for when picking a commercial grade environmentally sustainable carpet is 1) what is the carpet top made of; 2) what is the backing material made of; 3) what type of adhesives will be used.

Carpet Top: The carpet that we selected is Shaw Eco Solution Q.  Is premium nylon carpet.  The carpet top is made of 25% recycled content.  Any amount of recycled content helps reduce the amount of raw materials use to create the carpet.

Carpet Backing: The backing of the carpet is Shaw EcoWorx.  EcoWorx is marketed as the first 100% sustainable non-PVC tile carpet backing.  Based on my research I’ve learned that for the last 25 years PVC backed carpet has been predominately used.  This is bad because PVC backed carpet can’t be recycled.  The PVC backing contaminates the yarn.  This means once the carpet has reached the end of its useful life it ends up going into the landfill.  By using EcoWorx, our carpet will be recycled when it reaches the end of its useful life.

Carpet Adhesives: The carpet adhesive is Shaw 5000 Pressure Sensitive Adhesive.  It is a low-VOC adhesive as its VOC properties are negligible.  This means better air quality for everyone working inside our space.  For more details about why indoor air quality is important please read my other post on this subject.  Of all the various materials brought into our space, the Shaw 5000 adhesive definitely has the strongest smell.  Most things like the paint have been nearly odorless.  Even though the Shaw 5000 contains no solvents, alcohol, ammonia, is non-toxic, non-flammable, no calculated VOC’s, and is anti-microbial it still has a pretty strong smell.  The smell is not over powering, does not cause your eyes to water, give you headaches, or harm your body in any way, but I was a bit surprised with the odor.  The adhesive was rolled onto the concrete surface and allowed to sit for a day prior to putting down the carpet tile.  By allowing it to dry it become very tacky but allows the carpet tile to be removed if necessary.  If the carpet was put down immediately after the adhesive was applied (when wet), then the carpet would be permanently installed and very difficult to remove in the future.

At the end of the carpet installation, all of the scraps will be collected and sent back to Shaw to be recycled.

We decided to use a carpet tile instead of carpet delivered on a roll.  The carpet tile we picked came to us in boxes containing 24”x24” carpet tiles.  Commercial carpet needs to be very durable, handle high traffic wear, be stain and color resistant, and provide a high fire rating.  Using carpet tile is a smart choice for Thinkspace because we are in the executive office suite industry which means we have a high traffic wear.  The other big bonus for us is in case there is permanent damage from coffee or copy toner spills inside the private offices, we will not have to replace the carpet in the entire office, rather, we can just swap out the stained carpet tiles and replace it from a less visible area or quickly put in a new tile.  It allows us to keep the space looking clean and new and keep our maintenance costs down.

Green Festival Seattle 2008

Green Festival Seattle 2008

This weekend Seattle is hosting Green Festival 2008 at the Washington State Convention Center.  According to the Seattle-PI, at least 20,000 and up to 30,000 people will attend this event this weekend.  I took my family to the event on Saturday .  The weather outside was about 80 degrees and it was probably the best weather we’ve had in Seattle for all of 2008, yet, inside the place was packed.  It felt like there were more people inside than at the Seattle Home Show.

Inside there were more than 300 exhibits.  Companies were displaying everything from clothes, body care products, organic beer and wine, fair trade coffee/tea/chocolate, kitchen tiles made from renewable resources, fun activities for kids (my four year old had a great time), ways to reduce your energy consumption, samples of food, and even live music.

Some notable samples that I tried: Dancing Goats Blend coffee.  I tasted this black and it had a nice sweet, dark, smooth flavor without any bitter taste.  Dancing Goats coffee is certified organic and fair trade certified.  Dancing Goats is from Batdorf & Bronson Coffe Roasters which is located in Olympia, WA.  I also tried a sample of Mango Ceylon Tea from Choice Organic Teas.  I’m not much of tea drinker, but the taste of this tea was very pleasant.  I even bought a box to take home.  It tastes great both hot or cold with ice.  Choice Organic Teas is created and packaged by Granum, Inc located in Seattle.  I have never tried fairtrade chocolate before, but, it certainly does taste good.  Theo Chocolate had samples and it was possibly the best chocolate that I’ve had a in long time.  Theo Chocolate operates their business in Seattle.

I found it interesting to see how much marketing collateral there was.  Each exhibit had paper brochures, flyers, trinkets, magazines, etc.  I kept looking on the back of each piece of paper looking for something that said “100% post consumer recycled paper” but I didn’t see much of that.  Perhaps that is something that goes without saying since this is the “Green Festival”.  The one funny thing that I saw was a booth from a Printing company that flew out here from Pittsburgh.  They were telling me that I could print out my marketing materials, business cards by sending them a file to their FTP server and then they would print out it out on recycled paper and mail it back to me.  In my opinion, it would seem to make more sense to use a local print shop than to have it mailed halfway across the country.  The fuel for transporting the green printed materials seems to negate any benefits of actually printing it on recycled paper.  I was also happy to see compost, paper, bottles, plastic recycling containers throughout the exhibition center.

