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.

Earth Hour – Businesses raising awareness for energy conservation

Earth Hour

I think businesses like Google are doing an excellent job in raising awareness for energy conservation.  The Google home page is “blacked out” as they have “turned out the lights” as symbol to raise awareness for Earth Hour 2008.  It’s quite striking to see the normally white background on the Google home page suddenly go black.  While its not saving any energy doing this, it certainly is going to raise a lot of awareness to everyone that goes to Google to do a search.  I checked the other top search engines and I don’t see any reference to Earth Hour on their sites.  I admire Google for taking a strong stand and reaching out to their entire customer base.

Buildings represent the greatest opportunity for considerable reductions in CO2 emissions.

 On March 13th, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) issued a report stating “buildings represent the greatest opportunity for considerable reductions in CO2 emissions”.

“Every year, buildings in North America cause more than 2,200 megatons of CO2 to be released into the atmosphere, about 35 percent of the continent’s total CO2 emissions.  In the United States alone, the total built floor space covers over 27 billion square meters, or more than five and a half times the size of Grand Canyon National Park.  According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, buildings represent the greatest opportunity for considerable reductions in CO2 emissions, with net economic benefit.”

If buildings are the greatest opportunity to reducing CO2 emissions, then what are the barriers?  The report stated “The barriers to doing improvements to existing buildings is understanding the lifecycle costs of the building.  Understanding the life-cycle costs of a building is still a significant challenge.”  Another barrier is split incentive.  “Often the one paying the bill and the one capturing the benefits differ.  A developer may not be interested in paying for green features when the benefits will be passed on to the new owners or tenants.”

“Green building will help ensure North American competitiveness in the global market for products, technologies, and practices essential to North America’s future. Such products, technologies, and practices include heating and cooling systems, advanced building materials, water-reclamation systems, high efficiency appliances, energy efficient lighting, construction and demolition debris recycling, and many more.”

I would highly recommend that you download the entire report from the CEC.

Furniture made from soft drink cans

Emeco StoolWe have selected furniture for the Thinkspace office and the one piece that I’m most excited about is the Phillippe Starck designed Emeco stool.  We have purchased these in bar stool height (14″ W x 14″ D x 30″) for the cyber cafe.

The stool is produced in the United States and is environmentally friendly.  80% of the aluminum is recycled.  Half is post consumer (soft drink cans) and half is postindustrial (manufacturing scrap).  The Emeco craftsman grind each weld flush to give it a seemless appearance.  The aluminum is three times stronger than steel and has a estimated life of 150 years.  It also comes with a life-time warranty.  Emeco started their business designing chairs for the U.S. Navy and one of the design requirements was that it be torpedo proof!  If you have the time, you should check out the video on YouTube that shows someone taking an Emeco chair and catapulting it into a brick wall 50 times.  It pretty much survives with very little damage!

By selecting environmentally sound product choices we expect it to provide us credit toward our LEED certification.  Also, there’s no off gassing because aluminum does not emit VOCs or aldehydes in any measurable concentration.  The things that I really like about this stool is the excellent craftsmanship, modern, elegant, attractive design and the fact that it costs about the same price as a nice stool made of plastic or wood.

It Pays to be Green – Conservation Grant Awarded to Thinkspace

Save Energy

Puget Sound Energy (PSE) has awarded a $13,000 conservation grant to Thinkspace for energy efficient lighting retrofits.  Thinkspace’s plan calls for a reduction in energy consumption by approximately 21,106 KWH.  Annual energy cost savings are estimated to be a little over two-thousand dollars per year.  Our discussions with PSE have been on-going for three months.  It is much more difficult to qualify for a grant that I would have thought.  In the end I’m glad that it was not handed out so easily as I got to have a much better understanding about what it really takes to save energy.  A lot of hard work and analysis by the architect and electrical contractor have made this possible.  Read about the first post regarding “Incentives for Going Green“.