The impression that I came away with was that I know Seattle is a green city, but after attending this event, there are significantly more people than I thought that are truly living a green lifestyle.  People of all ages are looking for ways to contribute to preserve our environment.  I was truly inspired after attending this event.

Why is indoor air quality in offices important?

Sherwin Williams Harmony

We have put a lot of focus on air quality for our executive office suites build-out.  Early on in our design process we decided to use either a low or no-VOC paint.  Yes, it’s good for the environment (reduces smog and ozone pollution) but even more important it is good for your health.

“VOCs” are Volatile Organic Compounds and are loaded in traditional paint.  VOCs are chemicals like benzene, toluene, vinyl chloride, formaldehyde, ethyl and mercury.  These chemicals are what you would call “new paint smell”.  Breathing in these chemicals can have short- and long-term adverse health effects.  In a residential application, it is these smells which cause you to leave your house for a few days after you paint.  These smells continue to off-gas for a long time after you can no longer detect them.

According to the EPA, “Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors, where concentrations of pollutants are often much higher than outdoors. Risk assessment and risk management studies have found that indoor environmental pollution is among the greatest risks to human health”.  The EPA’s study further disclosed that “Conventional paints contain VOCs that vaporize, dispersing into the air we breathe.  Exposure to VOCs can result in irritation of the eyes, nose, and skin; respiratory problems; headaches; nausea; and dizziness.”  Workers are more productive in non-toxic environments, less prone to illness, and employees feel that their employer cares about their personal health.

The EPA produced a publication titled “Ventilation and Air Quality in Offices”.  It stated “A committee of the World Health Organization estimates that as many as 30 percent of new or remodeled buildings may have unusually high rates of sick building complaints. While this is often temporary, some buildings have long-term problems which linger, even after corrective action. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that poor ventilation is an important contributing factor in many sick building cases.”

When evaluating the decision to use low or no-VOC paint, we had two criteria.  Firstly, was cost.  The cost of low or no-VOC paint is about fifty cents more per gallon than a high quality latex paint.  That is really insignificant and makes one wonder “why do paint manufacturers make paint that contain VOCs?”.  If everyone knew how harmful traditional paints are, I don’t think anyone would want to use them anymore.  I paid about $24 per gallon for the Sherwin Williams Harmony paint.  The other area of importance to us is performance and maintenance.  We checked to make sure the paint is scrub resistant, washable, and does not yellow over time.

The paint that we selected is Sherwin Williams Harmony.  The paint meets the GS-11 standard and qualifies for LEED certified projects.  While the painters where applying the primer and paint I was amazed when I walked into one of the offices and could barely detect any paint smell.  Not only is this good for the future tenants that will occupy the space, it is also good for the existing tenants that are currently working in the building.  For any future projects, home or office, I will definitely use a no-VOC paint.

Thinkspace’s Goal is Innovation in Design for Recycling

 Sorted debris

Tenant improvements can require a new company moving into an existing building to create a lot of demolition debris.  In order to build out our Thinkspace executive office suites, 5.79 tons or 11,580 pounds of demolition debris was removed.  The number of tons could have been much greater, but one of our goals was to reuse any and all existing materials for our new build out.

The demolition debris was sorted and put into sealed containers.  Each container was ticketed, tracked, and taken to a recycling center.  Once at the recycling center, the debris was resorted and weighed.  The report broke down the materials into the following groups:

Wood Derived Fuel, Alternate Daily Cover, Processed Planting Medium, Aggregate Feedstock, Bulk Steel to be processed, Prepared Steel, Scrap Aluminum, Scrap Copper Wire & Pipe, P.V.C. – Plastic Siding, L.D.P.E. – Plastic Film,  H.D.P.E. – Plastic, Carpeting, Carpet Pad, Cardboard, Gypsum Rock, Designer Mulch, Pulp Furnish, CHEP Pallets for Reuse, Electronics and Fluorescent Lights, Non-Recyclable Residuals.

Preliminary results show that we have exceeded our goal of 95%.  Our potential LEED recycling rate is 97.7%.  If we continue to maintain our recycling level throughout the entire build out, we will earn an extra LEED point for Innovation in Design.

I prefer to no longer use the term “demolition” as the process really should be called “deconstruction”.  In order to save existing door frames, trim, doors, etc, a lot of care is given to removing these items.  Also, the process of meticulously sorting and piling up debris is not easy.

Because there is so much additional labor to getting the debris recycled as well as additional attention air quality and dust control, I had to compare what the cost difference is versus going straight to the landfill.   It was definitely more expensive to recycle the debris rather than dump it in the landfill – it cost approximately 2% more.  Total demolition cost was about $2.06 per SF.

Being “green” is not easy or cheap, but the end result of having 97.7% of the material recycled is well worth the effort and money.  Up front, doing a LEED Certified for Commercial Interiors project is not cheaper than a normal tenant improvement project but the payback is huge in terms of air quality, healthy work environment, energy savings and knowing that tons of debris can be recycled instead of ending up in a landfill.