Freecycle or Craigslist – Keeping stuff out of landfills

I have five office chairs and a desk which a previous tenant had left behind when they moved out.  I knew that these items need to be given away so I decided I would give “freecycle” a try and see how it compares to Craigslist.  I’ve used Craigslist a lot in the past, as I tend to give away a lot of stuff which tenants tend to leave behind.  When I set up a “freecycle” account, I really did not like the fact that I had to use a Yahoo account.  While I already had a Yahoo account, it seemed silly that I had to use one in order to join a “freecycle” group.  The next thing that I did not really care for was when I posted on freecycle, I could not add a photo of the items directly to the posted entry.  I had to separately add the photo to an album else where on the site and make reference to it.  I did get immediate response from the posting and it was nice to get an email from someone in the neighborhood that was will to pick up a chair.  After a week, I only had one chair get picked up.  I’m going back to Craigslist and posting over there as it is way easier to get the posting listed.  I think the net result really is the same, free on Craigslist or free on freecycle, both keep things from going into the landfill.

Incentives for Going Green

Energy Efficient BulbOver the past few months, I have been searching for companies, organizations, government agencies that encourage other companies to go green with their tenant improvements.  One of the first places that I called was PSE (Puget Sound Energy).  I talked with an Energy Management Engineer and he was happy and willing to meet me at the building to discuss my goal of finding a way to reduce the building’s energy consumption by at least 30%.

I found out that PSE offers many different incentives to increase a commercial building’s energy efficiency.  One of the most attractive programs is their energy efficient grant which can pay up to 50 percent of a project’s cost, and may fund up to 70 percent of the installed cost.  Grants often range from several hundred dollars to over a hundred thousand dollars.  While that might sound really great it’s not easy to eligible for a grant.  I have been going back and forth with my electrical contractor, architect, and PSE Energy Management Engineer to come up with an optimal plan.  This has been an exciting process for me as I look at all the possible ways to reduce energy in the building and do so in a cost effective manner.  I think it’s much easier for a building to go green from the ground up than for a building that is only seven years old and retrofitting green.

One area of focus is using energy efficient light fixtures and lamps.  My research uncovered that many older buildings use T12 lamps (the diameter is 1 ½” lamp and use 40 watts).  They are cheap and reliable and approximately 58% of the buildings out there still use them.  One of the big drawbacks is that they draw approximately 6.5 watts of power even when the lamps are burned out.  The PSE Energy Management Engineer stated it’s much easier for a building that is using T12 lamps to replace or retrofit those fixtures with T8 lamps (the diameter is a 1” lamp and use 28 watts) and obtain a energy grant.  The space that Thinkspace will occupy is in a building which is only seven years old.  The building is already equipped with T8 lamps which is part of the challenge of identifying ways to be even more efficient.  A key metric that PSE uses is the ratio of KWH energy saved versus the total cost of the upgrade (materials and labor).

The architect has been focusing on ways to make sure we are optimizing as much daylight as possible.  The electrical contractor is focusing on reducing our watts per SF, calculating our total KW consumption with various light fixtures, and recommending the use of higher performance ballast and lamps.  We’ve submitted our plan to PSE Energy Management Engineer and are now waiting to find out if our latest plan will be eligible for a energy grant.  I will report back once I hear from PSE.

How to Maintain Air Quality during the Demolition Stage (Part 2)

HVAC Return Duct

In addition to using HEPA air purifiers to maintain air quality during the demolition of the existing space, we also took a close look at the existing HVAC system.  Inside the space we have existing VAV (variable air volume) boxes.  VAV boxes are used to zone areas in large commercial buildings and also contribute significantly to the efficiency of the HVAC system.  On our existing VAV boxes we added additional filter media to ensure that we were not redistributing dust and other particulates in the air to other areas of the floor space.  We also used box filters and an extra layer of filter media on all return ducts.  This ensures that we were not bringing poluted air back into the HVAC system and redistrubuting the air to other areas of the building where other tenants would be impacted.

Filter Media